22 March 2019

I got home from school on Tuesday and chose to post a number of things online. Ongoing issues regarding Brexit provoked my first tweet. I had watched an interview on the news with a member of the Cabinet, who was criticising John Bercow’s actions on a third meaningful vote. I found the MPs personal account to tell him that he was ‘….a useless idiot, a clown....’ and ‘…that you should be ashamed of yourself.’ 

I then added the following comment to a Facebook page dedicated to a local supermarket chain that I use on an infrequent basis. 
‘Your service is shocking. Why can’t you employ people who know what they are doing? You are paid a fortune, but you can’t even stock the biscuits that I want when I visit your store. One of your ‘colleagues’ informed that they might have some new stock in store soon and to check back. When? It isn’t good enough, I want a clear date and time. Has anyone else had trouble getting biscuits in this store? Let me know and we can organise a petition.’

In between regularly checking my phone to see if I had any likes, or to see if my petition request was gathering momentum, I fired off a short comment to a news article from a daily newspaper. The article identified a number of must have men's’ wardrobe items for the summer of 2019. 

‘How dare you give advice on fashion when you are dressed like that? Did you get dressed in the dark? Brown shoes and blue trousers? Be serious. It is outrageous that you have been given the time and money to write this article. It’s embarrassing.’ 

I did not actually do any of the above things. I have no interest in social media and would rather read a book or spend time with my family. To be very specific, when I had finished work on Tuesday I watched ‘Harry Heroes, The Full English’ and, surprisingly, felt myself willing Matt Le Tissier to lose weight; I was also moved by Paul Merson’s struggle with addiction. I didn’t tweet, comment on closed forums or add my thoughts to the cesspit that is ‘the bottom half of the Internet.’ Did you? If so, were you negative or critical? Were you angry?

I ask because there are regular reports that focus on the harmful impact of mobile phones on young people and I have written about those concerns before. However, it would be foolish to think that adults don’t make similar mistakes, or demonstrate similar types of behaviour. Adults are not always the best role models and are equally culpable when it comes to rushing to judgement. In my time as a teacher, it is fair to note that interaction between adults has become increasingly aggressive and accusatory. Accountability is an important part of public life, but that does not mean social interaction should be interpreted as a courtroom drama, adversarial in its nature with self-appointed judges. 

This has always been a feature of British life, as any examination of the political cartoons of Hogarth and Gillray will testify, but it seems much more prevalent than before. A huge increase in social media use, austerity and political uncertainty have created a combustible mix. This is particularly true when it comes to schools. Funding has been cut in real terms at the same time as many people have become more reliant on those very institutions for greater support. Every act of austerity is an act against children and the most vulnerable. Austerity has provoked anger. Social media provides a means of expressing that anger in an immediate, ill thought out manner. It becomes normal to be critical or to make judgements without evidence. It might seem naïve in those circumstances to speak up for good manners, positivity and politeness, but they offer a fairly simple and readily available response to the disconcerting times that we are living through. 

Choose to be optimistic, it feels better. 

Mr O’Sullivan