Column: Words matter because words wound and the damage can be long lasting

Words matter - because they can slice the skin as deep as any blade.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 7:48 pm
Words matter - but social media has corroded the way we converse

On social media, they have become weapons designed to denigrate, to taunt and to wound.And the damage will be profound unless we get a grip on how we communicate, and the tech giants which run the platforms start to take meaningful action.

Last week, one of my colleagues sent a tweet seeking permission to use a video.

The response she got asked for nude pics.

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In what world is that remotely acceptable?

Social media has corroded the way we communicate, to the point the above example - just one of dozens I could have picked from the past few weeks - is somehow viewed as banter.

It isn’t. That’s why my fellow editors rightly called it out - publicly and directly.

Words matter.

Social media has many upsides, but it has a horrid underbelly which has normalised abuse, and it is now relentless.

I’ve no problem with anyone criticising what I write or the stance I may decide the newspaper takes on a specific issue, but that is entirely separate from the increasingly personal bile which permeates too many of the comments.

We’ve descended into a dark and very polarised world of ‘debate’ where you’re either with them or an enemy to be hunted down and attacked.

What people write online they wouldn’t dream of repeating to someone’s face. I can think of one person who routinely slaughtered me on Twitter, and then stopped to chat in the street like an old friend as if they were two separate people.

They have to be held to account for their online behaviour just as they would be tackled if they walked up and punched someone on the face - because words matter.

The damage online abuse can cause can be just as devastating, and long lasting.

A generation has grown up with social media. While it has tapped into its amazing ability to connect, it has also had to live with being held up to ridicule.

The days of escaping the school bully when the bell went are over. Today, they follow you home and perch on your bedside table 24/7. The long-term impact of that we’re only just beginning to understand.

But, no-one seems to care anymore about the impact their words might have. Well, they’re just words after all.

The greatest lie ever told was that sticks and stones would break your bones, but names would never harm you – the time-honoured response to anyone who has ever been verbally bullied.

It was wrong then. It remains deeply, dangerously wrong in a society which no longer has an off switch where social media has created platforms where you can sneer, mock ,lie and vilify 24/7, and rarely be held to account.

Last week, for the very first time, I reported a Twitter account for its relentless abuse. It was taken down - so the guy simply activated his back-up account.

And so it goes on, every hour of every day, and will do so until the majority speak up and act.

Because words matter.

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