Yet another ugly row has erupted via twitter, and yet again the tabloid press has jumped on the band wagon to add an extra layer of hate mongering.
Yesterday, poverty campaigner and food blogger Jack Monroe became the centre of controversy after tweeting her views that David Cameron deliberately used the memory of his dead son to push forward his own political agenda, to change and ultimately privatise the NHS. A shocking accusation in anyone’s eyes, whether you focus on Cameron’s potential actions, or Monroe’s gall in suggesting any parent would misuse their own grief in such a way. Twitter erupted, but of course it wasn’t to stop there. Before long, the Daily Mail had waded in, with Sarah Vine remonstrating Monroe for her callousness, but not before adding her own homophobic twist to the tale.
It’s tempting to do what always happens here: tweet our outrage, defend our preferred party, talk animatedly about the issue for 5 minutes…then return to the monotony of our lives – changing nappies, filling in spreadsheets, filing reports – before the next hasty opinionated celebrity gives us something to gossip about. But maybe it’s worth taking a few moments to reflect on what we can really learn from this latest debacle:
1. Social Media does NOT encourage ‘debate’, it encourages nothing more than virtual shouting.
As a result of one 140 character comment, Monroe has been subjected to the predictable online backlash: anger, abuse, threats. It’s a daily tale on Twitter; express an unpopular opinion and someone will immediately and graphically explain how they plan to kill you.
Proponents of social media will say the benefits outweigh the detrimental effects of trollers – I want to agree – but if you’re trying to voice a genuine concern, and the response is only anger, have you achieved in raising that issue? Or should we be looking for a better platform?
2. Using children is a step too far, even in politics.
Let me be clear, I in no way want Mr Cameron to continue as my Prime Minister after the next general election. I am not a fan, of him or his policies. But I cannot believe Ms Monroe’s accusation. I cannot allow myself to believe it. As a parent, the love you feel for your child is indescribable. Whatever your intentions in life, whatever your goals, whatever you need to achieve, you will always put your child first in whatever way you can. That is a simple, natural instinct. We may not always see it in others, we may not be able to do it ourselves every second of the day, but we always try. To assume that a father could deliberately and calculatingly abuse the memory of his child for political point scoring may be totally believable for some, but for the sake of my own sanity and faith in humanity I have to refute it.
3. Someone needs to be the bigger person.
Based on my previous comments, I cannot help passing some judgement on Ms Monroe, a person for whom I have genuine admiration and respect. Even if you think it, don’t say it. If you truly believe a person has such scant regard and respect for the memory of their own child that they would use it for political gain, show that you are better. By publishing such a statement, aren’t you laying yourself open to be guilty of an equally heinous offence? You are also ‘using’ the memory of that child for your own political gain.
Some trollers have sadly and predictably sent messages hoping for ‘karma’ to be inflicted upon Ms Monroe via her own child, proving again the inability to enter into any real debate via social media, where all humanity seems to lose it’s head. Where people develop this logic – mYou said something I think is mean about a defenceless child. That’s awful, so I’m going to say something horrible about your defenceless child’ – is beyond me. Until children ask to be part of our political debate, leave them out of it. Where children have no voice to speak either way, it is not our place to drag them in.
4. Society is nowhere near as tolerant as we believe or hope it to be.
I take everything to come out of the Daily Mail with a giant handful of salt. Yet, unfortunately, its hyperbolic and often ill-intentioned views do seem to influence, and perhaps represent, many in society today. So it is that the most frightening thing of all to arise from this debacle is the irrefutable proof that homophobia still has a prominent and accepted face within our society.
Sarah Vine, providing the inevitable knee-jerk tabloid reaction to Monroe’s comment and the subsequent drama, felt the inexplicable need to focus on her sexuality – an aspect which has nothing to do with her political beliefs, certainly not in this context.
Perhaps the one thing I can praise about the coalition is the introduction of gay marriage; a sign, surely, that our we are becoming the tolerant and inclusive society we should be. So how can a mainstream newspaper be allowed to publish such ignorant views? Is Sarah Vine really so ignorant she’s confused about how a gay woman could have a child? Is she really suggesting Jack should have thought twice before having a child just because of her sexuality? And again, if Vine is so outraged by Monroe bringing Cameron’s son into the political debate, has she considered how Monroe’s children will be affected? And all those other children raised by gay couples? I guess not. Political and personal mud slinging is clearly more important than considering the actual children who are being discussed.
5. The tabloid press would still rather cry anger than work towards the better society it proclaims to want, and the sooner we stop paying attention to it the better!
Many people on social media and in the papers would claim they are bringing serious issues to our attention, and often this may be the case, but far more insidious and noticeable are the instances or hatred, anger and deliberate trouble-making. Vine’s piece in the Daily Mail was nothing more than click hunting; spewing out deliberately vile and controversial views so that angered people will go ‘how awful! Look what this woman wrote!’ And we all fell for it. So now, far from discussing concerns about the NHS and the coalition government – the issue Monroe wanted to raise – or debating where we draw the lines when criticising politicians – what Vine surely should have been addressing – we’ve fallen into a virtual shouting match. A match which no one will win and from which nothing positive will come. After a few days of angry spouting, we’ll all return to our normal lives and nothing will have been achieved.
Ultimately, we need to accept that social media and the tabloid press are in many ways broken, and not fit for purpose when it comes to debating serious issues. The sooner we realise it and stop paying them so much attention, the better. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find some real people and have a proper conversation.
DISCLAIMER: I have to admit I did not actually read the Sarah Vine article. I couldn’t bring myself to give her the hits. I realise it’s not particularly good writing practice but I don’t care!