You’re a nicer person online
There’s more to being a virtuous citizen than ticking a box online. Maybe we could take some social tips from ISIS? Okay, maybe not…
Truth by Duncan Bell
Do you remember the great Tramp Spike Mutiny of 2014? Way back in mid-June, buildings were found to have installed some pointy disks in their doorways, pretty obviously to prevent homeless people sleeping there.
The Twitter outcry was immediate. After all, even the most slow-witted of web users can agree that treating our fellow humans in the same way we treat pigeons really isn’t on. In fact, it’s one step away from putting man-traps in parks to catch joggers.
Soon, the call went up online for a live demonstration. “Let’s get placards printed, go down to the offices of the landlords responsible for this affront to human dignity and do a bit of shouting,” people cried. Textbook community action. The authorities’ elite Twitter-reading squad got wind of this and a load of extra police were duly laid on for the occasion, in case the crowd cut up rough.
And so, given the tramp-spike outrage had now caused over 130,000 people to sign an online petition and a similar number to Tweet, comment and otherwise virtually agitate online, how many do you think turned up to the demo? That’s right: seven.
It’s often said that online interactions bring out the worst in people. Emboldened by anonymity, they act with aggression, nastiness and fuckwittery that, I’m pleased to say, is comparatively seldom seen in what we must now call “the offline world”.
However, I’ve realised there’s a corollary to this, which is that people also sometimes act with exaggerated goodness online. Primarily, because it’s nice to be virtuous, but secondly, let’s face it, because it’s easy.
Now, fair play to the spike petitioners: they got their way and The Pointy Disks have been removed. However, this is very much the exception, not the rule. Far bigger mass “movements” online to secure the return of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria, or to bring about the arrest of African warlord Joseph Kony? Well, they’ve been less successful. The reason being that, despite what many in the West have convinced themselves, the web is not where most stuff happens; it’s just where people talk about it.
Now, say what you like about Islamic militant group ISIS – that its members have a seventh-century mentality and the sophisticated intellect of a 13-year-old who’s been told to tidy his bedroom, for instance – but you have to admit it allies its imaginative and technically impressive use of social media with very, er, vigorous action on the ground.
Online petitions and Twitter-storms are one way of fighting the world’s evils. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking they’re effective, other than to make us feel better about ourselves.