Social Media: The Dark, Bright And Light Side

The positive power of social media and also its negative side have been highlighted in different ways and through different stories over the past few weeks. While Katy Hopkins finally paid the price for her often pernicious and vitriolic comments, the Manchester bombing saw the media use the internet to help reunite families separated during the horror of that attack.

Twitter can be very powerful in those circumstances and does a lot of good. In another way, last month we saw exactly why the idea of a social media platform like this was so attractive to start with. Once Donald Trump’s fingers had slipped unfortunately short of a coherent sentence, the Twitter-sphere came into its own, with hilarious comments and spoofs. Covfefe provided us with a smile at a tough time to be happy with the world. For that Mr Trump we are thankful; however inadvertent this was on your behalf.

For me using Twitter has been a learning experience. A few years ago I angrily tweeted a BBC presenter about their approach to interviews which resulted in a needlessly bitter exchange. I wasn’t nasty, just critical. I told the presenter they always make interviews about themselves and felt annoyed. But tweeting them directly was a form of online Knock Down Ginger. I left a comment and ran off. When they engaged me I was surprised and alarmed. Over the next two hours, myself and other colleagues were drawn into an online form of a primary school row. The presenter eventually apologised and despite encouragement of colleagues I did not complain to the BBC or sell the story to the Daily Mail!

What it taught me was that ‘normal’ people can act differently online because exchanging views is much easier than being face to face. After this episode, I vowed to be more positive with messages and tweets and only comment for praise. After all negative feedback is always easier than being positive. As for the presenter involved, I’m not sure it was out of character from what I know from colleagues but they might just have been having a bad day. Katy Hopkins meanwhile is ‘a lovely person’ according to people I know that worked with her at LBC. But what makes a ‘lovely’ person act so nastily online remains, in some ways, a mystery to me. I like to play devil’s advocate but constantly pushing and poking in such a provocative way only ends up inciting more anger.

The Hopkins affair has reminded me of an excellent Radio 4 drama I heard last year. It involved the eventual murder of an outspoken commentator and the fluctuating public reaction. It went from hate and vile at the person’s comments in the press to dismay, upset and outrage at their death. It perfectly captured the quick-fire, knee-jerk reactions social media seems to fuel. I wish no ill on Hopkins in that sense, but you can see how the drama’s plot could happen. Stir up that much hate and it could come back to haunt you.

When it works to unite, entertain and help, social media is fabulous, delightfully funny and empowering, but too often we experience its darker side. I am sure gaining attention is part of Hopkins’ reason for tweeting as she does, but why would you want people to think of you in this way? Her skin must be thicker than an elephants. She’ll be back on a channel and tweeting away again soon enough. Or maybe she has learnt a lesson like I did.

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