Liverpool bans The Sun. Victory! Milo whatisname’s book is withdrawn before publication. Victory! Katie Hopkins’ wings are clipped by legal action. Victory! Of course, there’s an easier way to express one’s distaste with all of these ‘offensive’ individuals and institutions that thrive on attention without trying to ban them – ignore ‘em. Loathe as I am to reference Sir Alex Ferguson in the positive, one nugget of wisdom nevertheless emerged from the former Don of Old Trafford when he looked back on the rough ride he was receiving from the media during his difficult early tenure at the helm; his most illustrious predecessor Sir Matt Busby rang to see how things were going; when Ferguson replied the press were on his back, Busby responded with simple logic – ‘Why read ‘em?’ Pity so few today can react the same way.
Following in the footsteps of Lily Allen, Owen Jones is the latest name to flounce off social media in a huff; granted, receiving online abuse is especially unpleasant, but it’s worth remembering that one is not legally obliged to maintain a permanent presence in cyberspace. Back in the day when household names could be inundated with traditional Hate Mail, i.e. coming in the form of a letter delivered by the postman, there was little one could do; having a fixed abode means anyone can reach you via these methods. Unless one decides to seal up the letterbox, that toxic message is going to get to you, however vile. The same doesn’t apply online.
Of course, a man with a media profile, both mainstream and social, cannot just switch off his mobile or avoid the internet when on his laptop; nor can he spurn the invites to ‘Newsnight’ or ‘Question Time’; the publicity drug is too embedded by then. There has to be a grand announcement akin to the one DLT made when he jumped the Radio 1 ship before being pushed; it’s virtually written into the contract that slipping away from social media can’t be undertaken without a press statement. Lest we forget, however, being on Twitter or Facebook isn’t a job; it’s supposed to be a pastime. Somebody whose weekends might consist of going fishing doesn’t need to contact the Daily Mail or the BBC should they decide not to bother anymore.
Social media has a habit of making people feel important in a way that previous pastimes didn’t; in theory, it provides a platform giving a voice to those whose voices had an extremely limited range in the past. It also enables those who already have a prominent voice in more established arenas to extend their reach whilst simultaneously bringing them into contact with audiences whose only point of contact before would have been the radio phone-in or the humble letter; in the latter case, the likelihood of a reply was a rarity, as anyone who has written to a famous name they admire will know only too well.
When said famous names take to Twitter in particular, the guaranteed millions of followers or thousands of ‘likes’ and re-tweets in a matter of days of joining can bolster the ego immeasurably, increasing the recipient’s sense of self-importance and becoming a useful cyber CV when seeking evidence of their significance. Remedying the age-old insecurities of those desperate to be loved is something that can be enhanced by the ‘virtual friends’ they collect online, and it is an undoubtedly effective illusion.
As an example, an absence of comments on one of these here blogs can easily lead one to feel it ain’t worth bothering with anymore; utterly ridiculous, I know, but if one has received a glut of comments on the previous post, it’s unavoidable wondering what one has done wrong this time round. Why is nobody responding to this post when they responded so enthusiastically to the last one? Why don’t they love me anymore?! Such thoughts say more about the author than the reader, but the satisfaction of a dozen positive responses can be cancelled by a solitary negative; like the actor who can only remember his bad reviews, social media in its numerous forms is a dangerous addiction for anyone who masks their fragile ego in the thick skin of the online identity. The level of one’s dependence on it (not to mention the size of the audience) is reflected in how one reacts when it turns sour.
Therefore, I can to an extent understand how those whose followers and re-tweeters far outnumber my own little cult coterie react with such theatrical histrionics when they find a sweet-scented bouquet of relentless praise sometimes contains the odd viper. The shock of someone not only disagreeing with them, but spewing limitless vitriol whilst doing so, can shatter the false premise of the ‘all girls together’ echo chamber that social media generates when everyone tells you how great you are. But, again, it’s not compulsory; you can actually not go online if you want.
I only took a few days off from here because I’d posted for five straight days and I do also have other things to attend to that are not dependent on cyberspace. Unlike the more well-known users of the medium, I am not wired to a mobile, programmed to respond to every tweet every few seconds, incapable of making a move without first checking what’s happening on that little screen. It can be quite liberating not bothering for a few days, and what one can be doing in the meantime – if involving real people – reminds the user that there’s more to life than this. Don’t get me wrong – I do like this or I simply wouldn’t bother; but it helps to have something else as well.
© The Editor