Belfast Telegraph

Smartphone diplomacy is turning us into nation of bullies

By Janet Street-Porter

If Jesus had been tortured and crucified today, photos would be online within seconds, along with jokes and "funny" videos. Social media enables us to fight social injustice and shine a light on acts of terror, but it has also turned us into yobs - people who rarely think of the consequences before pressing the send button.

The smartphone has become a weapon to be feared, evidenced by a new survey revealing that one in three teachers has experienced bullying online - not from pupils, but from their bad-mannered parents.

It's great to have freedom of speech, and the right to express ourselves, but the downside is that modern technology has turned us into a shouty society, with no place for nuanced debate or an acceptance of someone's right to have differing views.

Anyone in authority is to be challenged in the most insulting way possible.

Even our political leaders can't accept that the way forward might lie in listening and consensus. Look at the ridiculous seven-way TV debate.

Once the party leaders had stated their positions, they started to talk over each other, refusing to contemplate that there was any common ground between them.

As a broadcaster and columnist, I experience Shouty Britain on a regular basis. Luckily, I've developed a thick skin.

On Question Time recently, I dared to correct Plaid Cymru's uninspired Leanne Wood (who read from her notes throughout), and mentioned that cutting benefits "wasn't exactly a vote-loser with a large section of the population" (a fact borne out by numerous polls, though not necessarily my point of view).

Over the next 48 hours, I received hundreds of abusive tweets.

No one knows my politics - I am a professional observer - but I was denigrated as "obviously Right-wing, ugly, stupid and someone who deserved to die from cancer".

As we move towards another coalition government (which will inevitably involve a huge amount of compromise and the advent of consensus politics), are we losing our ability to politely disagree?

Last week I took part in a daytime TV show hosted by James O'Brien.

Christine Hamilton and I were supposed to offer our thoughts on the health service and on legalising drugs, but from the start, the audience shouted over each other, chucking out insults. In short, no one was listening and everyone was spouting drivel at full volume.

This oafish posturing is rampant online. If one in three teachers gets hounded by parents posting abuse and innuendo on social media, no wonder their kids are growing up as proto-bullies.

Teachers get mocked for their appearance, are accused of having sexual relationships with pupils, of being paedophiles. More than a third have been photographed or videoed by pupils and the results posted online without their permission.

New laws are supposed to protect us from internet trolling, but they will be totally ineffective. The police have far too much to do already.

Recently, Labour MP Frank Field suffered a heart attack after a rowdy meeting in his Birkenhead constituency. Colin Dow - a Green Party activist - apparently tried to photograph Mr Field as he lay on the floor unconscious, even though he'd been asked not to.

Far from apologising, Mr Dow stated, "Had I been closer, I would have taken a picture", claiming that other people had done so. Just imagine if a bunch of Green activists had been present at the stoning of Christ.

Belfast Telegraph


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