No more alternative facts – the day social media came of age

Twitter being used on smartphone

Twitter used to be the place you came to escape the more negative aspects of modern life.

It was a refuge for the smartphone-addicted masses, where we could share jokes, memes, animated gifs and comment on the frothy, entertaining things in life. What did we think of the latest ‘showstopper bake’ on the Great British Bake-Off? What exactly had Cameron done with that pig? And did anyone know of a good plumber in North London?

We came together through laughter, entertainment and the ability to create new friends and social groups that mirrored our own sensibilities and existed outside our real-world lives.

If you’ve looked at Twitter in the past few months and weeks, you’ll have noticed a change. That bubble we’d surrounded ourselves with has burst… and it sure as hell smarts now the soap’s truly got into our eyes!

Where did all the jokes go?

So what exactly has changed? A cursory look at your timeline in the first month of 2017 looks very different to how it did, say, two years ago.

The jokes are less. The tone is serious. The tweets are, on the whole, about important, meaningful events, both nationally and internationally. And there’s a real feeling of change and awakening and (dare I say it)…resistance.

What’s going on post-Brexit vote and post-Trump is a sad and inexorable slide towards the political right. Tolerance is being lessened, empathy is being chipped away at and our unelected Government appears happy – or, at the very least, complicit – in keeping it that way.

Now, I’m sure that my own personal Twitter feed is no more representative and objective than anyone else’s – I’m yet another white, bleeding-heart Northern European liberal, after all. But I’ve seen two things change in that timeline in recent times:

  1. Opinion and political stance has become incredibly polarised. People are moving either a) further to the right in attempt to cosy up with the State-sympathising bigots (stand up please, Messrs Gove and Morgan), or b)  they’re easing towards the left and becoming broader, more liberal and more community minded in their thinking.
  2. People are coping with a lot more abuse. Whether the target is a feminist, an ethnic minority, a gay activist or a career businesswoman, there’s a huge amount of abuse, harassment and far-right-leaning hate being aimed at people in our communities.

In a world where so many groups have fought hard and long for their civil rights, this is a depressing place to find ourselves in the 21st century.

Many of us felt we lived in a tolerant society, where differences were embraced and multiculturalism was part and parcel of what made us British – our ‘green and pleasant land’ has been a focus for immigration for centuries, after all, and our DNA is a mix of so many different ethnic sources.

So can we grasp back control of social media from the bigots and hate-mongers? If decency is going to prevail, then we HAVE to. The impact of a world where social media peddles propaganda, misinformation and ‘alternative facts’ doesn’t bear contemplating.

We must use social media as a tool for good… and fast!

A short history of 20th century propaganda

Let’s rewind to 1930s Germany and the gradual and insidious level of control that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party had over freedom of information.

In ‘30s Europe, the only information the public had access to we’re newspapers, radio and the information available in books and libraries. The access to current news and information was limited and funnelled through the conduit of the press – hence why so many media outlets were gagged, controlled and made puppets of the Nazi party. And also why we saw the indefensible burning of books on such a large scale. 

So, when you see Trump and his advisers attacking the press and telling them to ‘shut their mouth’, you don’t need to take too big a leap to see the similarities. A media that dares to tell the truth is a serious threat to your administration if your intention is to mislead your electorate and keep them uneducated and misinformed about the facts.

But – and it’s a HUGE but – modern citizens of the world are no longer reliant on newspapers and large media outlets as their only news source. We have social media, cloud communication tools and the intricate network of global internet connections to broadcast, consume and share information across.

There’s a well-worn phrase that ‘a lie can be halfway across the world before the truth even has its boots on’. But now, in the digital information age, the same is true of any piece of news, both fact and ‘alternative fact’.

The tricky bit is knowing what’s real news and what’s ‘fake news’ – and, more importantly, which news and information channels are providing which:

Who’s the truth teller?

And who’s the faker?

Use your social media voice for good

What social media, such as Twitter, do is give us – the ordinary person in the street – the means to receive unfiltered information, first-hand experiences and real-world updates on what’s going on in every corner of the planet – and that’s damn powerful.

Whether it’s #VoteRemain, #BlackLivesMatter, #MuslimBan or #FuckTheWall, there’s a hashtag and network to share your thoughts, concerns and messages. We can speak and not be muzzled, gagged or told to ‘Keep quiet, snowflake!’.

But for how much longer?

We take this freedom as our birth right. We feel entitled to it – and so we should, in a modern, Western democracy.

But when you have the US issuing executive orders to ban immigration for millions of innocent people, ignoring climate change and silencing climate scientists and removing civil rights piece by piece, how long before social media platforms are also being gagged?

I hope beyond hope that we never live to see State involvement in the running of social media sites, or any kind of filtering of what ordinary, law-abiding citizens can post and share. However, if we sit back and ignore the reality of what’s happening in front of our eyes, it’s a very real possibility.

So, grasp the nettle and make use of your social media channels. Share the facts, question misinformation and challenge intolerance and hate wherever you see it. And stand up for TRUTH in all it’s forms.

Get out there. Get tweeting. And make your voice heard – it’s your right.

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