Remember ‘Shaun’? You know, Shaun – the guy you joined that obscure university society with once, the one with the fancy dress and disgusting beer-and-Baileys mixers at the student union. Shaun… such a laugh. Could burst a balloon using only his buttocks. Wonder what Shaun is doing now?
Oh, right. Shaun’s being incredibly racist on Facebook. Ah, that’s awkward. Well, you never liked him anyway. Quick – ‘unfriend’ Shaun, at once. Or at the very least ‘hide’ his witterings from your news feed. It’ll only make you angry.
If, like me, you’re fairly liberal with your online connections and can count old school friends, former colleagues, casual acquaintances and even people you did ballet with when you were six on your list of social media pals, then you’ll probably be feeling pretty disenchanted today.
For nothing seems to bring out the bigots than topical news of terror, refugees or unemployment. And, like a red rag to a bull with the face of Nigel Farage, I’ve seen genuine grief and raw heartbreak over the recent Paris attacks all but drowned out on my Facebook and Twitter timelines, status updates instead transformed by a tempest of casual racism: ‘Tracy just signed this petition to David Cameron MP: CLOSE BRITISH BORDERS – NOW!’.
What I really want to see are baby photos, blurry dinners, your sunburned knees on an unidentifiable beach. I don’t really care about your new car, your trip to Butlins or your friend’s sister’s baby shower, but smother me with them anyway, parade them in front of my eyes to counter the endless accounts of real horror. I’d much rather stumble across bland snaps of a stranger’s hen party than an outpouring of support for Ukip and Britain First, snide jibes about “lefties” and “PC gone mad”, and sentences that begin with, “I’m not racist, but….”
People you don’t care about, of course, are easily ‘blocked’. The girl you worked with on the checkouts at the local supermarket when you were 16? She probably won’t even notice. But what do you do with people a little closer to home, or to your heart? How do you deal with Great Aunty Eileen’s dubious views on immigration, or Cousin Bob’s less-than-salubrious solutions for terrorism? The ephemeral Facebook rant is bad enough – but how do you deal with the same conversation next month, over the Christmas dinner?
I don’t have any answers, for unless we end up living in a Black Mirror-style dystopia, there’s no ‘mute’ button for real life. All I can suggest is this: ‘hide’ your nan on Facebook, and when things can’t – or shouldn’t – be ignored, then counter negative opinions with facts and links to further information. You never know, a heartfelt, opposing point of view might bring about a shift of attitudes.
But you have to accept, too, that you might not be able to change someone’s mind. Love them for the good parts that have nothing to do with politics; or ‘mute’ them if it all gets too much. Most importantly, choose your battles wisely. Choose your friends, wisely too. And definitely delete Shaun.
Racist posts on Facebook – how should you respond?
Everyone has a right to be a bigot, or so Oberleutnant Brandis insists. But does that mean we’re also obliged to put up with bigots on Facebook? We hear a lot about trolls and online bullying, but what if the problem is not an anonymous hater but someone you know? Perhaps even a member of your own family?
My friend Claudia recently wrestled with this question after she reconnected with a distant cousin via Facebook. Friendly messages were exchanged – reminiscences about eccentric relatives and long-ago family Christmases. There was even reckless talk, as there so often is on Facebook, of meeting up in person.
Then the racist posts started appearing in Claudia’s feed: rants about refugees rorting the welfare system, people who come to this country but don’t bother to learn English, and burqa-wearing housewives plotting to take over Parliament.
Feeling that she could not let this pass unchallenged, Claudia commented on one of the posts, calling it out as offensive rubbish. In a sense this had the desired effect in that the racist posts stopped appearing in her feed. But they had not disappeared because Claudia’s cousin had seen the error of her ways. Claudia had simply been unfriended.