Like modern-day class clowns, social-media trolls waste time and prevent others from taking good opportunities

WE all say things we don’t mean. Sometimes in the heat of the moment we forget ourselves and say things we don’t really think or believe. In a rush to win an argument, or sometimes in order to end it, we’ll blurt out some cutting comment that we instantly regret.

Susana Rowles..Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (30283318)
Susana Rowles..Picture:DAVID FERGUSON. (30283318)

Such delights are mostly reserved for those closest to us, but sometimes colleagues get it too. When we are stressed and under pressure a silly question may result in a short response. Banter can come out wrong too, sometimes.

Then we feel terrible and have to apologise.

Some people are great at taking apologies, others not so much. The apology itself can become the cause of another argument if the offended party feels that the offender is justifying themselves, being insincere or that they haven’t quite got the measure of the offence that they’ve caused.

Siblings are the best at these ‘non-apologies’. Due to the nature of their relationship and the interchangeability of roles, the offended party knows that it’s only a matter of time before they will be the ones having to apologise, so they usually don’t make a big song and dance about it.

Causing offence in the heat of the moment or unwittingly is not the same as attacking someone on social media by direct message, which is what happened to Deputy Inna Gardiner last week. The perpetrator has apologised, and the Deputy has gracefully accepted the apology. That particular matter is now closed

While sending someone a nasty message on social media may be a spur-of-the-moment thing, it’s also symptomatic of a deeper problem in our society. Social media has given everyone a voice. This is good from the point of view of everyone feeling seen, but it has given people a platform from which they can project their voice – everyone has a megaphone. When everyone shouts, no one gets heard, so social media’s positive side is immediately lost.

The class clown in my early secondary years was hilarious; we all laughed at his pokes at authority, but we were always more pleased when he got sent out of class. We knew that he was, and probably still is, an idiot who constantly jested (sometimes abused) teachers to hide his ignorance.

The rest of us just wanted to get on with our learning so we could get out to break time, which was where real life happened.

There was a small group of boys, not much cleverer than he was, who idolised him and followed him everywhere after class. He jested for laughs and approval. Imagine if he had had a megaphone.

Social media gives everyone an audience, including the class clown, who, not having learnt anything of any value at school, has minimal self-worth and lacks real purpose in life, so fills his/her days spewing out hatred online.

Just like the class clown rallied against ‘authority’ (if that’s what you called what our teachers had), the social-media troll rallies against the Establishment, which they see as fair game.

Deputy Gardiner is not exactly the embodiment of the Establishment, considering she is both a woman and an immigrant. So it makes me wonder what on earth was going through some people’s minds when some took to social media to ‘defend free speech’ and to say that politicians are fair game?

The class clown disrupted everyone’s education, all day, every day, and now social-media trolls are disrupting our political system, and we are letting them.

They are not sticking it to ‘the Man’ like they think they are. What they are actually doing is putting people off from standing in elections, thus limiting the quality of our representation.

They are not defending free speech. They are distracting the government, the police, the media, and the public from the real issues that affect us all.

They are not sticking up for the little guy. They are siding with the bully, which ironically is what anti-establishment movements across the world call the Establishment.

Some trolls on social media argued that politicians should grow a thick skin. I argue precisely the opposite, for with thick skins come blinkered direction, blindness to others and a lack of empathy. Good leadership is empathetic, tolerant, measured, fair.

I want politicians who are human. I want politicians from all walks of life. I want politicians of all ages. I want politicians to have a life and a family outside of work. I want an inclusive assembly that is truly representative of our society.

This ‘us and them’ rhetoric serves no one. It’s divisive, distracting, and counterproductive – just like the class clown.

I guess some turkeys do vote for Christmas.

The class clown in our school was always careful to hide his ignorance, but we saw right through him. Like the trolls, he didn’t know what was good for him.

For more comment and opinion pieces, see today's Jersey Evening Post.

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