You Talkin’ To Me, Pal? – The Dos and Don’ts of Digital Discourse
By James Fitzgerald
It felt like all eyes were on him
as he sat their pondering his last words — an utterance that had come from his
heart, and which he thought would take the dull, cruel conversation in another,
healthier, direction. But the silence was deafening, as if he had just walked
into a saloon in the old Wild West and the piano had just stopped playing. What
should he do now, he pondered, withdraw and find another outlet, or pull his
proverbial gun out one more time, and blast these sycophants between the eyes?
“John98765354” wasn’t really in a
western bar, but he was in Bandit Country — a focal point of cyberspace we have
come to know as social media. He had interjected in a thread about mask wearing
under Covid conditions, and had challenged the status quo of the group by
suggesting that masks might be more dangerous than the virus in the longer
term. The medical experts in situ were quick to slam his claims, with sweeping statements
about “spittle” and “airborne transmission”. But John98765354 survived the
encounter, and lived to fight another day.
Depending on your interests and
who you “follow” on social media, you stand to gain a wealth of information
from the myriad academics and professionals who litter the landscape, but also
an education in being streetwise and selective, as you encounter geniuses,
humanitarians, “ascended masters”, scammers, the mentally ill, extremists of
all hues, and vicious trollers — who sit in wait behind their faceless
accounts, ready to pounce on unsuspecting posters and contributors.
With Americans in particular, the
consumer mentality transfers easily to the cyber sphere — “as the customer, I
am always right”; “I expect a certain kind of response that embellishes my
ego”; “I expect everyone to understand my language and to follow my lead, even
if they come from Outer Mongolia or Outer Space”; “If you are disrespectful to
me, I will blast you out of the room,” and so on. If you didn’t like the
interaction with a company or individual, you won’t get a refund, but most
people settle for an apology or retraction of a comment. At other times, all
out war is possible, if a hive of people take a dislike to another group or
individual. In that sense, social media is like taking a tour bus with a group
of contemporaries to a remote location in some far-flung country, where you are
going to tip the waiters, even if it’s a social taboo and they will get jailed
for it, and you’ll be able to get back on the bus when the heat or indigenous
poverty of the location becomes irksome.
“AlicetheCat8765” — who lives in
South Dakota — was distraught to see footage of Irish police stopping cars as
part of lockdown conditions, where citizens, even the elderly, were being
issued on-the-spot fines. She said as much in the comment section of the news
service running the story — and later received a reply from someone called “PigsCanFly6454”, who had no other identifying information or photo.
“PigsCanFly6454” accused “AlicetheCat8765” of being “a promoter of
pedos”. This angered Alice, who made a comment about PigsCanFly6454’s “singular brain cell”. Ten minutes later, after
breaking off for a cup of tea, Alice returned to her screen to find three more
messages from faceless posters, all claiming she was a “right-wing pedo
supporter.” She blocked them all, and couldn’t deny that she felt a little sick
in her stomach. Later that day she came across a news article in a mainstream
news outlet that linked Republican voters with a campaign to sanctify
pedophilia. How strange, she thought, as that demographic had been calling out
such crimes vociferously online.
The conversational style and
protocol of someone from a university background who took part in academic
debates is going to be different from the casual persuader, who is used to
pulling the strings of his or her spouse and children, or at the local grocery
store. This mismatch of cultures and approach can quickly descend into a
slugging match, where misunderstandings and personality clashes ensue. From my
own experience on social media, and borrowing from my social psychology degree,
various categories or users begin to emerge — the Professional; the Expert; the
Humanitarian Activist; the Histrionic Predator; the Bog Monster; the Experienced
Financial Scammer; the Patriot; the Individual Living Under a Totalitarian
Despotic Regime Who Seeks Emancipation from the West. These are, of course,
only impressions, and somewhat flippant ones at that — but a whole spectrum of
people with all or some or more of these attributes and motivations exist in
Some of the most magnificent
people I have met in life have emerged through Twitter or even LinkedIn. At
times, it was the memes or solidarity with people from across the world that
got me through the tough times. And, the dedicated “diggers” and humanitarians
out there provide valuable information on their local turf that allows us to
form more diverse and comprehensive views than any corporate news outlet would
afford. The 24-hour news cycle of the BBC or CNBC is a bitter lozenge when
compared with the banquet offered by the millions of “truth seekers” and niche
experts or opinion formers being funneled into your laptop each day.
Whether you seek highs or lows;
truths or lies — it’s all available. The tangled web may have been co-opted by
the security state, and its pervasive algorithms, but the unity of mind that is
now emerging as humanity faces a fork in the road — between those buying into
chaos and suppression and those imagining and formulating a new paradigm beyond
the old — has co-opted the technology by force of will alone.
The majesty of human intellect and
creativity is sometimes pushed aside by the displays of human degradation and
evil that formally only existed behind the corrupt hearts and minds of the
dispossessed. US President Donald Trump has cleverly bypassed the conventional
news outlets to speak more directly to the country and world via Twitter. In
doing so, he has become the focal point for the polarizing world views that vie
for dominance in the void left by the media. One might have thought that the
death of his brother, Robert, last week would have allowed a lull in the
offensive — but judging by the comments under the official announcement of his death
were a litany of hateful and abusive sentiments that would not make it into an
18-cert horror movie. The facade of anonymity really does spur on the sub-human
and degenerate minority out there.
Amid the cowards, mavericks and
legions of the self-righteous, we are continually put on notice to develop
instincts and discernment as to the validity of what we consume on social
media, and to take steps to avoid the parasites who would steal our money or
mood at any given moment. Some of the flagship accounts with tens of thousands of
followers, can be utterly ruthless is trouncing any pretenders to their title
as champions of truth and egality. I witnessed a former MSM journalist being
rounded on by three “campaigners” last week, after they accused her of deleting
comments that were critical of her. They may have been right to call her out,
but the precision of their attacks would put a cruise missile to shame.
My daughter and I witnessed a
spectacular — no, supernatural — lightning storm last week, which, although
silent, featured blue, orange, pink and purple streaks of electricity that must
have riddled the ground continuously for at least an hour. The next day we half
doubted our shared experience, having never seen such a display even on
television. There was no word of it on local media and the neighbors quite
obviously were in the dark. However, as soon as I called up my Twitter feed, a
series of photos appeared, posted by a woman called Kittie, who captured the
lightning strikes at ground level, where they also had a column-like aura of
light. It was quite a coincidence, and made me wonder if Carl Jung’s “psychoid
realm” really did exist, or if the internet had reached sentience without
telling anyone. We were grateful for the validation, and Kittie was delighted
that we reached out to her. There were further clarifications over the next few
days, from someone called Kab, who posted incredible photos from around the
world of similar storms.
Does Twitter randomly convey a
composite of competing ideas and egos and narratives, or is it a map of your
consciousness that gets lain out in front of you to assist your self-awareness?
Twitter, Facebook, Parler and Gab all offer a window on the world, and the
issues faced by all kinds of people in countless circumstances and conditions,
as well as the inner world of our motivations and prejudices and strengths.
Many people automatically assume because you are conversing with them, you are as ignorant or in the dark as they are, and take offense to any opinions or knowledge that stretched their barriers of awareness. Is the risk of rebuke worth the foray into social interaction? Or would it be easier to just peruse other people’s posts without comment? The answer might be, nothing ventured, nothing gained — if the prize is camaraderie and friendships.
As a long-time MSM staffer who
only recently went freelance, I have suddenly found myself covering diverse
topics — ranging from ecology and technology to child trafficking and banking.
When an article touches a chord with people in the digital sphere it quickly
results in a rush of “followers” on social media. My personal interests and
political affiliations have crept into my posts and so present a mishmash of
sometimes contradictory and outlandish ideas and opinions on any given day. I
have noticed that as soon as a post goes out on a subject that is not within
the consensus or not politically on message with the mainstream media, that one
hundred followers will disappear in an instant. Easy come, easy go.
But if all that causes distress,
there are always cute-animals-doing-silly-things videos that some might find
more enjoyable, while eliminating the dos and don’ts of digital discourse.
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