Daniel Reast’s passionate plea for more tolerance and respect online to improve the political climate and community living.

If philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes or Machiavelli were magically transported to our time, they would read the news and weep for their lives of relative comfort in early-modern Europe. Hobbes was writing in the instability and destruction of the English Civil War, and Machiavelli wrote The Prince in exile, after years of war and personal misfortune. What a biting satire! But the one connecting principle is the sense of political instability that has engulfed the UK and global community.

While we certainly aren’t witness to Condottieri or Roundheads marching through our towns, the sense of uncertainty is palpable. Nowhere is this more evident than the deep depths of social media, especially Twitter and Facebook.

I only joined Twitter in May without any real intention to be firmly involved in politics or writing. Such is the engulfing and noxious atmosphere that Twitter provides, that one cannot help but scroll and refresh to sate a curious hunger for gossip.

On Monday the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee announced his campaign for a ‘Contract for the Web’ to protect people’s online rights and freedoms. Berners-Lee accounts for the success that the Internet has given to society, politics, and culture. But he also keenly points out that this open access has led to abuse and harassment that functions as a negative influence on humanity.

It is hard to ignore the dominating influence of online media and resources. More and more businesses and public bodies are restructuring their frameworks to use the Internet more dynamically and creatively.

In ten years, the Internet has transformed from a desirable commodity to an absolute necessity. And Berners-Lee is correct in his campaign that, as more of our lives will be dedicated to online activities, so must the protections and policy to prevent any abuses. The Twitter hashtag ‘#ForTheWeb’ is being deployed to promote this campaign which will grow into a full contract publishing in May next year.

It’s now a discouraging truth that many who are using social media are exploiting the platform to harass, abuse, and bully individuals and groups without remorse. Unlike a parliamentary session, there is much less accountability for individual actions and statements, and the sense of anonymity is often paraded as a lifeline rather than a privilege.

Those who regularly use social media are now receiving denigrating insults and attacks for expressing opinion. There is no one group more responsible for these attacks, and all online activity should be conducted without the need for such base intolerance.

Our current political climate is now a vast greenhouse for these insults, growing more and more vitriol by the day. Personally, I have been labelled a Remoaner, traitor, cry-baby, and Tory scum for what I have shared. The factions in British politics are now just as separated as the vegetables in a greenhouse, each growing within its planter to succeed of its own merit.

The impressionable nature of social media has also cultivated the resurgence of slurs and terms that have previously been thought extinct. Whether these slurs relate to race, gender, or sexuality, their usage is somehow assumed as more tolerable on Twitter than on the streets.

Political parties and movements are hosts to the rhetoric of bullying through hashtag haranguing and trolling from all sides. It’s ironic that while many feel proud of a strong movement, those opposed or uninterested by it are disgusted by its seemingly intolerable factionalism. There’s a vast environment for intolerance and bullying online that conduces into a hostile and tribal existence.

On Monday, I posted on Twitter a retort to an article posted by Owen Jones which furthered the growing suspicion of ‘centrism’ in the Labour movement. He argued that ‘so-called centrists’ are hypocritical and entitled, though Jones ends with a juxtaposing confusion over the position of centrism on the spectrum. I responded with a call for respect and argued that centrists are broadly social democratic and wish to rid the UK of Conservative policy that has created inequality and injustice.

But, Owen Jones is a prime influence for many online who would twist rhetoric into intolerance and further cast ‘so-called centrists’ as ideologically different. Even his repeated reference to ‘so-called’ centrists is denigrating, and the one tribe he does call out (#FBPE) is made up of a substantial Labour voting membership but is appalled with its tribalism.

I ended my ultimately pointless thread with the truth that a restrictive and bullying behaviour online is not going to assist with election votes or memberships. The same can be said for the FBPE movement which has also exhibited certain rabid approaches to public relations. The biggest problem is that this greenhouse is now bursting with fertility for factions and cliques. It has led to Luciana Berger and other MPs being abused and harassed. It has allowed for death threats and biting insults to attack individuals and their loved ones. It has subscribed to the worst intolerances in history, such as anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racisms.

The Internet is a vital resource for global society. But if this greenhouse continues to widen electorates and nurture hatred and intolerance, the online actions will only turn into real conflict. The history of political ideology is a timeline of developing philosophies and principles. It’s possible to be part of more than one position, to be dynamic and broad in your understanding of the world. Sole, intense struggle for a voice to be heard has frosted the glass.

Jess Phillips passionately argued in an interview shared on her Twitter, that humans are interesting and beautiful. We deserve community, not insults. It’s important to reflect on the words of Jo Cox in this dogmatic conflict – “We have more in common with each other than things that divide us.”🔷


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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)

(Cover: Pixabay.)