By James Fitzgerald
It felt like all eyes were on him as he sat there pondering his last words — an utterance that had come from his heart, and which he thought would take the dull, cruel conversation in another, healthier, direction. But the silence was deafening, as if he had just walked into a saloon in the old Wild West and the piano had just stopped playing. What should he do now, he pondered, withdraw and find another outlet, or pull his proverbial gun out one more time, and blast these sycophants between the eyes?
“John98765354” wasn’t really in a western bar, but he was in Bandit Country — a focal point of cyberspace we have come to know as social media. He had interjected in a thread about mask wearing under Covid conditions, and had challenged the status quo of the group by suggesting that masks might be more dangerous than the virus in the longer term. The medical experts in situ were quick to slam his claims, with sweeping statements about “spittle” and “airborne transmission”. But John98765354 survived the encounter, and lived to fight another day.
Depending on your interests and who you “follow” on social media, you stand to gain a wealth of information from the myriad academics and professionals who litter the landscape, but also an education in being streetwise and selective, as you encounter geniuses, humanitarians, “ascended masters”, scammers, the mentally ill, extremists of all hues, and vicious trollers — who sit in wait behind their faceless accounts, ready to pounce on unsuspecting posters and contributors.
With Americans in particular, the consumer mentality transfers easily to the cyber sphere — “as the customer, I am always right”; “I expect a certain kind of response that embellishes my ego”; “I expect everyone to understand my language and to follow my lead, even if they come from Outer Mongolia or Outer Space”; “If you are disrespectful to me, I will blast you out of the room,” and so on. If you didn’t like the interaction with a company or individual, you won’t get a refund, but most people settle for an apology or retraction of a comment. At other times, all out war is possible, if a hive of people take a dislike to another group or individual. In that sense, social media is like taking a tour bus with a group of contemporaries to a remote location in some far-flung country, where you are going to tip the waiters, even if it’s a social taboo and they will get jailed for it, and you’ll be able to get back on the bus when the heat or indigenous poverty of the location becomes irksome.
“AlicetheCat8765” — who lives in South Dakota — was distraught to see footage of Irish police stopping cars as part of lockdown conditions, where citizens, even the elderly, were being issued on-the-spot fines. She said as much in the comment section of the news service running the story — and later received a reply from someone called “PigsCanFly6454”, who had no other identifying information or photo. “PigsCanFly6454” accused “AlicetheCat8765” of being “a promoter of pedos”. This angered Alice, who made a comment about PigsCanFly6454’s “singular brain cell”. Ten minutes later, after breaking off for a cup of tea, Alice returned to her screen to find three more messages from faceless posters, all claiming she was a “right-wing pedo supporter.” She blocked them all, and couldn’t deny that she felt a little sick in her stomach. Later that day she came across a news article in a mainstream news outlet that linked Republican voters with a campaign to sanctify pedophilia. How strange, she thought, as that demographic had been calling out such crimes vociferously online.
The conversational style and protocol of someone from a university background who took part in academic debates is going to be different from the casual persuader, who is used to pulling the strings of his or her spouse and children, or at the local grocery store. This mismatch of cultures and approach can quickly descend into a slugging match, where misunderstandings and personality clashes ensue. From my own experience on social media, and borrowing from my social psychology degree, various categories or users begin to emerge — the Professional; the Expert; the Humanitarian Activist; the Histrionic Predator; the Bog Monster; the Experienced Financial Scammer; the Patriot; the Individual Living Under a Totalitarian Despotic Regime Who Seeks Emancipation from the West. These are, of course, only impressions, and somewhat flippant ones at that — but a whole spectrum of people with all or some or more of these attributes and motivations exist in the melee.
Some of the most magnificent people I have met in life have emerged through Twitter or even LinkedIn. At times, it was the memes or solidarity with people from across the world that got me through the tough times. And, the dedicated “diggers” and humanitarians out there provide valuable information on their local turf that allows us to form more diverse and comprehensive views than any corporate news outlet would afford. The 24-hour news cycle of the BBC or CNBC is a bitter lozenge when compared with the banquet offered by the millions of “truth seekers” and niche experts or opinion formers being funneled into your laptop each day.
Whether you seek highs or lows; truths or lies — it’s all available. The tangled web may have been co-opted by the security state, and its pervasive algorithms, but the unity of mind that is now emerging as humanity faces a fork in the road — between those buying into chaos and suppression and those imagining and formulating a new paradigm beyond the old — has co-opted the technology by force of will alone.
The majesty of human intellect and creativity is sometimes pushed aside by the displays of human degradation and evil that formally only existed behind the corrupt hearts and minds of the dispossessed. US President Donald Trump has cleverly bypassed the conventional news outlets to speak more directly to the country and world via Twitter. In doing so, he has become the focal point for the polarizing world views that vie for dominance in the void left by the media. One might have thought that the death of his brother, Robert, last week would have allowed a lull in the offensive — but judging by the comments under the official announcement of his death, a litany of hateful and abusive sentiments that would not make it into an 18-cert horror movie, this was not the case. The facade of anonymity really does spur on the sub-human and degenerate minority out there.
Amid the cowards, mavericks and legions of the self-righteous, we are continually put on notice to develop instincts and discernment as to the validity of what we consume on social media, and to take steps to avoid the parasites who would steal our money or mood at any given moment. Some of the flagship accounts, with tens of thousands of followers, can be utterly ruthless is trouncing any pretenders to their title as champions of truth and egality. I witnessed a former MSM journalist being rounded on by three “campaigners” last week, after they accused her of deleting comments that were critical of her. They may have been right to call her out, but the precision of their attacks would put a cruise missile to shame.
My daughter and I witnessed a spectacular — no, supernatural — lightning storm last week, which, although silent, featured blue, orange, pink and purple streaks of electricity that must have riddled the ground continuously for at least an hour. The next day we half doubted our shared experience, having never seen such a display even on television. There was no word of it on local media and the neighbors quite obviously were in the dark. However, as soon as I called up my Twitter feed, a series of photos appeared, posted by a woman called Kittie, who captured the lightning strikes at ground level, where they also had a column-like aura of light. It was quite a coincidence, and made me wonder if Carl Jung’s “psychoid realm” really did exist, or if the internet had reached sentience without telling anyone. We were grateful for the validation, and Kittie was delighted that we reached out to her. There were further clarifications over the next few days, from someone called Kab, who posted incredible photos from around the world of similar storms.
Does Twitter randomly convey a composite of competing ideas and egos and narratives, or is it a map of your consciousness that gets lain out in front of you to assist your self-awareness? Twitter, Facebook, Parler and Gab all offer a window on the world, and the issues faced by all kinds of people in countless circumstances and conditions, as well as the inner world of our motivations and prejudices and strengths.
Many people automatically assume because you are conversing with them, you are as ignorant or in the dark as they are, and take offense to any opinions or knowledge that stretched their barriers of awareness. Is the risk of rebuke worth the foray into social interaction? Or would it be easier to just peruse other people’s posts without comment? The answer might be, nothing ventured, nothing gained — if the prize is camaraderie and friendships.
As a long-time MSM staffer who only recently went freelance, I have suddenly found myself covering diverse topics — ranging from ecology and technology to child trafficking and banking. When an article touches a chord with people in the digital sphere it quickly results in a rush of “followers” on social media. My personal interests and political affiliations have crept into my posts and so present a mishmash of sometimes contradictory and outlandish ideas and opinions on any given day. I have noticed that as soon as a post goes out on a subject that is not within the consensus or not politically on message with the mainstream media, that one hundred followers will disappear in an instant. Easy come, easy go.
But if all that causes distress, there are always cute-animals-doing-silly-things videos that some might find more enjoyable, while eliminating the dos and don’ts of digital discourse.