Words matter because words wound - the toxic social media fall-out has to stop

Ha social media had a corrosive effect on how we communicate? (Pic: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)Ha social media had a corrosive effect on how we communicate? (Pic: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)
Ha social media had a corrosive effect on how we communicate? (Pic: Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)
Words matter. At least, they used to.

The greatest lie ever told was sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me. That childhood rhyme came to mind as I followed the fallout which almost imploded the Love Kirkcaldy Facebook page last week as the very best and very worst of social media collided.

Sitting in a cafe in Belfast reading an interview with the brilliant writer, Russell T Davies, his words suddenly chimed. He spoke of how the online voice is creeping into society, and how corrosive it is. “The polarising of the argument is the problem; it’s shouting and screaming. The language is vile on both sides,” he said.

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What happened on Love Kirkcaldy has pretty much happened on, or to, every Facebook page. It will almost certainly happen again on the social media platform, and again, and again until grown adults realise that all this furious howling at the moon is utterly pointless, and deeply damaging to people’s health.

I know how much the tsunami of messages and comments suffocated the Love Kirkcaldy admins which is why I’m not going over who said what, how and why – the whataboutery won’t help anyone – but I’ve seen it happen on other pages only too recently; pages set up, managed and monitored in people’s own time for no payment and, generally, for the betterment of others.

Davies argued: “For intelligent people there has got to be a middle ground. The greater argument is the co-opting of our public debate by tech giants - but they don’t care about what we are saying as long as they can find ways to monetise it, and that is fracturing our society apart and we are letting it happen.”We’ve all witnessed pile-ons. Some have started them and walked away from the wreckage, and far, far too many have adopted a polarised stance that if I am right then you must be wrong, and in that ultra black and white world, we get cheap jibes about snowflakes and Karens from people old enough to know better; Please, let’s remove - surgically if necessary - these two Gen-Z phrases from the vocabulary of every single grown up.

Of course the Love Kirkcaldy storm abated - it always does - but the many private messages, and hundreds of posts, even all the supportive ones, were basically tinnitus for the eyes; a howling landscape impossible to escape.

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I’ve seen the toll managing other social media platforms has taken on people. The stuff they get sent privately is appalling - nasty, confrontational, and abusive - and how they handle it varies from person to person, but all it can take is one jibe, or one comment to get under your skin and cause real damage.

Words matter because words can wound. The ‘dinnae take it personally’ response cuts no ice when the time and energy you put into a page is very personal. That’s why so many either vanish or wither when those who set them up decide to walk away.

Life really is too short and too precious to waste on the angry brigade who seethe not so quietly on social media - the ones with the flippant answers, sarcastic responses and nippy retorts, none of which they would ever say to your face. Put them all on mute. Let them howl at the moon instead.

The middle ground Russell T. Davies yearned for on social media sometimes feels about as far away as the Tardis spinning through time…

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