Online – and out of line

The advice we're given when we see something online that's out of line, is to simply block the author in question. This is dangerous advice. It’s the online equivalent of turning a blind eye when you see something hideous playing out in the street in front of you. It’s never that I ‘don’t want to see’ something - it’s that I’m worried what’s going to happen next if I don’t say or do something about it.

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“Thank you for reporting. It helps keep our platform safe for all our members…”

Well, that’s very kind of you, social media platform that I rely upon every single day to grow my business, but if you’re not going to act on the report, it’s not really helping keep anyone safe at all, is it? It’s a bit like having my house burn down and calling the Fire Brigade. They can thank me all they want for reporting the blaze, but if they don’t come out and hose the damn thing down, I’m not going to be kept very safe, am I?

I’m not exactly a serial reporter when it comes to seeing things on social media that I personally don’t ‘like’. This level of discipline is astounding, really, given the fact that I really don’t like much of what I see on there at all, some days…

Social media is all about opinion, motivation and personal taste, though, isn’t it? I can’t just report someone because I’m sick of them posting about their self-indulgent success stories, despite the fact that they a) seem to have little in the way of discernible talent, and b) can’t possibly have the time amid all the posting to do any actual work. Similarly, I can’t just report someone for the reason that I actually have no idea what the point is that they’re making amid their vacuous waffle and flashy selfies. I’d have no right to report any of that stuff, really, because firstly, it’s not massively harming anyone (I don’t think), and secondly, they’re probably not a bad person – if not my cup of tequila. In each of those scenarios, I have the choice to scroll on by, knowing that the content on offer was never intended for me in the first place. It’s the same choice that everyone on social media has – should they wish to make it.

I certainly have the right to report things when stuff turns nasty, though.

I’m talking about when people (who I’m usually not even connected with) wade in on the posts I’ve written (on my own profile) and spout their hatred. And no, I’m not talking about people who simply ‘disagree’ with me. If I took offence every time someone didn’t agree with me, then I’d have a pretty hard life dealing with my mother and my own child most days. I welcome an opposing thought or alternative perspective, and I enjoy the opportunity to learn or to at least think a bit more deeply about things I write – I’ve even blogged about it previously. Admittedly, when I hit that opposition, I might scream silently at my screen and then bitch about it to whoever happens to be in a room with me at the time of reading, but 99 times out of 100, it’s just my ego that’s hurt, rather than a situation where something might leave me feeling sick, worried, or outright afraid.

Okay, I know that sounds dramatic (and what would social media be without theatrics), but hear me out. That so-called ‘safe’ that platforms claim they’re keeping everyone… sometimes I really don’t feel it. Why? Well, sometimes it’s because I feel like someone personally hates me. Not that they disagree with my post or my comments, but that they truly, madly hate me. How do I know this? Because their attack is nothing to do with the words I’ve written, the context I’ve used, or even the point I’ve made. It’s personal. ‘Ad hominem’, for those reading this who are usually against my “bad language” in posts because it “lacks intelligence”.

Take two personal instances from the past two weeks alone in the world of your humble author, here:

First, there was Scary Sary from somewhere in the States, who, fair enough, didn’t like a word I’d written in my own post. It was the F word, just for info. I used it as an intensifier in a post of around 50 other words – about a TV show where language of that nature is prevalent, by the way. Not liking that word wasn’t enough for our Sary, though, as she then proceeded to unleash a mounting level of anger, judgement and hatred towards me that made me wonder if she might have at one time been a client… I lost count of the number of extremely lengthy and detailed comments she kept adding to the thread – despite the fact I’d not even personally responded to her, by this point. To save you time and give you the lowlights, my new friend branded me a Jezebel, a tramp and a shrew(?), told me I made her ashamed to be a woman, and informed me that Jesus himself would turn his back on me at best and ensure I suffer at worst if I don’t change my evil ways. The judgey shrew-basher then had the nerve to end each interaction with “I pray for you”, which admittedly took the edge off things, as the content now made me laugh rather than worry. However, it was significant in its delivery and the ‘I speak in the name of God’ tone, and I couldn’t ignore that.

Sadly, I couldn’t actually report this worrying piece of preaching myself, because I couldn’t see most of those comments and instead had to rely on screenshots from people who were concerned about what was unfolding. Sure, people gave Sary a piece of their mind in relation to what it means to be a writer, a decent human, and a Christian, but they also reported Sary’s comments owing to the strength and frequency of them, and the darkly disturbing place of religious extremism they were seemingly stemming from.

The platform in question’s response to all of those reports?

Our Trust & Safety Team reviewed {your} report thoroughly and found this comment did not go against our professional community policies.

Wow. The very first policy on the list we’re then directed to on said platform to is “Be safe – be civil and respectful in every single interaction”. Even without the religious extremism, are you telling me that any of this was respectful? And is it a ‘Team’, really? Or is it a bot, who let’s face it, will let anything slide providing you don’t say f*** or c***?

Up next in my own little world of experiencing worrying comments in the supposedly safe space of social media, there was Righteous Hyacinth from London, who came at me unconnected and uninvited in a way that made Sary’s level of illiteracy look positively Shakespearean. Oh the irony of both of these ladies despising my language use… Anyway. I could be wrong here, of course, as the barrage of Hyacinth’s comments were complete and utter gibberish in their form and assembly, but from what I could pick out – and it seemed countless people on the platform drew the same conclusion – Hyacinth wanted to use the space afforded to her to spout extreme religious spiel, which was not only massively upsetting to me as the person who was told my wicked ways would see me burn in hell for eternity, but potentially upsetting for the Christian community, of whom I’m sure 99.9% would agree that Hyacinth’s hate preaching does not speak in their name or in that of their lord.

Reported, by myself and several others, once again.

The response?

Our Trust & Safety Team reviewed your report thoroughly and found this comment did not go against our professional community policies.

This is the point where I got really upset. You see, I have two main concerns, here:

One. I am continually having to watch my back on social media. Not because of Heavenly Hyacinth or even Scary Sary and the pedestal she put herself on. No, I’m forever having to watch my back because of the platform itself, and what it’s done to countless content creators before me.

Let me explain.

If I know my audience, I’ll swear. I’ll use those ‘bad’ yet completely dictionary-compliant words in my posts when I professionally judge them to suit. My posts, where everything I write is designed to promote myself as an exceptional writer so that I can run my business and have a nice little life as a result. A quiet one, believe it or not. I know those words may offend some people and I fully respect that those people may want to disconnect with me or block me as a result, but in my defence, those words are always in context, and they’re placed for a reason that in my professional opinion as a writer adds emphasis, intensity, or humour. I know! Unthinkable that someone would want to come onto social media and dare try to be relatable or to give people something to read that might just make them smile on an otherwise sh*tty day in the fairly sh*tty world we live in right now.

I love my usual social media platform of choice. I’ve built my business there, I’ve built a reputation there (a bloody good one), and I’ve built the most wonderful connections and relationships with some of the world’s most amazing people on there, too. Others do the same, but we’re being punished, and this is a massive issue for me. Swearing seems to be too much of an easy benchmark for platforms to judge standard-contravening content. I’ve seen tremendous writers and content producers get banned (temporarily and permanently) for their “bad language”, and I’ve had the warning notifications myself that suggest I should “think carefully” about if what I’m about to post goes against community standards.

I’ll be honest – I have no damn clue what those professional or community standards are, these days. I’ve read them, and I fully agree with them, but given all the experiences people share on social media of the things they’ve seen and read in the public forum and in the private inboxes that we’re gifted, those platforms are not actually doing anything to enforce them. I think what makes it worse, is that the advice on the reports we get back when something is way out of line is to simply block the member in question. This is dangerous advice. It’s the online equivalent of turning a blind eye when you see something hideous playing out in the street in front of you. It’s never that I ‘don’t want to see’ something – it’s that I’m worried what’s going to happen next if I don’t say or do something about it.

I guess that leads me into my second concern, and this one’s much bigger than anything I’ve referenced in this piece so far. Whilst it annoys me that I have to tread carefully around my content, those who dwell in cellars with a grand total of 39 followers and the production of zero professional content pieces go untouched, unchallenged, and therefore, actively permitted to post whatever they like providing it doesn’t include an expletive. Our social hosts are giving those people – who no doubt share similar circles to the two ladies I referenced earlier – a safe place to breed, because if their public outcries and outrage are anything to go by, these people are looking for a rally, and a place for their hate to be not just heard but amplified. And social media channels are allowing it.

Sanctimonious Sary and Hyacinth the Heretic Hunter are just the tip of the iceberg for me and are by no means anywhere near the worst of the offenders – and I do use that term literally, by the way. I’ll bet every decent person with a social media account has at one time witnessed something horrific on their platform in terms of a comment made that makes them wonder about the intentions of the person behind the keyboard and what they’re capable of in real life. The race hate that came out on LinkedIn, in particular, amid the content shared around Black Lives Matter, and the vile misogyny rife on the same platform that emerged during the the Sarah Everard abduction and murder case… so much stuff LinkedIn just let go. We need to change this.

When we look at some of the atrocities that have been committed by individuals and groups around the globe in modern day, there’s one place that investigations will always want to zone in on – social media. Social media is a place where people can be anonymous, yet where seeds can be sown and where some real messed up stuff can start to take root, recruit, and gather strength before going offline and heading out into our communities. I’m personally horrified by some of the content I see online, but whilst everyone has the right to free speech and opinion, I would have thought that when things become examples of hate speech, someone from those social media higher powers would step in and have a word.

I couldn’t care less about social media protecting me personally, but I care a hell of a lot about what a lack of action does in permitting – and almost welcoming – attitudes of prejudice, extremism and hate.

Social media, I love you, but you have a responsibility not only to keep your platforms safe, but to keep society safe, because if you allow these people a voice online, it’s only a matter of time before we feel the consequences of their actions in real life.

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