Agromenes

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

COUN­TRY peo­ple aren’t known for the del­i­cacy of their lan­guage. We don’t take refuge in eu­phemisms when re­fer­ring to bod­ily func­tions nor blench when an An­glo-saxon word is cho­sen in place of ma­nure. We may not al­ways be im­me­di­ately ac­com­mo­dat­ing, but we gen­er­ally tend to be po­lite and value good man­ners. That’s why the sheer vul­gar­ity of much of to­day’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion, es­pe­cially in so­cial me­dia, par­tic­u­larly of­fends.

The cur­rent spat be­tween the Coun­try­side Al­liance (CA) and Face­book is an il­lus­tra­tion of this clash of cul­tures. The CA com­plained to the so­cial-me­dia gi­ant that it had not taken down of­fen­sive and threat­en­ing com­ments by an­ti­hunt­ing ex­trem­ists. One such, when re­fer­ring to a re­tired hunts­man, said: ‘Love to put a noose round this ****** ’s neck and kick the use­less ex­cuse for a hu­man off a long drop.’ Another con­trib­u­tor fol­lowed up with: ‘That piece of s**t needs to die.’

Face­book, which claims to en­sure that its site pro­vides ‘a safe and wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment’, re­fused to up­hold the CA’S com­plaint, ap­par­ently be­cause these were not cred­i­ble threats. It seems they count as ac­cept­able fig­ures of speech as no one be­lieved these peo­ple had the means or real in­ten­tion of car­ry­ing out their threats. Ev­i­dently, this is a rea­son­able way to put an ar­gu­ment.

Agromenes doesn’t deny that he could take you to a few ru­ral pubs in which peo­ple do talk like this. How­ever, af­ter cen­turies of civil­i­sa­tion, most of us can make a point force­fully enough with­out re­sort­ing to such threats, real or vir­tual. The prob­lem is that so­cial-me­dia sites are, by their very na­ture, ex­pan­sive. Whereas a con­ver­sa­tion in a pub reaches the few, Face­book is de­signed to reach the many and many of those are young.

So­cial me­dia’s reach to that au­di­ence is pre­cisely what was be­ing ad­dressed in the Gov­ern­ment’s Digital Econ­omy Bill, which was passed in the House of Lords last week. In­evitably, the con­cen­tra­tion in both Houses was on re­strict­ing un­der-18 ac­cess to pornog­ra­phy and com­bat­ing child abuse, but be­yond those spe­cific is­sues was the more gen­eral con­cern that the stan­dards and at­ti­tudes that the in­ter­net engender are undermining child­hood and coars­en­ing our so­ci­ety.

We can­not, of course, put all the blame on the in­ter­net. We have al­lowed our­selves to be­come less cour­te­ous and con­sid­er­ably more vul­gar in ev­ery sphere. It’s partly a re­ac­tion from Vic­to­rian hypocrisy, which the cour­te­sies of­ten cloaked, and partly the democrati­sa­tion of me­dia and the Amer­i­can dom­i­na­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This has meant that many re­ject cour­tesy as be­ing re­stric­tive and elit­ist, in­sist­ing that such ‘bour­geois’ val­ues have no place in a modern world. It seems that ev­ery­thing should be out of the closet, bare and not dressed up.

Even in pol­i­tics, tra­di­tion­ally a fairly rough trade, we have to look back a cen­tury to find a time in which the gen­eral lan­guage of the hus­tings was last as vul­gar as it was dur­ing the Ref­er­en­dum. Pres­i­dent Trump isn’t as iso­lated in his blunt­ness as one would hope, sadly. Nigel Farage’s rude­ness in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment last week and Ken Liv­ing­stone’s in­sen­si­tiv­ity tes­tify to that.

Turn­ing the tide won’t be easy, but join­ing in the pub­lic protest against Face­book’s spine­less de­ci­sion is a start. De­mand­ing the en­force­ment of a tougher and more ef­fec­tive code of prac­tice for so­cial me­dia comes next. How­ever, the bat­tle will not be won un­less we con­tin­u­ally ex­pect and de­mand cour­tesy in pub­lic com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Ad­dress­ing the ar­gu­ment, not the per­son, must be­come a mat­ter of course. This is not a bour­geois re­stric­tion, but the nec­es­sary ex­pres­sion of a civilised so­ci­ety.

‘We have al­lowed our­selves to be­come less cour­te­ous and more vul­gar

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