If you want to stop reading this type of article, stop reading this type of article

In this post, Cathie McGinn argues why rewarding the hateful with mainstream media attention perpetuates social media misbehaviour…

In this weekend’s Sunday Telegraph, soi-disant “Tabloid Terror,” gossip columnist Ros Reines devoted almost a full page to calling A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw a hypocrite for her criticism of “social media bullies.”

In essence, it’s a non-story, much like Grimshaw’s original tirade, and in fact, if you keep on going down the rabbit hole, you find yourself lost in the cold dark emptiness of a desolate planet, much like that ad for Tooheys, wandering in and out of a series of increasingly drab house parties where all the booze has run dry.

“Why translate their jaundiced opinions and intemperate language into news copy that’s supposed to actually carry some authority?” asks Grimshaw. Without getting into a debate about the editorial policies of ACA and Today Tonight, this attack on internet users is just the latest in a long line of what could best be described as social media hothoused hype.

Foolish behaviour on the internet is time and again being given not just the oxygen of attention but a thorough stirring up by the hot panting breath of hundreds of journalists.

It may appear that I’m doing the very thing I’m criticising: some sort disappointing online version of pass-the-parcel, where you open box after box after box, the last in the series of increasingly tiny boxes finally revealing nothing at all. And full disclosure is required: I’ve appeared on national television and in print, offering criticism of the twats on Twitter and fuckwits on Facebook who offer death threats and alarming calls for savagery and violence because they don’t like some bloke on the telly.

I’ve said in a grave and overly earnest fashion that the way we use the internet is evolving; we’re effectively acting like teenagers, testing boundaries and learning as we go. I’ve taken the view that any new technology that has widespread impact on society will inevitably cause consternation for a while.

Change creates fear.

But we’ve had the internet for a while now, and I’m getting bored of waiting for us to grow up.

I’m coming around to a new way of thinking: it’s the mainstream media overblowing of this trend that I believe is cementing its position in our society and offering it legitimacy, and shifting the focus away from the underlying issues. Why, for example, are people so fed up, in this lucky country of ours, that one hair flip of a minor celebrity gets them baying for blood?

Twitter or Facebook, or news sites that allow comments on articles such as this one aren’t causing people to behave in a stupid manner, any more than it’s the fault of Ford that people crash their cars while drunk at the wheel. But there surely has to be some sort of positive reinforcement in seeing a negative remark you’ve made being repeated ad nauseam on broadcast media, something which makes you more likely to aim for greater vitriol.

I don’t believe the majority of people do want to see Delta suffer a Game of Thrones style fate. I think people are for the most part fair and reasonable, although prone to getting a bit carried away.

If we reward the hateful by giving it wider distribution and frequency, what motivation is there to strive to achieve the remarkable?

Last year, Sean Cummins called for an end to anonymous comments at Mumbrella 360 last year. I ranted on about the need for positivity in a previous post. This year the outcome of the Change One Thing session was an attempt to become more courageous as an industry, to combat the “culture of conservatism” – to take risks, something which other commenters have claimed is hampered by the hostility of anonymous threads on sites such as this one.

I’m not seeing a reduction in these social media backlashes directed against an individual; in fact I’d argue that a behaviour that used to be somewhat in the minority is spreading to the mainstream, and every single time consumer affairs shows and broadsheets cover these stories they inflate the propensity of otherwise reasonable people to vent spleen.

So if you, like me, would like not to read any more articles like this one, stop reading articles like this one.

Cathie McGinn


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