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Online hate: Twitter speaks what the heart is full of

Life is a lot of bitterness and hate: there are oppressors and victims; struggles, dilemmas and protests. There is suffering and pain, anxiety and change. There are cries for vengeance, and prayers for deliverance. We live in psalms of cursing and trials:

Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart… (Ps 139:21ff).

Hate is both individual impulse and tribal custom: we despise where we once loved, and abominate where there is no social contract or cooperation. It is an inherited constitution: the mouth speaks what the heart is full of, and hearts are full of hate. But God no longer has to search very deeply to know our secret thoughts: He only has to survey our social media accounts, especially Twitter, which is increasingly a repository for all things venomous and vicious: if Facebook is the bile duct, Twitter is the spleen, and there is no apparent limit to its venting.

Channel 4 broadcast an advertisement last week – for Maltesers, Nationwide and McCain: three brands; one ad. A little odd, you might think, except that the products were incidental to the moral matter, which was online hate; specifically, the Twitter response to a black man, a disabled woman, and two gay guys. As each character performs, their images are overlaid with examples of the abuse they received:

Nationwide’s black poet “looks like a gorilla” who “needs kicking to death”. The Maltesers woman is met with: “Ew, she’s disabled”, along with “Vile” and “Disgusting, freakish and awful”. The McCain’s gay parents are “degenerate poofs” engaged in “faggotry” and guilty of “child abuse”.

Twitter speaks what the heart is full of: ‘hate thy neighbour’ is the essential creed.

Channel 4 asks: “If face-to-face abuse of this kind is not tolerated in our society, is it right that it should be tolerated online?” A Twitter ejaculation of hate soon becomes harassment, and harassment may turn to systematic bullying. There are laws against that, of course, but isn’t it preferable to squidge the seedling before we’re plagued by acres of Japanese knotweed? What sort of person derives pleasure from calling a black guy ‘gorilla’; a disabled woman ‘disgusting’, or a gay guy a ‘degenerate poof’?

The problem, of course, is that one person’s ‘hate’ is another person’s free speech. If you’re tweeting to entertain yourself or impress your followers, the shock factor is essential: far better to be a hateful bigot with 30K followers than a blancmange with 153. The human need for companionship has been cyberized, and people now mistake Facebook friends for soulmates, and Twitter followers for admirers. There is security in this social-media life which surpasses the true social life; cyber-sex beats a messy love life. We are weaning entire generations on virtual disturbances which generate mental chemical changes and spawn a plethora of psychoneuroses. Since mental development begins in social relationship, it ought not to surprise us that the more cyberized the socialisation, the greater the emotional-mental impairment.

Inhibitions subside in cyberland: the social contract of social media is whatever you want it to be. You can be whomever you’re not, and say whatever you want without risking a slap – at least not a slap across the cheek; the only violence is aggressive verbiage. And then there’s the herd instinct: infant minds are not solitary; they need to be nurtured by parents and mentored by role models, but where these are absent or oblivious, the primitive animal resorts to the latent instincts of self-gratification and self-protection. And when there’s no mother to kiss and make things better, and no friends around to correct or rebuke, all that remains is isolation or a vicarious cyber-life. It’s no competition, really: far better to be positively destructive and pseudo-parasitic than lonely and desolate.

Thousands upon thousands of people now find their sense of being and meaning on Twitter and Facebook: it is their playground of necessity, where they master their anxieties; where they are reassured and their personalities are magnified. They hurl online hate because it is their struggle to find pleasure, sense-gratification and self-expression: when the target is diminished, the abuser is exalted by the mob, and any disapprobation is blocked, for who needs that sort of abuse?

For all our achievements in enlightenment and culture, for all our social advancements and family life, our love-need has regressed to find fulfilment in the fake fellowship of social media, where feelings are melted down and thoughts are plastic curiosity. Unstable and pervertible people spew online hate from dawn ’til dusk, persuaded that this is the sociable, intelligent and dynamic way to live. Channel 4 find this disorder unacceptable, and we are left to infer their preference for policing and censorship. Just imagine that – hundreds of police officers spending thousands of police hours wading through millions of ‘unacceptable’ tweets in order to enforce a social contract of cyber morality which would see Psalm 139 bowdlerised for the greater social good of ‘acceptable’ communication.

No, the antidote to online hate and the proliferation of anger and fear is not the destructive anxiety of Twitter police or the appointment of judges of censorious: it is for good people to be salt and light. Hatred is a cry for attention; a demand for love. The black poet, the disabled woman and the gay guys are not helped when they become objects of blame for someone’s expulsion from their social cyber-community. Far better to help them by nudging their protesting abusers toward reasoned argument and loving conduct. Better still, meet them face-to-face. The repercussions of a real encounter may be transformational.