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