In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.
George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant
Over at The Lawyer, I have done a semi-ironic post on how to lose Twitter followers. I lose hundreds of followers a week. Almost all of these are silent un-follows as tweeters move on to more interesting tweeters to follow. But a few don’t. They want to tell you just why they are un-following you. And it is these sort of people I would like to write about.
I have always had a knack for annoying people. Most of the time it is unintended. However, it was only when I started blogging and tweeting that I became hated by large numbers of people. It is not the sort of thing a 40-something journeyman lawyer and freelance writer expects, and it is a rather strange phenomenon.
In particular, I often get abuse for being “arrogant” and “self-promotional”. The paradox here, of course, is that these very people are taking it upon themselves to publish their unsolicited views to others. Just as Gore Vidal said a narcissist is someone better looking than you, a “self-promoter” in social media seems to be someone whose views you read, when they don’t bother to read yours.
So what do you do when someone you know only through social media is boring, aggressive, rude, or so on?
Well, it seems to me there is no need to be consistent, just as you are not in “real life”.
It all depends on mood or context: sometimes you block, or ignore, or engage, or retaliate. But as in day-to-day dealings, how you deal with others can vary. There is no need to be consistent merely because you are on social media.
In this way, Twitter and other social media platforms are an on-line public square; you don’t walk in and stop in the very same place each time you enter it; and how you deal with others is whatever seems right to you at the time.
Some people seem to get a kick of being unpleasant. One weird person even has a list of those who have blocked them. Do a Twitter search for blocked me or unfollowed me and you will also see some of the most pathetic tweets ever posted.
You can take some people out of the playground; but you cannot take the playground out of some people. Even when it is now a public square.
But as social media ceases to be more distinctive, and integrates in to “mainstream” media and communications, it may be that all the unpleasantness will fall away. After all, people don’t seem to use mobiles on trains as often as they used to.
In the meantime, the approach I most admire is that of Isabel Fay.
Another approach is indifference. I have seen Louise Mensch scroll down abusive tweets just like flicking through pages in a telephone directory. She could not care less.
But for those who are not Isabel Fey or Louise Mensch, adverse personal comments sting and depress. They do hurt and upset. But the benefits of social media mean you just shrug, and keep buggering on.