Do we have to break up now?

Most aren’t nearly as lovely as these guys.

Wow. Just, wow. I’m struggling to believe some of the things people have posted on Twitter the last few days. I know there’s often ugly exchanges and not just on Twitter – have you visited a newspaper comment section recently? But Twitter seems to be home to some of the ugliest cases – comments and personalities.

The viciousness of the comments directed at Charlotte Dawson this week has, quite simply, unhinged my jaw and wounded my heart. I don’t want to believe that this is a true reflection of who we have become, but sadly the more time I spend engaging on social media, the more evidence I see to support that theory.

Saying that, I have also found some inspiring people and amazing kindness on social media. And I’m hoping that these nuggets of goodness means I won’t have to have the ‘it’s not me, it’s definitely YOU’ conversation with social media just yet.

It seems everyone has a view on dealing with trolls or bullies (who are two slightly different animals in my view) but on the whole it falls into two camps: ignore them or shame them. Neither of which, I think, addresses the problem. But then trolls will always be a problem. There isn’t a solution, there’s only risk minimisation.

Does retweeting trolls and bullies to ‘shame’ them actually work, or is it just feeding the beast? Given what they’re willing to say to complete strangers in a public forum, I think it’s unlikely they’ll feel any shame at all. A very small number might be genuinely embarrassed by being retweeted, but the majority? Some are plainly immature and desperate for attention, others seek to make themselves feel better about their own sorry lot at the expense of others, are suffering mental illness, or they’re quite simply sociopaths. Retweeting won’t help in any of these cases.

Many have been quick to say ‘ignore it’, ‘block them, problem solved’. Not quite. It eases your anxiety, and the lack of acknowledgment or response might even discourage a few, but realistically, they’ll just move on to the next person. And just between you and me, I’m not entirely comfortable with the notion that my ignoring them results in them directing their bile at someone else.

Ignoring it ignores the behaviour. And it’s the behaviour that needs addressing, far more than our response to it.

I can’t imagine ever talking to another person like that – even to the person I liked least in the world. So I find it very difficult to understand how or why these people attack complete strangers in that way.

They’re cowards, sure. I’d challenge any one of those who attacked Charlotte Dawson to sit across from her in a crowded coffee shop, with their friends & family present, and say the same thing. Better yet, across from her on tv. Surely if they feel that strongly about it, they’d happily repeat it in public where their friends, family & complete strangers can share in the ‘fun’. Right?

Well maybe some actually would. And those people I’d cross the street to avoid having anything to with – ever. But most people? No chance.

I’m sad to say that I don’t have a solution. I truly wish I did. Seeing it, reading it, is just dispiriting.

All I can do is continue to apply one of my core life rules and encourage others to do likewise – treat people as you’d hope they treat you. I’m not always a perfect example of this, and god knows, I’ve been disappointed many times by those who don’t reciprocate in the way they have treated me or those I care about. But short of locking up everyone who has something nasty to say – a rather impractical idea at best – the best we can hope for is, through our action, to become the change we want to see. If we act with kindness we create an environment of kindness. Yes, it sounds a little trite, fluffy bunny, tree huggy – but you know what, it just might bloody work!

With both World Suicide Prevention Day (10 Sept) and RUOK Day (13 Sept) coming up, it’s a good time to stop and touch base with those around us, consider how our words and actions can affect others, and apply the infinite wisdom of the master of brevity and the best philosopher I know: Dr Seuss.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

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