In July 2020 I wrote an article entitled “The Cancer of Social Media” where I stated my five main gripes with the current state of social media. Now I hardly expected things to get better, but what I’ve witnessed over the course of the last few months has been terrifying and depressing to the extreme. Those 5 points I raised, I still stand by, but underpinning most of them is the dangerous undercurrent of censorship. So now, if you’ll please, I’d like to run through a scenario with you now.
But first a basic, fundamental belief of mine. There is no ‘left’ or ‘right’ anymore, not online at least. They’re arbitrary words with little to no meaning. Because each side has conflated left and right, with good and evil. A battle in which both sides believe they’re the brave and handsome heroes fighting fascist dictatorships. The boring reality is we’re just picking between differing economic and social policies. But the dramatic belief of this mythical battle between good and evil, coupled with the desperation to be on “the right side of history” is very good at getting you all riled up. It’s one hell of a way to generate clicks for a media that’s facing trying times.
So we know that Twitter has been purging many accounts, according to them it’s a ‘routine clean up’ of accounts that haven’t validated their email or phone number. This – I seriously doubt as it looks like a long-time friend of AltFeed/Trigger Warning – Dronetek has had his account suspended. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that he happens to be a conservative voice on Twitter.
Ahh I can hear it now, the echoing chants of “Build your own twitter!”, and that’s exactly what someone did. Parler, a clunky twitter clone that popped up in 2018 and has grown slowly over the past few years. Within hours after the social media giants took the step to silence the most powerful man on the planet, users across Twitter decided to flock to Parler on the rumour that the Donald would be making an appearance there. As far as I’m aware, he did not. Still, that didn’t stop Google Play and Apple from pulling the app, nor did it stop Amazon from deciding not to host their servers anymore. Build your own Twitter? You weren’t supposed to actually do it!
So let’s run through our little scenario here…
It’s always to keep you safe, safe from the nasty words and thoughts of others. That’s what they say, that’s what you have to believe. There’s a line to which that can be true, especially if we’re talking about posts that insight or call for violence. But the line of what’s acceptable and what isn’t moves to suit the agenda of the day. Never mind the hundreds of employees of Google, Twitter and Facebook. The policies and decisions of who they want to be heard, and who they want to be silenced are made by a very few people. It’s Trump, he’s quite an extreme person and with one tweet he could cause chaos! So let’s get rid of him. Now let’s shift the line again, let’s get rid of his family and most ardent supporters. Actually, let’s shift it again and create a safe space away from ‘harmful’ conservative opinion. A rainbow utopia of pronouns, where everyone’s bio makes it abundantly clear where they stand on each political issue. Because it’s vitally important that you only communicate with those who share the same labels as you. Now that we’ve purged the opposition, who do we have left to attack? Well, we can post news articles about the right and pat ourselves on the back about how much smarter we all are than them? But is that going to satiate the burning desire to argue and attack that so many extremists on both sides have? No, so before long they begin to attack the centre. We’re seeing this already. “You’re either antifascist or a fascist. There is no in-between, silence is violence.” – Further, what happens when an issue comes along that divides the left and right, as Brexit did in the UK? Well, once the media and establishment have picked their side, the other half of the left will experience the same realm of banishment that others guilty of wrong think have.
So, Parler then, it will be back, both it and Gab will grow in membership and will be almost exclusively dominated by conservatives patting each other on the back, with the odd centrist and left wing troll thrown in for good measure. What happens here is pretty much the same, only here you’ll also find the Qanon lunatics “Trust the plan…” (do fuck off) and the sort of folk who really do need to have their views questioned. So how does this all play out? What happens next when we’ve segregated our online presences completely, and smashed as many bridges between the two as possible, but we still have to live together?
Run this forward a year or two. Let’s say, for argument sake, Parler or something that replaces it becomes a direct, right wing competitor to Twitter. It gains almost as many users and invests in itself, so as to stop being clunky, it now runs as smoothly as Twitter. In the day-to-day running’s you’ve now got two groups of people patting themselves on the back for being right. Two versions of reality, the “right” and the “left”. Both gleefully pointing out the mistakes of their opposers, both happy to ignore the mistakes on their own side. With no direct bridge between the two, a thing we once used to call “Debate” which I believe is now considered hate speech and is punishable by six months in a re-education camp in Basingstoke.
Unchallenged, the rhetoric on both sides becomes steadily more unhinged. The ‘left’ sees injustice everywhere and so decides it’s time for a socialist revolution! Pick up your guy Fawkes masks and your black skinny jeans comrades! The ‘right’, sees a communist takeover and the coming of socialism and decides it’s time to take up arms. Grab your flags and your guns patriots, remember to chant: “1776!”.
Who’s going to suffer because of this? I have no idea. What does a “civil war” look like when both extremes live mixed together in towns and cities across the world. Maybe more riots will destroy businesses, or innocent people on the street will be the targets? Maybe politicians will become targets for harassment or worse. Maybe it’ll just be violent political activist clashes. Maybe it’ll be all of the above and more. Everywhere you look the guns are getting bigger and the stakes are getting higher and very few people are reaching out a hand to calm everyone down. Those that do are usually told, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.
What we’ve seen in 2020 and thus far in 2021 is that things are reaching the boiling point. They’re not quite there, but it’s getting bloody warm. What people need is to come together with more speech, not less. You don’t deradicalize someone, left or right, by banning them. Because they’ll just go somewhere with people who share and reinforce those beliefs. You might not have to deal with them anymore, you can clap and cheer that they’re banned – but don’t for a second think you’ve weakened them. You’ve just emboldened them when you had a chance, albeit a small one, to sew the seeds of doubt.
No matter how you play these scenarios out, there’s no good outcome. “left” and “right” just stray further and further apart. Elections and politics will become ever more divisive and even violent as the rhetoric continues to bleed into our escapism, TV, movies etc, leaving no safe haven from the division, nowhere to escape. Riots, protests and general social unrest become more commonplace. There are ways to bring people back together, but people seem too stubborn to make the first move. It’s pretty basic really, but it requires enough people to make the change. Here’s a few tips to see you on your way:
- When you debate with someone online, do it from a place of mutual respect. Make it clear from your tone that this isn’t an argument, it’s a civil debate. I have opinion A, you have opinion B. Let’s discuss how we formed those opinions and why I believe you should change your opinion. Maybe start by focusing on what you agree on, rather than what you don’t. Forget all this “gotcha!” stuff. Owning a libtard/nazi may get you thousands of likes and a nice, validating dopamine hit – but it’s not winning the argument, it’s not winning over opposing minds and it’s furthering the division and resentment. Mutual respect doesn’t mean you have to go all hippy and tell the person you love them, you don’t even have to like them. Simply accept and respect their opinion and their right to hold and express it, however wrong you think they are, and don’t expect to win someone over in fifteen minutes.
- When you debate with someone, make sure you’ve done your homework. Call on facts and figures. Don’t just nip to the Guardian and post an article. Go through the guardian to their source material. Use more than one source, be as sure as you can be. Because if you can’t be 100% sure, you need to question whether you should be fighting with the veracity that you are.
- Be prepared to change your mind. Though it may come as a shock to many, you don’t know everything. If you’re feeling certain in your point of view, then be prepared to have it challenged, more than that – welcome the challenge. (Ideally with as little smugness as possible, it won’t win you any friends.)
- This plays into the open mind, you have to understand the fundamental fact that the media is a disgrace. Both left and right, they lie. They lie outright and they lie through omission. They mislead you with headlines, knowing more than half the people who see a story will scroll right past it after a statutory tut. The media companies know most folk don’t have time to sit around fact checking. To sit reading the same story from both left and right outlets, it’s a weakness they exploit to garner support. So if your belief comes from one headline, or just one source – Be prepared for it to be challenged, better yet – Challenge it yourself, if you’re so sure.
- If you don’t want to do all that, if you think it sounds like too much work. If you’d rather just eat pizza and watch TV like a normal person, maybe consider backing away from staunch political debates online. You’re bringing nothing to the table but feelings, which so often turn to aggression. Ignoring political debate is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Silence is not violence (Never heard such a stupid thing in my life) If you want to be the sort of person who reads an article here and there and tuts away – go ahead. If you want to be the sort of person who stays out of politics until there’s an election, when you dip in for an hour to see who to vote for – that’s fine. If you want to avoid it completely because you think the system is rigged by reptilian overlords – That’s mental, but fine.
Politics becomes most dangerous when it’s based on feelings and not facts. Politics becomes based on feelings when social media plays into it. Low information people, who are more interested in TV, social lives, jobs, taxes, posting selfies and that weird man down the street who keeps using my bin, in other words – normal people, they are less likely to read past the headline. They are going to parrot the views of people they hold in high regard, people they trust to have done the research for them, even when it’s abundantly clear that they haven’t. That suits a lot of nefarious people down to the ground. Ignorance is strength and all that.
To conclude – We’re on a path that’s heading off a cliff. I don’t know how high the cliff is or what happens when we fall. If you want to avoid going off the cliff, maybe you should consider a softly-softly approach online, as opposed to a hammer to the face when it comes to political engagement.