We’re going through testing times. When voting began in the 19th century, even the most prescient of parliamentary members couldn’t have imagined the likes of the social media explosion which is now doing battle for our opinions. I’m pretty sure that even Nostradamus’s predictions stopped in the arena of cat-beards and baby memes.
People are passionate about their politics, and that’s how it should be. But we are now in the habit of sharing every tiny aspect of our lives, immediately. We mainly live within our own echo chamber, meaning we post each time with the expectation of approval and we read whatever feeds our confirmation bias. Online, many instantly click and share in a rush, sometimes a kneejerk reaction to something on the news or heard on the bus, forwarded immediately without time for analysis, fact checking or digestion. Others just love to provoke debate and conflict.
If you’re seen as a representative of the group being discussed, you can feel an immense pressure to counter any ill-informed views. For example, over the past week or so I’ve found myself gently explaining the role of the Chief Rabbi. There seems to be an assumption that every Jew in Britain has chosen our favourite, X Factor style. Amazingly, I’ve also had to clarify that British Jews can actually be born in Britain, we’re not shipped in from Israel to look after the money and the media. I’ve had to gently point out that using euphemisms doesn’t actually disguise what you’re really saying…
And it hasn’t all been about antisemitism. In this war of words, where emotions are running high, there are posts about all sectors of our multicultural British society, about what “they” have done or would do or might like to happen. So here is a handy guide to sharing on social media right now. Or ever. If you're going to post something which, however loosely, relates to a particular minority - and I mean any, not just mine - here are a few suggestions as to how to process that post before deciding to go public:
- Try replacing that race, religion or ethnicity with another in that sentence (or in your head) and see how you feel about the sentiment or language that you're using.
- Visualise yourself saying it face to face with an ordinary member of that particular group, not a politician or public figure, just one of your neighbours who lives their own quietly productive life.
- Picture yourself declaring that statement in a public place, perhaps on a stage, to a mixed audience from within and outside of your echo chamber, and being asked to clarify and explain what you mean, to really drill down into the essence of your point.
- Consider the butterfly effect of "words x 10". What might be the potential outcome if those listening strongly agree, agree way beyond the parameters of your comment and push forward quoting you. Or if people disagree, what actions they may take in your name if they feel hurt or aggrieved.
- Imagine directing it at yourself. Or someone you love.
Still feel ok? Comfortable to shout from the rooftops to a sea of friends and strangers? Go for it!