This morning I read a blog post of a long-time friend and a respected F1 journalist, Joe Saward. He wrote about Humanity after he received an abhorrent comment to one of his other posts. I was speechless at the kind of person who could say such a vile thing with the hope that it would be approved and seen in a public forum.
Social media has given everyone a voice. We can write anything we like and publish it on the internet for the entire world to see. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears, and other times it can explode and change lives. I feel like society has gone wrong somewhere and lost its way. A brilliant innovative creation dubbed “the information superhighway” was intended as a way to share information, knowledge and wisdom. But instead of learning from and empowering our fellow bloggers, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram users, far too many people take to shaming, trolling and bullying. Opinions suddenly become hard facts in the minds of some users and anyone who disagrees is immediately branded a villain, trolled and bullied. What is it that encourages someone to feel they have the right and the need to belittle and destroy another human being? Is there such a disconnect between reality and virtual community that we feel our hurtful comments have no consequences. Even negative throw-away comments or comments made in jest can be so misinterpreted to release a wave of destructive behaviour.
I recently watched a Ted Talk by Jon Ronson about one terrible misinterpretation of one woman’s tweet. It almost instantly went viral and unleashed a wave of vitriolic comment that completely unravelled her life. One person’s interpretation instantly became “fact” in the eyes of the Twitter community and started a tidal wave of trolling. No-one stopped to question the validity of the interpretation, but instead there was a rush to judgment. The viral speed of Twitter removed any chance of an alternative view or an opportunity for the woman to explain her tweet. It didn’t allow for anyone with a differing opinion to express it for fear of being tarnished with the same brush.
I’ve been attacked by motorsport fans on occasions for my opinions on Twitter. What puzzles me is why fans, who have never had access or been involved more than as an observer/ spectator and read articles on the subject, do not seem to want to listen and learn from professionals like Joe or, to a much lesser extent, myself. People who have been fortunate to have access to those inside the sport, been there, spoken with the parties involved directly and have a network of informed contacts; people who are well placed to provide factual information and not just opinion. I don’t always agree with Joe, but I would never in a million years feel I had any right at all to make an incredibly personal, abusive, perverse comment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the best way to learn is to listen to a number of opinions and form our own educated view. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all shared the same opinion? Where is society heading? It is a worrying thought that it seems to increasingly diminish and reject any form of geniune empathy or sympathy.
Of course for all the negative comments there are often positive ones too, and Joe received many supportive tweets following his post.
The aggressive and negative attention that can be directed at an individual on social media makes me want to disconnect from the internet, remove my social media profiles and live in a world where I make real connections instead of virtual ones. Unfortunately social media and email is a a necessity in my work. I use most forms of social media to promote and advertise business, I write blogs and email is a 100% necessity. For most of us there is no escaping it.
The message is, everyone needs to take more responsibility and have more respect for one another. We need to stand up to the trolls, and not allow them to influence through intimidation, for unchecked it will become an uncontrollable epidemic. If you wouldn’t say it to someone dear to you, or to someone’s face, why is it OK to say it online to a complete stranger. When a person has to hide behind a faceless avatar to comment, it tells you everything about their morals, courage and self respect. It’s easy to think that you can ignore these nameless, faceless trolls that attack you, saying to yourself “they don’t know me” or “it’s just a comment online, it doesn’t affect me”. But they do have an insidious impact, and the impact of being publicly shamed can have catastrophic results in the real world.