sjhstrangetales

SOME THOUGHTS ON SOCIAL-MEDIA

Posted on: April 15, 2018

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Social-Media has been much in the news of late, and usually for all the wrong reasons.  Whether it be Donald Trump using Twitter to constantly try and start WW3, or Facebook acting like a creepy bunch of Scientologists coming to claim your soul, it seems to have developed an evil, sinister image.  I am absolutely baffled as to how or why a lightweight thing like Social-Media has come to have such a towering importance in our lives.  When I hear words on the News like “President Trump has tweeted” I feel like I’ve crossed through the looking-glass into some bizarre parallel universe.  I mean, hang on a minute, I thought social-media was all about keeping connected with people you’re interested in, or posting pictures of cute animals or what you had for dinner, or tweeting along to the Eurovision Song Contest.

The only social-media I use is Twitter.  I’ve been on it for 8 years now, and I absolutely hate the damn thing.  But more of that in a moment.  Curiously, I have never felt any strong inclination to join Facebook, in spite of various people over the years telling me to stop being silly and get on it.  At the beginning of 2017 I did finally succumb and created a FB account.  I deleted it again a short while later.   I felt like a lost soul, wandering around the spooky basement of an old lunatic asylum, and hearing anguished screams in the distance.   One day, when I was feeling bored, I started up an Instagram account.  I immediately tried to delete it again, and was duly informed by Instagram that I wasn’t allowed to!  Alright, I thought, it can sit there for all eternity, completely ignored.

I joined Twitter at the back end of 2010, having been told for months beforehand that, as a writer, I might find it useful.  For months I resisted, sitting there like Grumio the slave in Plebs, looking spectacularly unimpressed, and saying “nah, I’m alright, thanks”.   When I did finally get into it, I became a voracious tweeter.  I would tweet about absolutely anything.  I coined a phrase “there is always drama on Twitter”, and perhaps it fulfilled that side of me, that nosey parker side, who always loves a bit of gossip, and has an insatiable need to know what’s going on in the world.  And yet, even back in the early days, there were plenty of times when I hated it.

“It’s a great way to connect with other writers”, you are told.  Well yes it is, if you want them spamming their latest book down your throat morning, noon and night, or constantly reminding you of how EVERYONE thinks they are absolutely wonderful.  When they’re not doing that they’re telling you how hard they’re working, which instantly makes you feel guilty, because you’re NOT working at that moment, you’re distracted by them on Twitter (although it does beg the question, if they’re so damn busy, how have they got time to constantly remind you they are?).  After a while I felt like the publisher’s assistant in The Provincial Lady In America, who confessed to her that he really didn’t like writers.   Now don’t get me wrong, Twitter CAN be very useful for writers.  After all, it’s a free platform and a way to get your work noticed.  But if you are a writer, just starting out, and you want to use it, do so by all means, but I strongly advise you to avoid other writers – you’ll only end up getting buried under book spam – and don’t rudely demand they read your story at 10 o’clock at night, as I had done to me once.

I want to say a word here about the Finger-Wagger Writers, these are the ones who dictate “advice” to other writers as if it’s hewn into tablets of stone.   I nicknamed these “the EAs” – the Earnest Americans, because that is often what they are.  I had one who asserted that blog pieces should be a certain number of words and NO MORE.  I wouldn’t mind if she ever did any blogging herself, but as far as I know she hasn’t.   And she seems to have been polishing the same magnum opus novel for the past 7 years.   Another EA pompously tweeted “would you ever read a book written by someone without a creative writing degree?”  Well if you don’t you’ll be missing out on most of the Classics, mate.   If you listen to this lot, you’ll never get any writing done at all.  Oh and as for the length of blog posts, THEY CAN BE ANY LENGTH YOU WANT THEM TO BE!!  That is the beauty of blogging.

If you’re lacking in self-confidence as a writer, Twitter can be an absolute sod.  Some writers are lucky, and are followed by hordes of adoring fans, who receive their every tweet with breathless adoration and cries “oh I love you so much, I really do!”  Sadly, I am not one of that blessed tribe.  Back in 2011, I tweeted a short story to Twitter for the first time.  A strange woman reacted in a way that has baffled me ever since.  Over the course of the next few hours her tweets became increasingly deranged, culminating in one which simply read “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL” over and over again for the entire 140 characters (as it was then).  That particular story can be found in my B-Road Incident collection, if you want to read it for yourself, and erupt into hysterical tweets of “LOLOLOLOLOLOL” as well.  I Blocked her in the end, because I seriously began to believe I had a mad-woman on my hands.  To this day, I don’t know what I wrote which provoked her so much.  Now, in the interests of balance, not everyone has been like that (thank God!).  When I nervously tweeted my very first blog piece in June 2011 (about Borley Rectory) one follower sent me a message simply saying “that was an interesting piece, Sarah”.  As a writer who suffers chronically from “stage-fright”, I appreciated his kind words, and still do.   Over the years since I have occasionally received messages like this from readers, and I do value them muchly.

So, Twitter/social-media is like the rest of life, it has its ups and its downs, you meet kind people, you also meet absolute bellends.  You experience the generous spirit of complete strangers, you also have complete strangers who will try and pick a fight over the most absurdly trivial subjects, and who won’t make a word of sense in the process.   BUT, in the last couple of years, it has increasingly felt as though the negative is vastly outweighing the positive, for me anyway.  It’s tempting to blame it all on Donald Trump and/or Brexit, and I’m sure they are major contributing factors.  Something has gone dreadfully awry of late though.  Perhaps it’s that we’re all taking it far too seriously, more than it was meant to be, I don’t know.   I also don’t want to be one of those old-timers who tries to make out everyone was much nicer before social-media.  No they weren’t.  You still had bullies and bitches and narcissists and sociopaths and raving loonies, but it was easier to limit their power over you.  Unless you were very unlucky, they weren’t very likely to come up to you in the street and shout “I overheard what you said out here 5 weeks ago last Friday at 3 PM, and I want you to know you’re  a complete dickhead, and I’m going to set fire to your car with you in it!”

I feel deeply sorry for children these days, being constantly on the end of a phone or a computer.  In the old days, if you got bullied at school, you would at least get a respite from it out of school hours, but no, not these days, the bully can get hold of you at any time, even when you’re sitting snugly in your room, minding your own business.  And I do think (old fart alert!) people have got ruder as a whole.  Very few people Online say “please” and “thank you”, too many people treat you – at best – as an automated service, like you’re an offshoot of Google.   I’ve lost track now of the amount of times I’ve had complete strangers bustling in on me on Twitter and ordering me to follow them so I can DM them, as they have something important to say to me.  The “something important” is usually a journalist who wants free information, and then buggers off again without so much as a “thanks ever so!”   One got the name of my book wrong.  I genuinely wondered if she’d got the right author, and asked her if it was my book she was referring to, as there was a book with that particular title on the market, written by someone else.  I got a near-hysterical response along the lines of so-I-got-your-book-title-wrong-so what, and went on petulantly “I’m having to do A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH!!”  Yes, writing is often like that, I’ve found.

Dr David Starkey (bear with me) once said that the British Monarchy could survive scandal and controversy, but it would never be able to survive apathy, that its biggest fear would be if we reacted to them with boredom.  And that’s the problem I now have with Twitter/social-media.  The utter tedium factor.  Donald Trump stressing us out by threatening all and sundry with nuclear warheads is bad enough, but it’s the unrelenting day-to-day tedium of it all which is killing it for me.  Possibly my biggest gripe about Twitter is what I call the Late Responder.  This is the troll who obsessively combs through Twitter searches looking for anyone commenting on their chosen subject, and then viciously attacking them for it.  I’ve had my lion’s share of this sort over the years, and I sometimes like to boast that my current record is 3-and-a-half years, that is, between me sending out a tweet, and someone having a go at me for it.  I’ve seen others who have had more impressive scores than that though.

By far and away the worst example of a Late Responder I had was when I tweeted a BBC News story about the increase in stalking in recent years.  Several days later (sigh) I had a complete nutjob come at me out of the blue, who proceeded to rant on at me over several tweets in a bizarre, stream-of-consciousness way.  I felt like I had strolled in in the middle of a complete stranger having a heated argument with himself in a bus shelter.   It culminated in him saying to me that he could arrange to have me “abducted and beheaded”.   I duly reported this tweet to Twitter, who – what a great surprise – replied that they could do nothing.  All I could do was Block him.  Recently, whilst having a clear-out on Twitter, I had a look at my Blocked list, and found that not only is this raving nutter still around, but he has now spawned a second account, on which he makes even less sense than he did on the first one.  Twitter, be ashamed.

Over the past few months it has felt as though that’s all I damn well get on Twitter these days.  My last one was yesterday (14/4/2018).  I had tweeted earlier in the week that I was concerned about Thomas Cook still advertising holidays in Turkey, given the current world situation.  Now I might very well be wrong.  I might very well have been over-reacting, but it was on the day that it was announced flights to that part of the world were going to be restricted.  But it seems you’re not allowed to have very human, fleeting moments of anxious pondering on Twitter.  A few days later my latest little aggressor decided to call me “pathetic” for voicing this concern, and – the final nail in it for me – he included the ubiquitous crying-with-laughter emoji.  This might sound trivial (and it probably is), but after several days of extreme worry and sleeplessness about the imminent onset of nuclear war,  I really didn’t need this gobby little twat on top of everything else.  It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I’ve tried to get round the Late Responder problem in recent months by doing regular tweet purges, of using TweetDelete to erase tweets after a certain time (I can recommend this app by the way), but even that’s not enough now.  Life is moving so fast these days, that even tweets a few days old can seem prehistoric and irrelevant.  I read the other day that a major concern amongst young people is the permanency of social-media, that tweets/messages hang around forever, ready to cause you maximum grief and embarrassment years later.  This is a big problem for the generation that has grown up on the Internet – I’m very glad it wasn’t around when I was that age – but it’s this We Will Never Ever Let You Forget What You’ve Tweeted attitude which is killing it finally for me.  To live in a world where you are NEVER allowed to forget even the most trivial of comments you’ve ever uttered is absolute sheer insanity.  Like having the Recording Angel permanently on your tail.  Orwell’s Thought Police would be orgasmic.

In many ways I hope social-media does survive.  I do believe it can serve a useful function in society.  It is an extremely useful way to keep in touch with people, and very useful for keeping up with the News.  I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve read of a big news story breaking on Twitter before I’ve seen it elsewhere.  It can also be useful if you’re having travel problems.  I’ve used it to find out about trains cancelled at Paddington, and roadworks on a motorway for instance.  I also believe it could be used to help alleviate loneliness, particularly amongst elderly people, to give them a feel of community, even if it’s one in cyberspace.  For instance, the comedian Sarah Millican does a fine job at Christmastime with her JoinIn hashtag, to encourage people who are alone over the festive season to chat on Twitter.  Plus, in spite of what some may tell you, Online petitions can be very effective too.

But now I’ve reached the stage where I’ve all but scorch earthed my entire back catalogue of tweets, and pared my Following list right down to the bone, it’s probably time I called it a day.   I am tired of its lack of warmth.  Tired of the way you can know people on there for years, but you don’t know them really, not at all.   And I’m sick and tired of the endless bots.  The ones that come and plague you because you’ve used the word “coffee” in a tweet for instance, or the ones that immediately put you on a List because you’ve mentioned a film title.   Worst of the lot are the probably-of-Russian-origin sexbots.  There must be an endless conveyor belt of women with melon breasts somewhere on the outskirts of St Petersburg, all lining up wanting to be my “sex companion”.  Thanks for the kind offer Vlad, but really I’m not interested.

I have heard people say “but you use YouTube, and that’s social-media!”  Well yes, I suppose technically it might be, but there’s a difference.  Unless you’re avidly posting Comments all day long, people don’t tend to constantly come and attack you for things you’ve said on YouTube*.  You don’t have that whole annoying Followers/Friends nonsense, where you do this little pointless dance of social-media etiquette when someone follows you, sort of “oh you’ve followed me, so I suppose now I have to follow you back, even though we’ve probably got no interest in one another at all, and we will never ever communicate with each other ever again, in fact, you’ve probably got me on Mute already haven’t you?”  Obviously all this is different for those talented souls who make YouTube videos, but they can get round the trolling nonsense by simply disabling their Comments section, or at least by strict moderating.   But for a Lurker like me, it’s not an issue anyway.  I can get my fill of the creative, newsy, and/or gossipy side of the Internet, without all the hassle of Followers/Friends/Trolls/Spambots etc etc.   YouTube has its faults, but I enjoy it.  There is always something new to see, and apart from the odd negative nutter, the people whose Comments I read are usually more enthusiastic and fun-loving as a whole.  Whereas Twitter these days all too often feels like a howling cesspit of negativity and time-wasting.  When I looked at the Top Trends recently I was struck by how many negative words leaped out at me, everything was “I hate this” or “such-and-such has a had a negative reaction”.  WHERE’S THE DAMN FUN GONE???  WAS IT EVER EVEN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE???  It’s a horrid addiction, and frankly I found smoking easier to give up.

I suppose I should apologise for the length of this blog piece, I was only going to say a few words, but obviously I had a lot to get off my chest, and it was time I did so. I’ve seen 2018 described as “the year of the neo-luddite”, as more and more people kick back against technology.  Well I don’t think I am a neo-luddite to be honest, there’s a lot about the Internet I appreciate and enjoy, but social-media as it stands at the moment is something I can do without.

UPDATE 16/4/2018 – Today it was announced on the News that Wetherspoons, the UK pub chain, was closing all its social media accounts with immediate effect.  Good for them.  They cite all the recent bad publicity around social media, and the growing concerns over s-m addiction as their reasons for doing so.   They said they also wanted to refute the current myth that all businesses need s-m to function … well quite, I mean it does somewhat beg the question as to how businesses managed to function for centuries before it was invented!   The world didn’t begin when Mr T-Shirt Man Zuckerberg invented Facebook, contrary to what some will try and tell you.

I’ve long had a theory now that sites like Twitter can actually put you off a business or a person.  There have been too many times lately when I’ve enjoyed a book or a video by someone, and gone to find out if they’re on Twitter … and come away completely repelled by what I’ve seen.   (It’s a somewhat chastening thought to think people might have had the same thing with me!).  Just one example, there is one political commentator I’ve seen a lot on Twitter, and always thought he was a complete idiot, a vacuous rent-a-gob, who tweets things just to provoke people and get a reaction.  There’s a lot of it about.  Then I watched one of his YouTube videos, and, although I still don’t agree with him on a lot of things, I can at least see that he’s more intelligent, calm and thoughtful when he’s communicating to camera, than he is when making bite-sized Twitter comments.

We used to have a saying on Twitter years ago: “Facebook makes you dislike people you know, Twitter makes you like complete strangers”.  I don’t believe that’s true anymore.   (We also used to say “don’t take it seriously, it’s only Twitter” – I haven’t read that one in YEARS).  Anyway, the sun is shining – for a change – so au reservoir.

*HAPGOOD’S HANDY HINTS:

(1) If you do post on YouTube Comments, but you don’t want the Late Responder problem of people replying to you for years afterwards, simply click on the option of unsubscribing from YouTube Notifications.  This will stop YouTube pestering you with messages – and clogging up your phone – every time someone replies to you.  Either that, or you can simply go back and delete your original message.  It’s up to you.  The power is in your hands.

(2) If you’re new to Twitter, here’s my own guide to Tweeters You Might Want to Avoid Like The Plague:

  • anyone who has a long row of numbers in their username.  This is an outright troll.  They are never good news, they will try and make your life a misery, and should be Blocked on sight.  For heaven’s sake, don’t ever engage with them.  They are poison.
  • the Inspirational/Motivational Quote mob.  These are the tweeters who seem to do nothing but post pious little platitudes all day long.  Twitter is awash with them.  They are like psychic vampires, they will home in on you, and, unless you’re very ruthless with them, will bore on at you all day long forevermore, with an irritating quote for every occasion, usually from the Dalai Lama or Eleanor bloody Roosevelt, or – utterly bizarrely – Will Rogers.  The constant use of Mr Rogers got so bad that I actually began to hate the poor man, and it’s scarcely his fault!  At their worst I have found them to be insufferably pious and sanctimonious.  Constant finger-waggers.  I mean seriously people, who the flamin’ hell do you think you are??
  • The same really goes for the “happy day / happy day / every day’s a happy day” crowd.  They are the ones who go on Twitter just to  babble “Happy Monday / Happy Tuesday … ” you get my drift.  What is wrong with that you may well ask?  Well nothing in small doses, but some do it ALL THE TIME.  Relentlessly.  I had a follower who only ever did the “happy day / morning / afternoon / evening / spring / summer / autumn / winter” routine, usually accompanied by pictures of Snoopy.  I didn’t dislike her as a person at all, but after several months of this, day-in day-out, I was starting to get the urge to smash up furniture.
  • People who have aggressive Twitter bio’s.  By these I mean the ones who insist on putting their religious and/or political beliefs in their bio description.   American God-botherers are amongst the worst.  They like to act as though they’ve got a personal hot-line to Jesus, and yet their timelines are usually full of hatred and bile (“your mother sucks cock in Hell!!” < oh thanks, very Christian that is, hashtag sarcasm).  Frankly, I don’t think Jesus would be terribly impressed with them.   The same rule applies for those who insist on plastering their Twitter page with little flags.  It doesn’t matter what the flag is, these people are never nice easy-going companions to have around.   They are always on the lookout for a fight, or for something to get offended by.
  • The Get-Over-Yourself brigade.  These are the ones who think because they’ve got some Followers on Twitter that they have achieved a Princess Di level of celebrity.  They put things in their bios like “RTs are not an endorsement”.   Pompous bastards.   If they have any gongs – like an MBE or an OBE, a degree qualification, or a member of a society for instance – they will insist on inserting that into their username, just so’s you don’t have any chance of forgetting it in a hurry.  They will probably flood your timeline with selfies.  What fun.   They will have no interest in you whatsoever, other than as a means to boost their pathetic Twitter followers count.   Some will claim they are a “life guru”, a “social-media influencer”  or a “motivational speaker”.  God help us.
  • Anyone who has a miserable face in their avatar.  Yes, really. I have found, as a general rule of thumb, that this nearly always means they really are a miserable bastard.  It’s as simple as that.  Some women adopt a sulky pout to try and make themselves look sexy* and mysterious, and then you find they are a moody bitch who disapproves of everything.   The men who do this really are just grumpy bastards who hate everything.   I once posted a quirky YouTube vid to Twitter, just as a bit of light relief one day.  One such Grumpy Bastard came howling at me like an Old Testament God, yelling “And I tell YOU not to believe everything you see on YouTube!”  He almost came complete with an accusing finger pointing out of the sky.  *anyone who describes themselves as “sexy” in their bios or their username is always a narcissist desperately looking for attention.
  • TeamFollowBack.  They’re still around, but thankfully nowhere near as ubiquitous as they used to be.  These are there just to hoover up followers.  You won’t get any quality content out of them, all you will see are endless lists of Twitter usernames scrolling past your eyes.  The same goes for the FollowFriday crowd, but again, this doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad these days as it used to be.
  • The ones who go on Twitter just to post “bored”, “zzz” or “yawn”, as if they’re some bratty, over-indulged kid and you’re the hapless children’s entertainer at their birthday party.  Block on sight, they’re depressing.  No one needs that sort in their lives.
  • The snake-oil salesmen.  Oh what a surprise, there are con-men at large on social-media.  Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.  They can vary greatly.  From automated bot accounts who will pick up on a word you’ve innocently tweeted, and then try and flog you dodgy phones, to shiny-faced, grinning men in shirts and ties, who try and fool you they’re an invaluable Expert in something.   One claimed to be an expert on doing business on Twitter.  A particular nugget of wisdom was along the lines of “one way to get an advantage over your competition is to slag them off on social-media” (he didn’t use the exact words “slag them off” but it was along those lines).  I hit the roof.  THAT IS ILLEGAL!!  Because I often write about the paranormal, I’ve seen some dodgy types along those lines too.  There was the “clairvoyant” who claimed he was able to move objects by the power of thought alone.  And we’re not talking tiny objects here, we’re talking cars, that sort of thing.  If he can really prove he can do that it would change the entire course of history, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
  • The ones who try and tell you what you’re allowed to tweet.  I had one woman who objected for months on end to anyone tweeting news stories (she clearly had never heard of the Unfollow button).  It culminated in her actually ordering me to stop reading the news.  I told her I would do what I wanted, at which she screamed at me “oh it’s your party and you’ll cry if you want to …” and on and on.  When she wasn’t doing this she was preaching Peace and Love at everyone.  Go figure.  I also have a problem with the “No Profanity” brigade.  As you can probably see from this blog post, I don’t have a problem with swearing.  I’m with George Orwell and Stephen Fry on this one.  Swearing (unless it’s every other word, and then it just gets boring) is usually a sign of a rich vocabulary, and frankly there are more important things to get worked up about in this World than someone using a bit of fruity language.  But no, we get the No Profanity lot on Twitter too.  They put it in their bio’s, they lecture everyone about it.  They usually got tossed onto the Blocked On Sight pile as well.
  • Absolutely anyone who posts “lmao” to everything.  They haven’t an original thought in their head, and try and pull everything down to their level.  They are tiresome.   It seems to be getting replaced these days by the crying-with-laughter emoji, which is every bit as pointless and irritating.

(3)   Ones who ARE worth a follow:

  • the genuinely funny ones.  They are out there, and I’ve seen some absolute comic geniuses over the years.  They are the ones who poke fun at the absurdities of life.  One brilliant example is @ Coldwar_Steve , his funny pictures are sublime and often very clever.
  • the ones who post lovely pictures.  It might sound trite, but many of us appreciate the ones who take the trouble to post beautiful pictures.   Sometimes these days it’s useful to be reminded that not all of the world is ugly and stressful.  These can be anything, from pictures of the countryside, to cute animals, to Marilyn Monroe, whatever tickles your fancy.
  • ones who genuinely share your interests.  If you’re into football, vintage cinema, knitting, jazz music, astronomy, the paranormal etc etc, then seek out the accounts who are dedicated to these things.  They often build up their own little communities, and are what social-media should be all about.

And that’s about it really.

Anyway, I’m largely done with it now.   I feel I have well and truly done my Twitter tour-of-duty.  The only reasons I’m not deleting the account are because I don’t want Russian bots getting their greasy mitts on the username, and because the few accounts I still follow post some great pictures now and again.  Peace Out.

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