I’ve been writing a lot of practical, SEO-friendly content lately. The reason for this is fairly mundane; I’m trying to grow my website, trying to improve my income and all the usual stuff. However, I feel compelled to write this post after the events of this weekend. It’s a topic that’s never far from the forefront of my mind, mainly because it’s something I feel many of us feel trapped within. Social media. Or, more realistically, Antisocial media.
If you’re reading this way into the future, I’m coming back to this topic after the suicide of TV presenter Caroline Flack on February 15th, 2020. I wasn’t really a fan of hers, in fact, she kind of got on my nerves at times on TV, and I don’t even really know why. She seemed bright, and bubbly. She also appeared to have a real lust for life. However, she was the target of some extreme online harassment in recent years. It’s this sense of communal persecution that I’m going to try and discuss now.
I probably won’t articulate all this very well, because I’m writing off the cuff, but I’ll try my best. It’s not a problem that can be easily solved, but we need to try and explore it at the very least.
The nation has been quick to place the blame for Caroline’s death on social media and the tabloid press. I agree that both of these things have a huge role to play in the increase of people taking their own lives. According to the BMJ, cyberbullying is an international public health concern. I’d agree with that. Online abuse is everywhere; it’s become almost the norm, to be expected, something we just have to put up with.
How on earth did we get here?
I’ve discussed digital sexual harrassment in the past, but we need to widen the net a bit to try and understand this problem. Online abuse takes many forms, but the simplest one is that of ‘trolling’. The ease with which one person can be a professional arsehole to another is incredible, and that is where the issue lies.
There have always been bullies. There probably always will be. However, never before has bullying been so accessible, so easy to do, so faceless. Anyone can pick up their phone and send abusive messages to any other person. This is totally wrong on a base level, but what should we be looking at here; the behaviours of people who do this, or the accessibility that social media platforms provide?
Our digital culture needs rewiring. It’s really unhealthy for us all to be ‘always on’. Ask yourself this; when was the last time you woke up in the morning and did not reach for your phone as the first thing you did?
Disconnecting to reconnect
Last year I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and iPad. I was starting to feel that my time was being sucked into the endless scroll of the news feed. The hours I’d waste reading banal status after banal status, from people I didn’t really have any kind of meaningful connection with in reality. It was ridiculous.
The strange thing was though, that I realised this after being unfriended by someone that I didn’t actually like or care about that much in real life. Although I already thought this person wasn’t my kind of person, nor someone I’d want to actually spend time with, I was so irked by the fact they’d unfriended me. The audacity of it, I thought, it’s the ultimate power move these days. It made me start wondering what I’d done to upset them, which then made me start feeling bad about myself, despite the fact I didn’t actually like this person.
That’s when I realised I had invested way too much of my time and emotion in this one particular platform, and it really wasn’t good for me.
I deleted the app and kept the messenger. It was a hard adjustment but within a week or so, I began to feel so much better. I didn’t know the ins and outs of everyone’s dramas, and what’s more, I didn’t care. I found that I had things to talk about when I actually saw people in the outside world because I didn’t already know everything via their social media updates. Disconnecting from Facebook was one of the best ways I was able to reconnect with the human beings in my reality.
The trap of being ‘always on’
This brings me back to Caroline Flack. One of the reasons she endured such hounding on social media was because of a pending court case, where she’d allegedly hit her boyfriend in a domestic violence incident. How did we all know about that? Via the media. Via social media. And this is where I think we’re all going wrong.
Back in the day, people’s existences weren’t served up for public consumption to the extent they are now. We don’t need to know about what goes on in the private lives of these people; it’s none of our business. And yet, as a society, we’re hungry for it, ravenous for the scraps of gossip that the tabloids love to throw our way. It whips us up into a frenzy, and some of us get so entrenched in the private business of others that they use this (often false) information to go on the attack.
We are part of the problem here. We need to ask ourselves; why do we feel as though we have a right to know someone’s business? What gives us the right to consider ourselves personally invested in the life of a public figure? You can have your opinion on something, but what gives you the right to yell it directly at someone else? More importantly, why do you feel like you have to?
Too many of us have this misplaced sense of entitlement; the arrogance that purely because you now have the ability to directly vent your spleen at someone in the public eye, you should do so.
The culture of being ‘always on’ is what’s twisting us as a society. Our sense of reality is becoming warped with each day we spend swimming through the toxic cesspool of antisocial media. Maybe it’s time we stopped and got some perspective on the amount of time we’re investing into this digital dynamic.
Trolling isn’t the only problem
Social media has caused me to form some particularly unhealthy habits. Part of this is due to it being an inextricable part of my job. It’s hard to grow your readership or cross-promote your work without involving social media. This means I find myself ‘always on’, sometimes to the detriment of my own wellbeing. I spend far too long in front of a screen instead of spending time with my family. And a large part of this is because I believe that I have to be constantly reachable.
As a result, my short-term memory has started to suffer. I struggle to recall what someone’s asked me to do because I wasn’t paying proper attention to them. I’m grouchy with people who actually speak to me because I’ve often got one eye on my phone. I post on Twitter before I’ve even brushed my teeth or had breakfast. My priorities have gone awry.
When you’re self-employed, you do need to make sacrifices. You do need to put the hours in online, but it’s also important to realise when the online world is beginning to consume the offline one. I’m just a writer. I cannot imagine how much harder it must be for those in the public eye, whose requirement for an online presence leaves them wide open to daily and constant abuse.
Is being kind the answer?
I’ve seen a lot of posts over the weekend about how we need to ‘be kind’ to one another. Well yes, of course, that almost goes without saying. However, more than just being kind, we need to be accountable. We need to hold up the mirror and look at our own online habits. Not just in our online behaviour, but in the stake we hold in social media. Are we so invested in it that we’ve forgotten how to behave like human beings?
The events of the last few days have left me with a lot of questions about antisocial media, the behaviour of society online and my own online habits. I need to start dealing with my social media consumption because it’s not doing me any favours. I don’t want my child to grow up thinking all her mother did was gaze at a screen.
I don’t have the answers to a problem as complex as social media and online abuse. What I do know though, is that if we start with our own habits and work to put our usage of online platforms into perspective, then things might start to improve for some of us.
What do you think about antisocial media?
I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this topic. I know it’s been a hard few days for many people but with the right kinds of discussion about social media, maybe we can start to make changes.
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