Friday, 23 January 2015

The damage a Twitter-gang can do

Recently, a person tweeted something that I didn't quite agree with, so I replied, explaining why I disagreed. It was a sensitive and often emotive topic, so I suppose some response was to be expected. What the topic was isn't directly relevant to this post, so I'll not go into more details here.
What I didn't expect was the deluge of abuse that followed.

I tried to respond reasonably, but overall that had little or no effect, and the abuse continued.

While being on the receiving end of a stream of Twitter abuse, I felt upset, and not at all friendly towards those militant individuals who were the source of abuse. I didn't respond in kind, mostly because I felt many of them were simply venting a lot of legitimate anger and frustration and I was a handy target, and partly because I didn't want it to escalate.

Some individuals were very reasonable, and we had a fair exchange of views, without any personal attacks being launched. That was helpful, and refreshing, and yes, I learnt quite a few things from them.

Some individuals were simply nasty, refusing to examine anything outside their personally-defined, seemingly very limited scope of what was "good" and what was "bad". As is their choice. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion - they to theirs, me to mine.

The aftermath of it all had me thinking. See, I believe every single one of those who attacked me probably believed they were fighting the good fight. Regardless of their actual actions, I do believe their intentions were good and honourable.

And that is scary.

It is scary because I saw a parallel with what was happening to me, to what often happens on Twitter when somebody tweets anything negative about cyclists. Almost inevitable, the digital equivalent of a torch and pitchfork brigade forms to attack and frequently vilify that person.

It's scary because being on the receiving end of such abuse made me feel quite negative towards some individuals, all of whom support a cause I too am strongly in favour of.

It's scary, because if I ended up feeling that way, given that I support the same cause, imagine how somebody on the receiving end feels when they DON'T support that cause.

For example, when someone who already dislikes cyclists is on the receiving end of a constant stream of Twitter abuse from cyclists. That's hardly going to win them over to our side, now is it?

If anything, a bunch of cyclists being abusive on Twitter will in all likelihood risk changing somebody who dislikes cyclists into a rabid cyclist-hater. Is that a risk worth taking? I don't think so.

On Twitter, there seems to be a few cyclists actively searching for anti-cycling tweets, who then re-tweet any such tweets they find. (For those not on Twitter, re-tweeting means sharing that tweet with the people who chose to follow you on Twitter).

Two things follow from this:
1) The negative tweet is given the oxygen of publicity and
2) The Twitter lynch-mob starts

What I experienced at the hand of a number of individuals was seriously unpleasant, and had they - as individuals - engaged me without being dismissive, rude, and without getting personal, the whole thing could have been positive.

The reality is that I did learn from those who were polite and mature. Yes, even though some of them had entirely different views, I still came away better than I was before, and I'm grateful to them.

As stated before, I support their cause, which is why I can to a degree overlook the behaviour of even the unpleasant ones. Yes, they were abusive, but I don't think it was really directed at me, but rather at the very issues they still face on a daily basis.
Now of course I could be entirely mistaken here, and the abuse may well have been aimed at me, but even if so, I still believe that would've been the minority. In my world the sun is shining, you see.

What anti-cyclist Tweeters experience at the hand of cyclists is often ALSO seriously unpleasant. It is easy to say "But they asked for it", or "They started it" or even "They were nasty and unpleasant right from the start", but that changes nothing.

The way I see it, there are only TWO reasonable actions:
1) DON'T reply to an anti-cyclist tweet, or DON'T join in the lynch-mob that forms, or
2) If you feel you absolutely have to challenge it, do so reasonably, avoiding name-calling, personal attacks, and similar behaviour.

No, I don't expect we'd be able to change the points of view of all the cyclist-haters. With luck, we may be able to do so with a small number, or perhaps simply help soften their hatred a bit.

But the BEST outcome we can hope for in most cases is to not turn someone who dislikes cyclists into someone who absolutely HATES cyclists. The last thing we want is to have to share the road with an aggressive cyclist-hater looking to get even after suffering an outbursts of abuse online.
It is therefore very important that we all moderate our own behaviour, especially online. Because that cyclist-disliker on the other side of the country (or world!) that I antagonise today on Twitter may well turn into a cyclist-hater that runs YOU over tomorrow. Wouldn't it be great if we can avoid that?