Column: The damage done by the darkness at heart of social media

Pic: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Pic: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Is social media really worth the price of your job or reputation?

The General Election has barely started, and already two candidates have been dumped because of posts on Twitter.

It’s safe to say they won’t be the last as every single tweet, blog and Facebook update ever posted is raked over until opponents strike gold. And they will...

Too many people have lost the plot when it comes to how they conduct themselves online.

Social media platforms can be huge fun, spark lively, informed debate, and connect individuals and groups in so many positive ways, but they are also entirely responsible for changing the way we communicate – and not for the better.

Our tone has become harsher, more hostile and confrontational, as courtesy and old-fashioned decency have been jettisoned.

The candidates binned when their own tweets or blogs were exposed deserve no sympathy.

In each case their words were insulting, offensive, and plain dumb.

But here’s the thing – how on earth do intelligent, mature adults get themselves into such a mess?

It’s beyond me why anyone feels the need to post such dross.

They cannot think it is funny or that it adds anything to the debate.

A growing part of my role – and that of every journalist – is to engage on social media.

Dipping your toe below the line – where comments are posted – is a bit like dancing barefoot through slurry.

I despair at the outright aggression in the tone of many posts. Every prejudice is there, expressed in the harshest possible terms, and, slowly but surely, that spills over into real life, and impacts on us all.

The Smartphone Generation has grown up absorbing the bile, the hate, the abuse and the nasty personal shaming. Goodness knows what damage that has done, and continues to do, to them.

We should be able to debate robustly and with passion and conviction, even the most contentious and divisive of topics, and still not cross the line into bile.

But, clearly, we cannot.

The media laps up Twitterstorms, but, in truth, they are pointless rammies that go round in circles.

No-one wins, nothing is resolved, and people’s reputations are traduced. A quick glean of the fierce online debate over trans rights sums up social media at its most toxic and damaging.

But still, people – and indeed organisations –tumble into the rabbit hole, and end up being chewed up and spat out.

It just isn’t worth it.

You can live quite easily without Twitter or Facebook – many of my friends do, and don’t feel as though they are missing out on anything crucial. When digital is finally superseded by the next technological advance, no-one will ever compile a “best of social media” book, because it’s all just froth.

When Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet came to Kirkcaldy last year, he spoke of the need to create a new, better web that serves all of humanity.

I fear the dark heart of social media is little more than a mirror – to make it better, first we must change society.