If you get a chance, read Blind Faith by Ben Elton. It gives you a glimpse into a world where social media has invaded everything, privacy is considered illegal and the anti-vaccination lobby has won their fight against logic and reason. Books are considered contraband and public trials and executions are commonplace for anyone who dares defy the new-age but somewhat fascist regime lead by “clergymen”.
What did it take for this to happen? A natural disaster struck London and many people died, fictionally…
I read the book in 2008 although it had been written quite a bit earlier, and sadly, many of the things that Ben Elton satirised in the book are starting to emerge in reality. The most prevalent is public execution by social media.
Now, social media, in my mind, is meant to be an easy means of communication and innovative way to engage like-minded individuals on issues and what-not and of course it provides an endless supply of material for my as yet un-launched and just as unlikely comedy career.
Worse than social media, but actually amounts to pretty much the same thing, is the comments section on news websites. These dark disturbed places are inhabited by the most judgemental self-righteous trolls you’re ever like to meet. Engage them at your peril, lest you be accused of being a racist, wife-beating, animal hating murderer who molests small birds.
The sad thing is though; social media has the potential to ruin peoples’ lives if used maliciously. Someone can accuse you of being a racist, wife-beating, animal hating murderer who molests small birds at the slightest whim and with no evidence. They can post a photo-shopped image of you attacking a baby hedgehog with a stick, gleamed from Google images and edited spectacularly well, tagged “animal hating racist beats black hedgehog with stick, outrage!! Etc etc”.
The image can go viral and the next thing you know, you, who actually adores hedgehogs, are receiving death threats from the International Association of Black Hedgehog Protectors and your kids don’t want to go to school because they’re ashamed of their mom or dad’s evil hedgehog fetish. And all because some troll on the internet took offense at an innocent comment you made about people from Iceland.
The internet is filled with half-truths, rumours and lies. It gets web traffic, it is good for business. It’s “entertainment”, but where do you draw the line? It has become fashionable to join in with all the outraged people on Twitter. In the old days outraged people would form an angry mob with pitchforks and flaming torches and go hunt down the poor soul who’d been unjustly accused of abusing hedgehogs. These days it’s all about internet shaming and it’s all the more dangerous because of the anonymity it allows.Nobody can see you at your keyboard but in the old days everyone could see you waving your pitchfork around.
People are very quick to accuse, quick to throw stones at whoever this week’s target is and yes, sometimes the outrage is justified, but most often it is just petty nonsense, spurred on by the hypocritical notion that we are all perfect and have the right to throw mud at people we’ve never met and whose circumstances we could never understand.
Right now I am being a hypocrite by even writing this. In Blind Faith the main character ends up being executed because he dares challenge the twisted world that society had allowed to come into being. He dares to learn and to think for himself. He dares to defy the common conventions that everybody else just accepts. He dares to be unique and make up his own mind. We all live in glass houses because nobody is truly without sin, nobody has a cupboard completely bare of skeletons, and nobody is entirely innocent.
I suppose it would be akin to accusing someone of driving an ugly car whilst driving an old brown badly maintained Datsun. I first realised my own hypocrisy when I had a go at another guy at school for using hair gel, despite the fact that I too had slicked my hair back with that very same gel (Loreal Studio Line) earlier that morning. I think i was eleven.
Sorry Christian Kok, my bad…