There’s hope for us alongside the hashtag hate
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.