The killing of MP Jo Cox has caused many people to pause and question whether political debate is becoming too callous and extreme because of the way social media and Twitter in particular encourage polarised views.
Today’s Inforrm blog carries a very thoughtful article from Sharon Coen, a senior lecturer in media psychology at Salford University. Her article as you can see here is mainly framed about political debate.
However what she says says about politics can easily be extended to the way trolls treat women and survivors of child sex abuse.
As she says on politics: “The adversarial communication style we see in politics today is certainly counterproductive and polarises opinions. Disagreement is great and is at the heart of democracy. But, as political scientist Susan Bickford argues, it is only by really listening to other people’s positions, not just discarding them, that the democratic process can be successful. And – as in face to face interaction among politicians or televised debates – the internet has proved so bad at enabling people to listen to each other that there are now attempts to redesign the way we communicate online to make us better listeners.”
On social media she says:
“Social media …is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it fosters political engagement both on and offline. For example, in a small (unpublished) study I conducted, I found that when people used the internet to debate and comment on news online, they were also more likely to be politically active in the real world. Again, this is in line with other research in the area.
“But (my emphasis) social media also fosters polarisation. People tend to connect to like-minded people – and engage with content that reflects their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. Social media focuses political debate even further around individuals who have active profiles on social media sites. It can effectively put a big neon target on them, attracting more personal abuse from those who disagree with them.”
She goes on:”The recent launch of the Reclaim the Internet campaign has highlighted the amount of abuse individuals (and women in particular) are subjected to online. The issues of cyberbullying and cybermisogyny are ones that deserve serious consideration for the negative impact they can have on the recipients of such abuse.”
In my view this aggressive stance by some people – often more aimed at women than men – is becoming particularly nasty with MPs like Jo Cox (before she was killed) and Jess Phillips, Mp for Birmingham, Yardley, being recent targets.
I am also thinking of child sex abuse survivors like Esther Baker – whose allegations are the current subject of a police investigation – who has suffered egregious abuse on line from people who claim not to beleive her.
It is time that these bullies and cowards put up and shut up. They should think before they tweet. Would they say that to a person’s face in public? If not why say it on line behind some anonymous or not so anonymous twitter handle? Their actions also encourage more hate and division but most of them are not man enough ( yes they are mostly men!) to stand up in public and say what they think.
The problem is that this type of behaviour is beginning to have nasty consequences and turning this country into a nasty place to live.