Trending downwards: The sinking feeling caused by social media

The brief we gave our blogger Stuart Pearcey was simply to seek out what was trending, and shine his spotlight on it. This month, it could surely be nothing but Brexit – but before you roll your eyes and turn away, he’s looked behind the rhetoric to find something even more disturbing…

Frankly, I blame social media. And I don’t see things getting any better. If ever anything were more wrongly described, I’ve yet to find it.

Created as a means of sharing information and collaborating over distance, much of social media has degenerated into a vile and abusive shouting match; a place to fabricate falsehoods and have them treated as reality; a place to vilify, hate, and ridicule, unshackled by any form of redress. Anyway, you can even do it anonymously.

The result is, as far as social media is concerned, the carving of the nation in two distinct camps. The topic doesn’t matter; as far as social media is concerned, you’re either with us or against us; pro or anti. And neither camp is prepared to consider that the other has a point of view – or even that an alternative point of view might exist.

It’s been likened to civil war.  As one moderate user said to me: “There have always been different views, but people now seem to be so arrogant and damning of anything or anyone who doesn’t fit with their view of the world. When did everyone suddenly become an expert on everything?”

Another suggested that for most people anything ended up being a choice of two options, which were diametrically opposed. He said: “In fact there is usually a whole spectrum of opinion which gets side-lined in favour of the populist ‘poles apart’ position.”

Another suggested that social media was a platform commandeered by radical people. He told me: “Social media has more readily allowed the sharing of opinions so people like me (and I’ve always been a bit radical) can confront a greater section of the community. I was always radical, but now more folk realise it.”

Another put it more succinctly: “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”

It’s the last comment that causes the most problems, because it excludes the possibility of the existence of other shades of opinion.

Which brings me back to Brexit. I’m not going to share the way I voted because it’s not relevant to what I have to say next. It’s this. It’s taken three years of indecision since the referendum for the UK not to leave the EU.  With the passage of time an information vacuum has developed, and people have rushed to fill it through the medium of social media. The debate has become entrenched, and a belief has developed that continued pressure might be able to change what appeared to be the result in June 2016.

And here’s the real danger. Having reached this point we run the very real risk of banging nails into the coffin of democracy because we have developed a belief that by shouting louder than the opposition we can have our own way. That will be a very sad day indeed. And social media will be to blame.

Picture: Faruk Kovic: Dreamstime