Facebook as a platform for expressing our politics

As most of you probably do, I have a very mixed bunch of people as ‘friends’ on Facebook. I have people I went to school with that I haven’t seen for years, people I met on random nights out in uni and have only met in person once and other humans I have come into contact with. It is a great tool for staying in touch with people.

There is a huge range of views and opinions held by this number of people. Recently, with the election and then with the latest refugee crisis, people are using it as a platform to express their political beliefs. Whilst it is great to see people getting politically engaged, it is very difficult to see people expressing opinions that I genuinely think are abhorrent. Seeing people express things that do not seem to be based on facts or research, but instead appear to be based on gut feelings and a frenzied media. I want to comment on their statuses with links to articles, or other opinions but I know that this will rapidly devolve into an internet argument with people that I don’t want to hurt or cause offense to.

I find it difficult to know how to act. The way I was raised is to question opinions that you think are based on prejudice and fear rather than facts, as these opinions can fester into dangerous and irresponsible actions. Also, I may be mistaken, so the general idea is to provoke reasoned debate. Tricky to do through words on a screen which can be taken with so many different tones and feelings, many of which the writer has never felt or meant to imply.

Often though this will devolve into a petty, frustrating and public argument with someone instead of opening up a rational dialogue.

So then, what can you do? Hide them from your feed? Only let your opinions that bolster up your own into your line of sight? I don’t want to be narrow minded. I don’t want my opinions to never come under influence from those that are hugely different. The thing is , at the moment, most of the stuff I see being expressed that makes me feel bad doesn’t seem to have any basis in research. I’ve seen statuses which start ‘I reckon’ and then say stuff about refugees. You reckon?? With all of this knowledge available to you through the internet, you haven’t even tried to learn the truth?

People I have known for years posting things like ‘share if you agree that our homeless veterans should be looked after before refugees’. Mate, I have known you for over a decade, when people suggest helping homeless people you say ‘what about pensioners rather than drug addicts?’. Instead of seeing us all as one beautiful tribe, when it comes to actually putting someone else’s interests before your own you will narrow the scope of ‘us’ own until it’s just your immediate family, if they’re lucky.

I am frustrated. I am so frustrated. And I bet I’m pissing people off and frustrating them with my statuses as well. I wish that Facebook lead to us actually meeting up and talking our different views.

The main problems with this in my mind seem to be:

  • Facebook is a public platform. Who wants to have an opinion that they are passionate about ripped to shreds in front of someone they went to school with, their mum’s best mate and all of their friends from high school? You feel a pressure to not look like a tit because everything is there in black and white for people to read and reread.
  • Facebook doesn’t have established etiquette to help guide our communication. As a relatively new medium for communication different people tend to have different ideas of what is acceptable to say to each other on here. For some people unfriending someone is a huge deal and for others it isn’t. Nothing is really standardised so it can be difficult to know how to communicate without causing offence. Even when we type something politely because there isn’t the tone and body language that we get from a face-to-face interaction the subtleties of the message are often lost.
  • The image we present on Facebook isn’t a true reflection of who we are. There are some people who will share a picture on Facebook without having looked into where the actual images are from and without considering it’s implication. Britain First are brilliant at doing this, creating seemingly innocuous memes and getting people to share them. There is often a generational difference in this, I have noticed that younger generations tend to be more skeptical about what they read on the internet. Often then, an image of someone’s character is being created which doesn’t really exist. This can go both ways, someone can be a clicktivist all they want and actually never going out of their way for anyone.

On top of all this, people are used to posting statuses and not really thinking about it. For so long Facebook has been a way for us to express whatever we’re thinking at the time, whether that’s about night’s out, what you had for dinner or how much you’re enjoying your holiday – it’s not exactly stuff you need to back up with research. When you are expressing opinions about extremely complicated issues on a platform you are used to expressing opinions about how your hair looks, it is less likely you will give those issues due consideration.

I am trying to be more understanding of people whose opinions are at total odds with my own, I hope they’ll try to be more understanding too.

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My thoughts on ‘Girl destroys feminism in 3 minutes’

There is a clip doing the rounds on social media called ‘Girl destroys feminism in 3 minutes’. As a feminist, I am naturally curious about how anyone can deconstruct and ‘destroy’ what seems to me a rational and ethical idea. It is important to me to challenge my own views and opinions, especially ones that have an element of intuition rather than being purely empirical.

After watching the video, there are a few main elements that bother me.

Firstly, the video is being circulated as clickbait. The person who created it had given it a different title. However it seems that she has the same goals as the people who have renamed it – gain attention. This is common on the internet, as James Gleick said; when information becomes cheap, attention becomes expensive.

It almost, but not quite, goes without saying that the title of this video is designed to aggravate, as well as gain attention. There is a current trend for overly emotional language in clickbait social media articles. This is particularly annoying to me, things like ‘The first 3 pictures brought me to tears, but the last destroyed me’, ‘wife cheats on husband but he has the ULTIMATE revenge’ ‘what this son does for his dying father is unbelievable’. This video follows a similar trend. The woman in the video is not destroying feminism, not even slightly. You can’t destroy an idea which has had such positive wide reaching social and legal implications. Well, you can, but not in three minutes.  This constant frivolous use of language that is meant to describe the pinnacle of human emotion means we all gradually become numb to it, it starts losing all meaning. It is like being exposed to anything extreme for long enough; drugs, booze, violence in films – you build up a tolerance.

By framing this video under that title you are classifying it as content that is designed to make us click and move on. Not as content to be taken seriously and raise awareness for the issues it contains.  The other thing contained within the title is a time limit – 3 minutes. Why bother to read reams of literature, reports and statistics to formulate your own opinion when for the low time investment of 3 minutes you can learn everything you need to justify a gut feeling! We are in the spasms of an age which is seeking to reduce our attention span. Complex issues, like gender equality and the history surrounding it, take a good deal of concentration to consider. It is increasingly common that people cannot hold their minds together to read to the end of an article. Even once it has been read, time is needed to digest it, to reflect upon it and then come to your conclusion. In our information age, you can just keep endlessly scrolling down for new images, videos and soundbites to entertain you.

The video starts by the speaker introducing herself. She explains that a few years ago she held up a sign which said ‘I don’t need feminism…’ and was then surprised when it went viral. She also mentioned that she has had a lot of hate and criticism for doing this. Creating a deliberately controversial image of yourself is obviously going to be a pathway for criticism. However, I do not think that there is really ever an excuse for hurling hate and vitriol at someone from behind a keyboard. Lots of people do it. It is cowardly. As with most things though, I have to consider – what were her motives in making this sign? We all have lots of opinions that we don’t feel the need to write on card, photograph and upload onto social media. To me, the goal was to get attention. That’s fine. It’s actually completely understandable when so many of us have confused feelings about approval, attention and validation wrapped up in social media. However, do not then feign surprise when you get stick for it.

After introducing herself, she then makes a new statement ‘Third wave feminism is not a movement for equality’. Why didn’t her sign say this? Why isn’t this the video’s title? It will not get the same attention. She then lists instances of positive discrimination and highlights societal issues that are more prevalent for men than women. As far as I can tell, this is the ‘destruction’. The clarification of the original statement she held up on card tells me that she has, since writing it, read up and educated herself. Fantastic. If you are going to post deliberately controversial images of yourself on the internet then learning about the subject you are criticising is wise.

This is the other thing that bothers me about the video. She mixes in unreferenced facts, statements without context and genuine issues. As if the truth and humanity behind concern for male rape victims somehow justifies and validates the rest. It doesn’t.  For most of her statements there is a complete removal of context. What is equality? This in itself is a huge thing to consider. To some, apparently including the creator of the video, equality is treating everyone the same. Women have been viewed, and in a lot of places still are viewed, not only as different to men, but lesser than men. Placing less value on a woman than a man is still extremely common globally. I have seen this video shared in places on the internet with disgusting comments about women following it. Did the author know when she made this video that it would be used to encourage negative views about an entire gender? Feminists are not campaigning because they hate men, they are doing so because there is a huge difference between how a person is valued and how the law say they should be treated. It is only recently that we have legislation to try to promote equality between genders; it is short-sighted to think that this legislation can completely turn around how society values women.

I saw a response recently to the attempt by some to change #BlackLivesMatter into #AllLivesMatter which struck a chord. ‘Do people who change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter run through a cancer fundraiser going ‘THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO’. There are societal problems facing both genders, if you feel strongly about the issues facing men then by all means campaign on their behalf instead of trying to tear apart what others are doing. The reason that there are things like safe houses for women is that yearly 100 women are killed by a current or former partner. (UK) The figure is for men is 30, under a third of these are killed by women against whom they have a documented history of abuse. There should of course be more support for men in these terrible situations, so why not put your efforts and energies into that instead.

The video is classic inflammatory clickbait disguised as one person ‘telling it like it is’. Three minutes is not long enough to properly consider the history of these issues; it is dangerous to make statements without context and to actively engage in creating media that attempts to undermine movements created for equality.

Christmas, Sainsburys and advertising.

Sainsbury’s you confusing entity! It’s difficult enough to reconcile my instinctive love of Christmas with my learnt anti-consumerist views, without you having to bring war into the mix as well. Every year we are bombarded with different companies trying to make an impression on us emotionally with their annual Christmas advert. This year Sainsbury’s has chosen a historical moment in WWI to encourage us to release our hormones so we are more susceptible to their message and brand. Props to their marketing team, because whether it has caused you to buy something from there or not, a lot of people have an opinion on it.

It is quite a difficult thing for me to straighten out in my mind, all of these different feelings towards the holiday. To me, Christmas has (ironically considering the name) very pagan connotations. I picture cold nights, hot fires, big meals, family and friends all huddling against the cold. It conjures feelings of fire and blood, love and death. When I go into a shop to be confronted with the sounds of whichever latest band is trying to cash in on those primitive feelings by releasing some sort of watered down plastic song, it doesn’t really piss me off. I feel like they are chasing crumbs of something much larger.

The video that they have made is beautifully done, with wonderful sentiments at its base. The event that they are depicting did (roughly) take place as they have shown. The reason it has angered so many people is multi layered. This idea of making the first World War, and trench warfare in particular, something that is beautiful and stylized is seen as doing a disservice to the men who fought and died there. It was not beautiful. The filmmakers opted to leave out a lot of the grimmer details. They have picked and chosen what they think is appropriate, and what will illicit the right mix of emotions from us in order to get us to buy from them.  It should be mentioned that the advert is done with the full backing of the Royal British Legion, and that all of the profits made on the £1 chocolate bar shown in the film will go to that charity. However, Sainsbury’s did not make the advert so that you would give to charity, or buy the chocolate bar.

I can’t help but buy into the sentiments the advert is trying to express. The annual Christmas advert extravaganzas are emotional orgies, they are using literally decades of advertising/marketing experience in order to see who can make us feel the most. This advert to me shows the absolute futility and uselessness of war. I sincerely hope more and larger companies start using that as a theme to make us feel, rather than playing on our fears and insecurities.

The reason Christmas is becoming increasingly commercialised and pushed down our throats is to sell this idea of family, love and unity that we don’t get the rest of the time. Companies and businesses exploit these feelings in order to sell us products. The fact that it works so well, the fact that I can walk into a shop, see a Coca-Cola bastardised version of Santa Claus and feel all warm on the inside is a testament to how much we are craving those feelings.  Instead of writing Christmas off at the same time as we write off these practices, we should separate them. The rest of the year advertisers use the exact same psychological techniques to sell to us, usually wish a nice slice of insecurity to go with it. I would rather be sold a product based on ideas of love, community and warmth than based on the fact I don’t have the arse of a 13 year old girl.

If you are bothered by the commercialisation of Christmas, try and do exactly what the filmmakers have done. Take the best parts out of the situation and use them to your advantage. Large corporations are manipulating us and dividing us every single day. We are exposed to their message, their ideals and subject ultimately to the laws that they help to push through our Parliament. The advert ultimately has an anti-war message and a strong theme about a shared common humanity. Take those sentiments and allow them to colour your view of the world and don’t buy lots of useless crap you don’t need.  Give your mum a call and tell her you love her, without going wild in Selfridges and throwing yourself into debt. Bake a friend some brownies, leave the selection boxes on the shelf.

If Christmas has meaning to you and you are offended by its commercialisation then take a leaf out of Mr Dickens book and honour Christmas in your heart, and try to keep it all the year.