Reading an exchange on Facebook between two people lately (about the ongoing antisemitism row in the UK Labour party), it calls to mind a recent exchange I had with someone on a Scottish Independence page (about some of the ongoing abuse directed toward farmers, due to a lot of them supposedly voting No in 2014 (based on a poll taken three months before the vote – and we all know how reliable polls are – and for Brexit in 2016). The exchanges were eerily similar – hate usually looks the same everywhere, under the surface – and confirms a theory that’s been bubbling away in the back of my mind.
There’s a lot of nastiness in the world today. I’m not one of those who think the world is worse than ever (and historians tend to be on my side), but do agree that we, as individuals, engage with the nastiness on a superficial level more than ever. And by superficial, I mean we see it and talk about it – I’m not suggesting that we all live in a war-zone, but that we’re aware of it, whether we live in a war zone or not, through 24/7 ‘if it bleeds it leads’ new services, and via social media.
But, always the silver lining gal: I’m not sure this is such a bad thing. I’m only unsure that we – or rather I – always have the stomach for combating it.
The thing is, believing as I do that cretins, abusers, racists, demagogues and dictators have been around forever… I also believe many of us have been buffered against them for a while. Progress has allowed some of us to believe the bad has been going away. And it has, in some ways, but in others, it’s just been forced underground. We all know that racism is bad, and in America and the UK, two of the three countries I’ve lived in, it’s generally in the public eye a LOT, both via racists, and via those fighting racism. But it’s everywhere, although most of the times I’ve witnessed it, it’s been underground, couched in ‘acceptable’ language, often about ‘illegal’ immigration and overstretched services. It’s not generally, something one boldly displays in public, but only among like-minded fellows. Or assumed like-minded fellows. You can’t believe the times people will think I’m likely to agree with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, because I’m supposedly one of the ‘good’ (read: white) immigrants. And here’s where social media comes in.
Because social media is a magnet for all the racists etc. who have been in hiding over the years. Within the world-wide web, a racist can spout hate with some level of anonymity. They can even attempt to control the conversation, in ways they cannot do in polite society anymore (although they seem to have a larger than usual platform in the USA and UK these days). And if you call them out on it…especially if you’re a woman, but everyone is at risk… you will feel the full force of their rage. I’ve now blocked a few people who used to be FB ‘friends’, thanks to this sort of thing. I will passionately argue my position with anyone, as many of my actual friends know from personal experience…but abusive behavior will not be tolerated in my presence, be it digital or analogue. No matter who it’s directed at.
A while ago, I was considering lightening up on my political posts, because I was exhausted from all this back-and-forth. I posted my state of mind on my Facebook page, and thanks to the responses this suggestion received from my friends, old and new, I decided to keep on keeping on. Those who don’t ‘do’ politics know they are welcome to skip those posts, and stick to my farm stories. But I have found, thanks to their support – thank you! – a strength I was sorely needing.
Another thing that keeps me going are exchanges like the one I saw this morning: this woman had guts. And intelligence. She was simply awesome in her ability to stay calm and expose the idiocy of the bigot’s argument. And if we can stay calm, and use our guts and intelligence, as she did…trolls, racists and other deplorables will always, always, show their true colors in the end. They will always revert to form. This is why it’s important to stay in the fight, and speak out to and against the trolls. Because they cannot be allowed to hide, infecting our digital or analogue lives anymore. They’ve had too much freedom to manipulate, lie, and cheat their way into our public sphere lately. They cannot be allowed to poison our discourse, and steal away the gains we’ve made in civil rights and equality for all. They need to be exposed, shamed, and made to crawl back into their holes and clubs where they belong.
So if you see someone – me or any of your friends – engaged in one of these back-and-forths, and are wondering why we bother, this is why. Peeling the mask away from these people is worth the agro. We don’t have to expose them, they will, if engaged, eventually expose themselves for the hate-mongering pathetic little people they are. And every time they do, they lose a little ground. It’s not fun, I’m not always successful at staying true to the standards I try set myself…and contrary to what some might think, I don’t do it because I ‘just like to argue’. I hate it, actually. I always have. And these days, I much prefer to hang out with the sheep. Because #sheepdontcare where you’re from, who you love, or the color of your skin. But taking on the trolls is essential work for activists, if we are to own our progress and keep it going.
So yeah. The trolls are out and about a lot these days…but they’re so much easier to see in the daylight, aren’t they? It’s not such a bad thing, this social media. I’m staying in. Are you?