There’s hope for us along­side the hash­tag hate

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE VIEW FROM LON­DON

IHAVE JUST fin­ished writ­ing a book— no mean feat, in a soupy heat­wave. It’s a novel about a group of teenagers chal­lenged to give up their smart­phones for six weeks. Can they sur­vive with­out Snapchat and In­sta­gram? What will it do to their re­la­tion­ships, their con­cen­tra­tion and their peace of mind? This topic feels bang on trend, and I’m sorry the book won’t be out un­til next year. Last week, the JC re­ported Shel­ley Marsh, who trains ed­u­ca­tors work­ing with young Jewish peo­ple, call­ing for chil­dren and par­ents to turn their eyes from their screens and fo­cus on ea­chother in­stead. And, like my fic­tional chal­lenge, the Royal Pub­lic Health So­ci­ety is back­ing “Scroll-free Septem­ber”, call­ing on so­cial me­dia users to quit for a month, to im­prove sleep, re­la­tion­ships and well­be­ing.

Of course, writ­ing the book made me con­sider my own use of so­cial me­dia. Does it harm my well-be­ing? Am I ad­dicted?

My fam­ily would prob­a­bly say yes. I love so­cial me­dia. Face­book and Twit­ter feed my ex­tro­vert spirit, al­low­ing me to carry on mul­ti­ple con­ver­sa­tions at once, con­nect­ing with hun­dreds of peo­ple some of whom I know well, oth­ers who are com­plete strangers. On the plus side, I’m en­riched by hu­man con­tact.

How­ever, I waste an aw­ful lot of time, find it dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate (I can only write my books in places where I don’t know the in­ter­net pass­word), and am ac­cused of tun­ing out of Twit­ter is a fo­rum for knee­jerk re­ac­tions, MK\QNM XÞ with lit­tle depth of thought im­por­tant fam­ily dis­cus­sions about bin-emp­ty­ing and house in­sur­ance.

This week­end, though, the ap­peal of giv­ing up so­cial me­dia for­ever was quite over­whelm­ing. The hos­til­ity (to put it mildly) to the con­cerns and fears of Jews in the UK that showed up un­der the hash­tags #wearecor­byn and #re­sign­wat­son felt like a wave of ha­tred and bul­ly­ing di­rected to­wards our small com­mu­nity. It was hard to tear my­self away from the tor­rent of abuse, to re­mem­ber that it’s im­pos­si­ble to know how many share this kind of think­ing, and that Twit­ter is a fo­rum for knee­jerk re­ac­tions, of­ten in­di­cat­ing no more than ig­no­rance and in­sen­si­tiv­ity.

But amid the hate, there is hope. And that comes from the al­lies, the peo­ple pre­pared to speak out and sup­port Jews, even though they are abused for it. Peo­ple like Emily Benn, grand­daugh­ter of Tony Benn, who has wearily as­sured many Cor­bynite tweet­ers that no, her grand­fa­ther is not spin­ning in his grave be­cause she speaks up against an­tisemitism.

And jour­nal­ist Christina Pat­ter­son was mag­nif­i­cently dis­mis­sive of all ex­cuses and what-aboutery on tele­vi­sion and on Twit­ter this week­end. As she pointed out, she knew what it was like to be ac­cused of an­tisemitism, it had hap­pened to her a few years back, when she’d writ­ten an ar­ti­cle about Stam­ford Hill. I re­mem­bered the ar­ti­cle — I wrote about it for the JC— and although I didn’t like it much, I’d never thought of it as an­tisemitic. Twit­ter gave me a chance to tell her that, and to thank her for speak­ing up for Jews.

On Face­book, I posted about feel­ing de­pressed by the hate. A friend re­sponded from leafy Sur­rey: “As an athe­ist ob­serv­ing this from the per­spec­tive of a white mid­dle-aged, mid­dle­class man, it’s the most wor­ry­ing as­pect of very wor­ry­ing times.

“There will al­ways be those of us that will stand by you but are there enough of us, do we ex­press our re­vul­sion loudly enough, can we be a coun­ter­weight to the an­tisemitic cur­rent run­ning through our so­ci­ety right now? I hope so. I don’t pray but if I did I’d pray for peace and love.” I found his words cheer­ing. He spoke, I am sure, for many. We don’t al­ways hear their voices.

Al­lies make us feel less iso­lated, more hope­ful, and more rea­soned in our re­sponses to on­line hate. This week I’ve re­dou­bled my ef­forts to be an ally to oth­ers who feel at­tacked, whether they are Mus­lims, LGBT+ or mem­bers of the black com­mu­nity. Boris John­son pro­vided me with an op­por­tu­nity to speak out when he in­sulted Mus­lim women this week. His right to free­dom of speech is, of course, sacro­sanct. But rude­ness and bul­ly­ing is not the British way.

So­cial me­dia is a fact of life, nowa­days. It can make us scared, de­pressed, hor­ri­fied. But it also gives us op­por­tu­ni­ties to show em­pa­thy, to make con­nec­tions, to reach out, ex­plain and learn.

Hav­ing said that, I’ve re­solved to switch off my phone a bit more of­ten.

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