The good and bad of social media
Like all innovations, social media has both a good side and a bad side. On the good side, Facebook allows people to stay connected, to spread messages of hope and invite participation in a simple, opt-in way. On the bad side some people feel free to commit their very worst judgements to the cyber world forever, with little consideration for what this may mean for them or others down the track.
Twitter especially seems to invite expression of the very ugliest side of ourselves in 140 key strokes. President Trump has turned Twitter to his advantage, able to circumvent an adversarial media to speak directly with supporters. Not every one of his much publicised tweets has merit, though many cut directly to issues and the people. Leadership tends to be imperfect in this complex world where the Pharisaic righteous of the new moralities of climate change, right-speak and identity politics hold sway.
Old wisdom holds still
Should we care to look, wisdom for the present can be gleaned from ancient sources. When Solomon became king, he prayed, not for gold nor power, but for the ‘wisdom of discernment to administer justice’.
Wisdom of discernment seems to have dissipated with the decline in knowledge of history and the practice of Christianity. Whereas once we would have been advised ‘not to judge lest we ourselves be judged’, today people gain instant emotional gratification in tweeting horribly damning assertions against others whom they do not even know. Ill informed! Unwise! Extremely harmful – to the target in the first instance, yet also to themselves!
Social media and the impact of offence archaeology
Any online search can pull up comments made 10, 20 or 30 years ago, to be held against a person’s character today, to disadvantage them in their life and career. The same thing happens in the Family Court where actions as a teenager can be condemned by today’s adult standards of a woke society.
Take the case of Britain’s Toby Young who stuck his neck out to make a difference in educational outcomes, founding four ‘free schools’ by influencing discipline and raising expectations. His efforts were recognised and successful techniques copied, eventually leading to his appointment to several educational advisory boards.
All that proved to no avail when an offence archaeologist trawled through his personal history to find a 1987 article of his able to be quoted out of context in the fake news. As a result of the ensuing blood-crazed feeding frenzy, unwarranted attention was attracted, not just to his life and career, but also to the five organisations with which he became associated. Young resigned from all of them, weathered the storm and began a new organisation, the Free Speech Union, to support and defend others who find themselves in a similar position having their reputation, career and life destroyed in the twitter sphere and other public forums.
Then there is Alistair Stewart, an honoured forty year veteran journalist of ITV in Britain, for whom the pile-on came after a few misjudged tweets quoting a Shakespearean comparison ended his career in humiliating resignation. A mentally fragile Stewart ended his life. Meanwhile those piling on, rushing to judgement, carry on devastating the lives, reputations and careers of others unimpeded, on the way to destroying the ordinary person’s belief in a just society.
We are all familiar with similar cases within our own circle. What can be a positive medium for generating crowd funding for worthwhile causes proves devastating when used destructively against those around us.
Woe to you who load up packs too heavy for people to carry.
Attaining wisdom of discernment
My book, Becoming, invites readers to make more considered decisions than is evident in the emotional, reactive trend on Twitter and other social media. Using my Maturity Model, truth (fact) is as essential as the courage to be honest. Expectations must be reasonable otherwise responsibilities increase to cause dissension and division, with high social and financial costs. Context is crucial to sound decision-making that we can live with.
Yet even scant analysis of cases where reputable people are ‘cancelled’ (e.g. Young and Stewart) clearly shows that context is either absent or distorted, facts are optional, good humour that could provide balance is missing, as the cowardice of emotional tweeters prevails in the empire of offence taken in the rush to judgement by the righteous of the new moralities.
Yet victims of such hatred could be spared if the tweeters took a little time to reflect. In time, facts emerge that may render judgement unnecessary. A little self-reflection may reveal the contradiction of one’s own prejudice. I’ve found that allowing matters to settle often diminishes the need to make any judgement at all, allowing people, situations and hurt to pass with minimum disruption to life, as we all do or say something silly at some stage. Of course, there have been occasions when my tolerance has been misplaced and people have taken advantage of the generosity of spirit and rushed to baseless negative judgement anyway, that has cost me dearly.
Being confident and mature, understanding that context and dealing in facts certainly contributes to the wisdom of discernment that enriches lives. It just takes more than 140 keystrokes.
Reclaiming a just society
In hindsight, Toby Young recognised his naivety in believing, as do many of us, that if we do the right thing by ourselves and others, the universe would be just. I was once told by my son that what he valued in my teaching children to be decent people was these days seen as an opportunity to exploit. Through misused social media and the rush to judgement it encourages, he has been proven right. Be thou chaste as ice or pure as driven snow thou shalt not escape calumny.
Out of the crucible of suffering experienced by Young has come the foundation of the Free Speech Union. The organisation aims to counter the ‘cancel’ culture and support those wronged by campaigns of ill-informed negative judgement with countervailing campaigns on social media and email. Supporting legal advice will challenge interference in a contract when a target has been sacked as a consequence of a concerted and baseless rush to judgement.
Young’s Free Speech Union is an organisation desperately needed for the quiet, decent people trying to do the right thing by themselves, their families, community and colleagues, who are piled upon by those committed to new morality values of political correctness, identity politics, climate catastrophe, only to find their lives destroyed, quite unwittingly. In the mindless rush to wrong judgement may the Free Speech Union deliver on its purpose and may you never have to seek its support.
Where a decision must be made, judge with wisdom of discernment.