Kenneth Murray is a writer and campaigner who is passionate about transforming the public understanding of care experienced people. In a guest blog for the SVRU Kenneth argues it’s time for Scotland to unsubscribe from the endless cycle of social media abuse.
Scotland is a nation that’s hurting. Log on to your social media of choice right now and you can subscribe to a never ending cycle of pain. From the comfort of your arm chair you can watch as the trauma goes viral. Scots hurting Scots.
It’s never clearer than when the latest hit video goes around of someone in a vulnerable state induced by alcohol or drugs, someone with a disability is being mocked or bullying is disguised as ‘banter’. I won’t name the examples but you’re likely able to think of many viral Scottish social media videos which are toxic.
This isn’t a uniquely Scottish problem but it flies in the face of the story we tell about ourselves. Stories built on the idea that we’re a hospitable nation, grown on the notion of society and community.
Haste ye’ back, lang may yer Lum reek, We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns! It’s coded into our language. We’ve allowed ourselves to fall in love with a myth of our own creation.
The trouble with Scotland is that we’ll not see those phrases rolled out too often on social media unless we’re self gratuitously patting ourselves on the back. Instead you’re more likely to see and hear phrases like, “junkie” or “jakey” or whatever version is popular in whichever region of Scotland the abuse hails from.
Hurt people hurt people, is an aphorism that plagues the lives of anyone living with experience of trauma. Quite often we’d allow ourselves to think that the phrase was about someone else, perhaps someone we know or someone who has done a wrong which you’re magnanimously forgiving, we need to look closer to home. Personally, I think the phrase needs to be binned. It’s either used to excuse or stigmatise and pathologize behaviour.
The truth is, that every day in Scotland people are hurting one another. Not only in the conventional sense that you’d understand if you picked up a newspaper and read about the violence perpetrated in some of the nations most deprived areas, but through online bullying, trolling and abuse.
As social media grows so too does the battle for likes, comments and shares with it. This battle is being waged online not only by those usually typecast as troubled or dangerous but by individuals from every walk of life. They do this through setting up online pile-ons which seek to capitalise on people in their most vulnerable states.
Videos, photos and screen captured messages are circulated online, often of people in their most vulnerable states in an effort to gain some social capital for ourselves in a race to the bottom on who can condemn them in the most extreme manner. It’s a type of gallows humour, borne out of the opportunity to emphasise just how unlike the person on the screen you are.
Our use of social media as a nation says a lot about who we really are. When we’re tucked up in our room, logged into our phone on the toilet or sneaking a wee look in-between meetings, we are all at risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If hurt people hurt people, where does the cycle end?
Scotland has been at the forefront of changing the understanding of violence and violent offences. Through the SVRU we understood the public health crisis that gang violence and other types of violence are. I think we need to go a step further and look at the violence of our words and our social media use.
Not only must it be soul destroying to be the subject of these cruel taunts or to find your relatives or friends subjected to them but there’s an agony in knowing it exists forever.
We even find some of the most popular of these mocking videos turned into songs which are played at gigs or festivals to the adoration of those in attendance. With not a second thought given to the person being mocked. Where are they now? How are they? Are they even alive?
I don’t have a non-religious version of, ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’ but I sometimes wish we did. Perhaps then we’d take the time to think before posting something online which targets some of the most vulnerable in our society and think about why we’re doing it.
I don’t think as human beings we have the capacity to be purposefully cruel without regret. Sometimes it takes someone holding up a mirror and asking us if we like what we see before us. When it comes to our social media use, I bet that none of us could pass that test.
In the last year I’ve seen social workers, lawyers and politicians mock people with a ruthless cruelty for a fleeting chance at internet popularity. I’ve also seen school kids and retirees stoop to that low too. The only thing I can hold on to is that Scotland is a nation that’s hurting and if we realised this we’d want to do something about it.
Undoubtedly viewing these videos of bullying, torment and violence and the associated comments have an impact on our lives. Whether we want to believe it or not.
We need to have a conversation about what our national trauma is and how we can learn to live alongside it. Only by doing so can we finally look in the mirror and ask ourselves the questions: To what extent am I hurting? Am I hurting people because of it? And most importantly can I take steps to change that behavior and finally break the cycle.
– Kenneth Murray