For people of a certain age, social media is not something that they’ve grown up with and they treat it in the same way as they would have a face to face debate; unfortunately many people have found out, to their cost, that that is far from the reality. Mary Beard, Richard Littlejohn and countless politicians have all been subject to vile abuse for doing nothing more than expressing an opinion which is not ‘politically correct’. Mary, who is a Professor at Cambridge used Twitter to try to start an intellectual debate on whether morality suffers when we are in highly volatile and dangerous situations, such as the Oxfam aid workers often find themselves. She was quite clear that she did not approve of the alleged actions of the people involved and did refer to Lord of the Flies as the basis of her musings on the subject. I imagine it’s the sort of question she would regularly pose to her peers and her students, taking pleasure from the, no doubt, lively debate that followed.
Unfortunately for her she forgot or didn’t realise that Twitter is not the place for reasonable debate and a particularly nasty few who reside there went after her with both barrels leaving her distraught. She was accused of being a pervert, an ‘absolute f***ing monster’, a racist and a colonialist in the space of a few hours. I doubt that any of those who posted those messages to her would have said the same thing were they face to face with her but, for someone who spent a greater part of their life only talking face to face or on the phone I would imagine it was frightening and intimidating experience.
She then tried to express in a very natural and human way that she had been hurt and upset by the comments made; she posted a photo of herself thereby attempting to regain the ‘face to face’ familiarity and her friends and supporters immediately rallied round her offering words of comfort.
Twitter can be a good way to exchange ideas and debate current issues but, if you have anything even remotely controversial to say you’re far less likely to be subject to bullying and aggression if you do it face to face. I’m not sure what all this means for the future – will it get worse and we’ll have a Lord of the Flies for the internet age?