Now, in no way am I comparing my artistic strife to that of Virginia Woolf’s tortured soul. That is number one. Rather, oddly for me putting gender to one side, I feel a parallel between her desire for a space to write and the current turmoil which has caged social media, which was previously, and perhaps sadly, my space to write. Number two is that this post may appear somewhat behind, and, uh like, so last week, but in fact I have calculated this to ponder the picture from a careful distance. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was selfishly busy, competed in a relay race (HA! I know) and watched The Inbetweeners Movie (as deliciously expected, it was knee deep in…).
But seriously, now the dust has settled, I am able to stand back and view the fragility of social media with fresher eyes. A recent catastrophic wave of destruction engulfed the face of the U.K., leaving it scarred and bitter. The riots have exposed, not only the fragility of our police system, but the fragility of our social order, the divide in our communities, and the growth of resentment in the British youth.
But I am not going to do one of those posts. I cannot even start to battle, in my mind let alone publicly, how I feel about the dichotomy between politically correct ‘protestors’ as legitimate spokesmen for our generation and opportunistic thugs, hooligans, and in some cases, murderers. I have simply been drenched in opinions and find myself at a loss about what I feel. What I want to talk about is the effect of these Chinese whispers, instant messages, tweets, Likes, hypes, BBMs, whatsapps, pigeon letters, telegrams, emails, gchats, notifications, comments, facebook chats, you get my jist. Social networking has become inextricably linked with the riots, it has been crowned the ‘ring leader’, marked as the source, dammed as the catalyst.
A vehicle for speed-of-light activity, TWITTER and more seriously perhaps BBM (Blackberry messenger) provided a platform for the power of public speech to reverberate. A space to recruit and spread rebellion without any responsibility for the consequences that come with worldwide publishing of unmonitored social aggression. It is a platform for both blame and anger. As Juilian Stodd (Blogger) put it, we can now broadcast in a matter of moments to the entire world. The psychology of crowds when in moments of strife is to gather, huddle, hit hard and with force. Twitter enabled people to instantaneously include themselves in the riot crowds, to become, retweet and embody these actions. I am not blind, It has always been obvious that social media held the power to escalate, control and dictate spontaneous media events, but this tool has now become somewhat warped and its power abused. It is both the enemy and the saviour with the change of a wind, NOTW was crushed under the power of online rioting, and yet Twitter is also responsible for project #cleanuplondon.
The first thing I did when I found out about the riots was log onto facebook. Swiftly followed (pun) by Twitter. And, Ok, before the lashings of abuse, I am certainly not alone. They may not be the most accurate, cutting or intellectual sources (judging by some of the jokes that flung out of filthy mouths) but for some reason they feel more real, a shared space, for us to get to grips, process and understand an event. Maybe I am just lucky to have like-minded friends who fill my feeds with poignant blasts, youtube interviews and live information, or maybe social media really is our own and only space for published freedom of expression? What I do know is that, although tainted by events like this, social networking feels the purest form of communication, however ugly or obtuse or exploited, sadly and in reality, this is what the face of our generation looks like. With risk of delving into apathetic acceptance, I am in no way condoning the use of social media as a violent platform. I am just merely saying that without it, I don’t think I would feel as though I truly understood the belly of the beast. Without my news feed showing me incredible footage like below I know I would feel more clueless.
So what if this man has not given you the answers you wanted, his answers are valid and honest. And is that not what the news want? In this over populated, consumerist driven, numbed society we need the truth to survive. And for me, I like my truth caked in contention, brutality and ugliness.
There is no excusing social media’s role as an unwilling catalyst and platform for the riots, but, much less commented on in the media, is its usefulness as a solution. Why should we let evil behaviour taint this communication marvel? One cheerful fellow commented on social media’s ‘dominating role’ in violence. Social media is painted as a monster, creeping into everyone’s untainted virtual world, infiltrating the pure sweet minds of innocent blackberry users. No. These are our words, our images, our thoughts. The avenue is the merely the wounded messenger, the exploited vessel.
Social media’s impact for good has far outweighed its bad. It has helped communities to gather together, created opportunities for us to feel constructive and give money to cases in need. Social media’s response to the disorder has been as rapid as its part in the destruction. It is time to lift the finger of blame and look around at the real reasons why these youths feel such anger, neglect and bitterness.
The revolution of citizen journalism has at once saturated the communication sphere online and yet enriched it. We now have a published voice, however hideous some people’s may be, and that is ultimately what we have always fought for. Freedom of speech has never been so liberated, fast or free, held back only by conflicting tweets. Simultaneously, our words are becoming rinsed of meaning and saturated with avenues (I have recently acquired an Iphone which notifies me through approximately 8 different portals that I am being contacted, which frankly unnerves me and yet still, I even take it to the bathroom). My sick dependency on information, your information, our shared tagged hub, is only a minor reflection of the power the online networking world has evoked in us. Although scary, it is reality and one we must refine and tame, like a wild but beautiful beast.
But how far do we go? David Cameron intends to start monitoring social media, calling it a ‘disruptive source’. Brilliant. There is a petition to stop all convicted London rioters from receiving any benefits. That should help with the mass resentment then. A gentleman was fired from his job at Argos for calling it a ‘shambles’ on Facebook. Lovely. I tweeted this morning something to the effect of Kate Middleton wearing 2k worth of Mcqueen to a rioted Birmingham area was… a variety of expletives. Within an hour, and fuelled with the above case studies, I removed it. Like a pussy.
The cut benefits petition site was overpopulated with demand. I agree with them on one thing… something definitely went wrong with this.
So where is our room then? Where do we sit to posit our uninformed, media led and fed, stupid opinions without risking getting fired? My problem is with the invasion of this space, a space I am very fond of. I asserted to a colleague that the riots were going to ‘hit’ Oxford Circus, only to be met with the interesting response of ‘who says? Twitter??!’ And he was right, combed evidence it is not, shot down by his defiance, I considered that the public voice, which stands so strong for both good and bad, has been weakened and soiled by the riots. It is an abstract virtual space, which holds so much power and yet is so fragile. What do we trust and what do we dismiss? And how far is too far before monitoring, shutting down and editing these online avenues becomes just the same as the boundaries caged around the print press? Devastated by recent events, the evil of some people’s actions and social media’s role in it, I can only meekly tweet that we should not shut the door on our space, but forgive its flawed darkness, accept its ugly abusers and use it for peace in a very John and Yoko type way.
I have always put myself firmly in the social media chain. I am ok with it. Tag me as a looser. I met the love of my life on Myspace (cliché you not…6 years strong), I have a daily tweet which I use on my C.V to evidence my engagement with culture (by reading this you are now a product of that FYI), I ‘like’ and I ‘retweet’ and I rely on the public voice to give me what I don’t feel I get from my ‘hit’ on BBC news. I stand boldly by my choice to engage in the digital word, however excessive or ugly it may be.
“For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 1929.