His lips were blue with the cold, his whole body shook. My son and his three mates, all aged 17 had decided to skateboard in the pouring rain, just for a laugh. They arrived home soaked through to the skin after hours in the cold and wet. It was the beginning of the election campaign, an onslaught of aggressive nasty online material had already started. Shocked by the outright lies, my character was being trashed and I was being accused of things I had no experience of. The lads had come round to hang out, jump on the trampoline, skateboard and roar with laughter. Like seagulls not knowing where the next meal would come from they scavenge food in any form. Their normal teenage existence seemed so appealing, my new normal was filled with online and newspaper reports with hateful attacks from people dying to get their voice heard. Journalists like vultures picking over my carcass, picking over the debris of media attacks and re printing more gossip with little regard for the truth or respect. It was heartening to find three journalists who wrote with a high regard for truth, Frank, Angi and Juliette appeared as beacons of decency. As the media storm hit I had to learn how to dance in the rain. I encouraged the lads to borrow my son’s dry clothes and then drove two of them home. One teenager had posters of the opposition party all over the front of his house, he spoke of the party his parents supported and their views, as we chat I speak of tolerance and the importance of hearing different views. Oh the irony of me making sure he is home safely when they campaigned for the opposition.
It is within my lifetime that we have seen mobile phones, email, Twitter and FaceBook invented and become part of our everyday. The culture of online speech and tone has changed to regularly include aggression, swear words, and disrespect towards women are considered normal. They aren’t my normal, I refuse to agree with it. I tweeted to my supporters a copy of Michelle Obama’s statement ‘They go low, we go high.’ I refuse to deal in lies, hate and disrespect – they aren’t my currency and if they are yours, come away from the dark side and think again. I don’t blame you, I lay the blame for making rudeness in the public space acceptable at the feet of Anne Robinson on TV’s The Weakest link, a programme no longer aired. Her abrasive rudeness was surprising at first and then people laughed as she ridiculed her guests, and it became normal to be rude. Years later aggressive, tart phrases laced with acid comments started on new media and haven’t stopped. The snowball of online comments written about everything from a woman politician, her physical attributes and the colour of her skin through to medical staff at Great Ormond Street treating the sick baby, Charlie Gard. Some comments are supportive and some were outright nasty and negative. In the case of the politician, they were racist. The hospital spokesperson said the comments including death treats towards their staff were totally unacceptable, they were right to identify the posts as unacceptable. It’s time to reflect and decide if we want bad manners and disrespect as part of our culture. In his book ‘I can’t believe you just said that’ Danny Wallace (Sunday Times writer) argues ‘Rudeness is a form of rebellion that we must rebel against. Not because it weakens us, but because politeness makes us stronger. It gels us together.’
We can change the culture of speech and regain responsibility for our words online, in doing so we respect ourselves and others. It seems like a mammoth task, yet it can be achieved one post at a time. We all have a responsibility to create a culture that we would be proud to pass onto our nation’s children rather than training them in hate and contempt. The choice is ours, and so is the online legacy we leave behind.