For the last few months I’ve been following the US Presidential election nominations almost religiously. I log onto Salon first thing in the morning to find out who’s been saying what about whom over the last 24 hours. US correspondents have dubbed the Republican candidacy the Clown Car because… Well, you only need to look at the candidates to answer that one.
What has really set this race apart has been the bitterness and rancour present in the campaign. Marco Rubio talking about Donald Trump’s tiny hands and small penis. Trump and Ted Cruz sparring over infidelity allegations and throwing shade at each other’s wives.
It makes for good entertainment but is it really about technology? It’s definitely related. Anyone who has spent even the smallest amount of time on Twitter or the central casting of ‘droid-rage that is Reddit WILL PROBABLY HAVE SEEN SOMETHING LIKE THIS, A MESAGE WITH DUBIOUS GRAMMAR SPELLED OUT IN CAPS.
This is the type of anger that is typifying this new style of politics and has largely chased me off social media. I used to love Twitter and the challenge of getting your point across in 140 characters. And then, my feed started filling up with capital letters. People upset about the service at lunch. At a boss who dared to ask them to work. At a partner who forgot to put the cap back on the toothpaste.
Social media is a bit like alcohol. It teases and dares us to say things and share thoughts that are better left unsaid. The more outrageous you are, the more attention you’re likely to get. The more likes your posts will attract and the sense of validation that comes from recruiting an equally narrow-minded set of thick-necked numbskulls to your point of view.
The Internet was supposed to make us more worldly and cosmopolitan. Studies have shown that the opposite is the case. The Worldwide Interwebs make it easier to cocoon yourself in a singular worldview. Look at the dumbfounded reaction of rightwing Christian conservatives in the USA who simply cannot understand that theirs are the views of a pretty small minority. Their lives–offline and online–revolve around people who look and think like them and they can’t conceive of anywhere else being different.
Shorn of opposing voices, we quickly descend into intolerance. It doesn’t matter if you sit on the left or the right, whether you’re conservative, liberal or follow one of the 31 flavors of totalitarianism, the chances are that seeing posts from people who challenge your position raises your hackles. They’re not stating a point of view, they’re attacking yours. They’re threatening the very fabric of your world and you MUST REACT, IMMEDIATELY.
I’ve done it again. I apologise. I’m not trying to make you angry. I know that everyone is entitled to an opinion. It’s just unfortunate that they can express it to more than the toothless ne’er-do-wells they play poker with on Thursday nights. The Internet allows us to target and attack people we’ve never met or spoken to in the flesh, and to say the kind of horrendously disgusting and inflammatory things I like to hope they’d never say to them in person.
I know it’s tough trying to express emotion in a tweet without resorting TO THIS. Which is why I’m suggesting a test. To determine your online suitability. If you want, you can call it a phishing permit. In the same way that drivers can opt for an automatic-vehicles only licence, there should be a system allowing tiers of access to social media services. Some people will be allowed onlooker and email privileges only. Others will be given an opt-in where they can post and reply to others in their group. Relatively few of us will be able to converse widely and openly.
I know this seems like policing the Internet. I know it seems like censorship. But in the true spirit of the electronic wild west, I don’t care what you think. It’s my vision, so I’ll be the one to administer the system and hold people to account. Of course, it will be jigged in my favour. There’ll be rainbows, marshmallows and unicorns everywhere I look. If the rest of you have to sit in some cyber dungeon next to Donald Trump for that to happen, it’s a small price [for you] to pay for my happiness.
Matt Armitage is on Twitter @kulturpop.