This was a very interesting documentary about some of the negative issues arising from social media, including interviews with people who’ve been the victims of ongoing online attacks, of “cancel culture” and even of threats of real life physical violence. It also discussed how addictive social media is, how what we say is increasingly influenced by how others may react but, conversely, some people say things online which they’d never say in real life. And it talked about how people, especially younger people, become attached to a particular identity/tribe, and how that can end up being dangerous, as in the case of David’s daughter and her battle against anorexia.
Like David Baddiel, I love social media. I live on my own and I don’t know what I’d do without it. That’s been especially true over the past 21 months, when it’s often been difficult or even forbidden to see relatives and friends. I’ve made a lot of new friends over social media, and I’ve also been able to get back in touch with old friends whom I hadn’t seen for years. From that point of view, it’s wonderful.
However, I’m frequently shocked and even distressed by some of the nastiness, usually of a political nature, that I see on there: too many people seem to find it acceptable to make abusive generalisations about anyone who doesn’t share their political views. On several occasions, I’ve nearly removed myself from what I’d thought were friendly groups, because what was supposed to be an innocent discussion had turned unpleasant. Only a few days ago, I had to delete a comment because someone tried to turn my little joke about how I thought a fictional character in a children’s school story would be good on TV into an excuse for a political rant. And don’t get me started on the “Sussex squad” ranting all over people’s sensible discussions on royal history, or people posting vile comments on innocent posts about sporting events. All this in amongst lovely, friendly posts about people’s day-to-day lives, their holidays, books they’ve read, or films they’ve watched.
Furthermore, I’m sure we’re all aware of the vile abuse which many people in public life have suffered. And, much as I love social media, I’m rather glad that it wasn’t around in my younger days: all schools have their share of bullies, and social media can be a bully’s paradise. As someone with ongoing anxiety and a history of eating issues, I sympathise so much with David Baddiel’s daughter Dolly, who feels strongly that social media made it more difficult to her to recover from anorexia, as she got caught up in reading online content about the subject.
And I, like David, find it problematic that people are being subjected to “cancel culture” – publicly vilified, and sometimes even sacked from their jobs, without any sort of due legal process, often for things they posted on Twitter twenty years ago or more. As he said, this is difficult. The fact that you said something inappropriate twenty years ago doesn’t make it OK. But nor does it necessarily mean that you deserve to be “cancelled”. And then there’s this whole nightmare issue of what is and isn’t OK, and how that interacts with free speech. As he said, it’s now very difficult for comedians such as himself to say anything at all without someone taking umbrage. This obviously goes well beyond social media, and never a week seems to go by without another report of someone being banned from speaking at a student union even though there’s nothing extreme about their views.
I’m not on Twitter, and, on Facebook and other sites, I generally stick to friends-only posts and what I feel are friendly groups, and I don’t generally comment outside those. I don’t suppose that many people read my Word Press posts 🙂 , but I’m fairly anonymous on those anyway. But it shouldn’t have to be like that, and, obviously, celebrities are in a different position anyway. And it’s very difficult for young people, because school groups are inevitably likely to include bullies.
As I said, I love social media. But there are a lot of questions out there, and David Baddiel did a very good job of summarising them in this thought-provoking documentary.