I love Twitter.
It’s usually the first thing I look at when I arrive at my desk in a morning, and one of the last things I look at before closing the laptop in the evening.
But during any sort of controversial or tragic news story, Twitter becomes one, giant pain in the neck.
What’s the biggest pain?
It’s not the we-haven’t-noticed-people-are-dying-we’re-just-using-the-hashtag-to-sell-shoes Tweets.
It’s not even the Britain-is-broken-surely-it’s-time-to-get-rid-of-Islam Tweets.
For me, it’s the “I’m not using Twitter because I can’t bear the racism,” Tweets.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of racism. Or racists. But I am glad if they’re openly sharing views on Twitter, so we know who they are.
And let’s not forget that Tweeting about leaving Twitter is not going to convince anyone you’re about to leave Twitter.
More importantly though, let’s try and remember that there are as many points of view in the world as there are people. Even stupid cretins are allowed opinions.
Broadly speaking, stupid opinions come from a lack of understanding, a lack of insight, and a lack of empathy.
And that’s sort of how I feel when I see people I connect with on social media conflating the actions of one or two extremists with an entire race, or religion. When someone sees the actions of an extremist as being evidence for a broad shift in immigration policy or as justification for banning an entire religion (side-note: WTAF?).
Staying silent; not using social media; not engaging with people; removing them from your friends list – don’t those actions allow ignorance and fear and prejudice to flourish?
Why not engage? Why not point out that not everyone thought we should banish Christianity when a right-wing extremist shot children in Utoya. Why not point out that most decent British people are shocked and saddened when someone is murdered – regardless of whether or how they choose to worship?
The commenters might not agree with you – trying to debate with a racist can be a bit like trying to explain particle physics to a puppy, but you’ve said something. You didn’t sit idly by and let racism and bigotry pass unchallenged. You’ve added – in however small a way – to someone’s understanding of a different point of view.
Generally, I’m pretty happy to debate with people on social media. If I reach a point where the debate feels like it’s no longer a debate but a row, or nobody is learning anything, then I’ll bow out: “I think we need to agree to disagree on this one.” Occasionally, I’ll get someone who can’t differentiate between, “I don’t agree with you,” and “I don’t like you,” but those people are few and far between, and if you’re the sort of person who is SO mortally offended by a different opinion to you own that you resort to personal abuse or throwing your toys out of the pram, then I can’t help but think you’re no great loss from my social circle.
I’m also a passionate defender of free speech. If you believe in free speech, I think you HAVE to defend the right of people to say things you think are wrong. And you HAVE to defend the right of people to say things you think are wrong, in a WAY that you think is wrong.
I tend to think that trying to silence racists, or bigots, or misogynists, or class-haters, or disablists, or anyone else who says things I might find morally distasteful is massively counter-productive. It feeds into paranoia and only leads to those posts you see about the “media conspiracy” to hide “the truth”. Why not let the racists talk? Why not talk back? Why not let the world – and our children – see that we don’t let ignorance and hatred pass without comment?
Commenting doesn’t mean getting into rows with people. It doesn’t mean engaging with EVERY idiot on the Internet (talk about a lifetime’s work). But it means engaging with the people you know, and connect with. Or at least putting an alternative view out there – even if it’s not directed at one specific person.
It’s speaking out. Because I don’t want to teach my child that you stay silent when you think something is wrong. What do you think? Do you remove someone from your social network if they’re racist?
And if nothing else, why not share this video today? One of the best responses there is to finding out your Facebook friend is a racist.