202011.11

Toxic Inhibitions – The Impact on Societal Wellbeing

Toxic Inhibitions – The Impact on Societal Wellbeing,

John Madden MA, BA, PG Dip, Guest Editor, Mental Health for Millennials Volume 1

Introduction

Wellbeing, like so many things, is something that we take for granted and doesn’t it always seem to go, we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. We do, however, have a huge role to play in the shape of our wellbeing. Our daily grind has a massive impact, and while there are often, somewhat unavoidable stressors that lend themselves to the depletion of our wellbeing, there are many avoidable ones that we could choose to ignore, but often we don’t. It is hardly rocket surgery or brain science to say that negativity has a detrimental impact on our wellbeing. Positivity, support and encouragement fosters wellbeing, we know this, yet why do we spend so much time watching the exact opposite on fold?

I am offering you the key to almost all of the answers you’d ever need, boundless connectivity to your family and friends, the opportunity to interact with your favourite celebrities, instantaneous entertainment, minimal effort shopping and banking, almost limitless content, access to literature, music, movies, the ability to work from home, archives of media and not forgetting the treasure trove of funny cat videos and pictures, all more or less for free. As Zittrain (2008) stated when something online is open, you’re not the customer; you’re the product. That line would strike you as there is a sinister undertone to the internet and I don’t think there are many out there who would disagree. That line would infer that your data is being continuously used by third-party marketing companies etc.; we already know the value of this type of unethical behaviour when we look at how Cambridge Analytica manipulated elections in the US and with BREXIT referendum. That’s just one facet of the corruptibility of it and the dangers it poses on a broad level.

However, while that impacts society as a whole, the sinister dangers of social media are becoming more and more apparent, but it is akin to the argument, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. What started as something of a boundless encyclopedia of information has evolved into a cesspit of toxic inhibitions and guess what, we are all helping it flourish one way or another. Social media allows us to shape the news and control the narratives which the stories espouse.

The world we interact with every day shapes our wellbeing. We are sensitive beings that are influenced by what we see, hear and learn. We are also incredibly inconsistent, and while we all like to be seen as unique, we also favour the safety of ‘staying in the crowd’ too. We react to all kinds of stimuli in various ways; some things upset us, some make us happy, others anger us, some things build us up, while others tear us down. That’s the nature of humanity, but we’re living in an age of certain stimuli brought to you by interminable updates, news stories, opinion pieces, tragedies, and worst of all fake news; frequently showing up in your daily feeds whether you like it or not. Of course, you can choose to ignore it or not. Still, it is often framed in such a way that it is designed to suck you in, to get your attention, in essence, click-bait wrapped up in a contentious headline or striking image, which more frequently than you’d realise has nothing to do with the actual story. Whether you realise it or not, these things, true or false, shape your outlook on life and the more misery you absorb, the more normalised it becomes and informs your opinions and choices.

We, humans, are descended from apes, we have evolved, much in part due to opposable thumbs, and our opposable thumbs have given us the power to create and command agriculture and industry; industries that have developed technology beyond imagination. But, as technology evolves, we seem to be going in reverse. I am talking, of course, about the culture of online hate and rant, and how it has taken over social media. It has become almost inescapable, the type of targeted harassment that was reserved solely by the lowest forms of red top journalism is now commonplace in online discourse by the wider society, but again, we are apes and as the old saying goes, “monkey see, monkey do”. Maybe it is an alpha male/female thing where the dominant ape slings their faeces around the place, the problem is, some of it sticks. It is not a huge surprise to see the rhetoric lower itself to this when you look at the “role-models” who espouse this type of bile.

Voyeurism is nothing new, but it has been made commonplace in today’s society, the Jim Crowe Show never went away, it just, like everything else, evolved. The travelling “freak-show” is no longer a “roll up, roll up, the carnival is coming to town” concept, it is now broadcast into your home daily; be it under the guise of Big Brother, The Bachelor, Love Island or the X-Factor, in which the bewildered are thrown under the microscope, pointed and laughed at, and made into heroes or zeroes depending on the publics’ opinion of them. That is what the people want these days. Our voyeuristic natures demand entertaining and human conflict is the flavour that is appetising to so many. The participants of these shows are systematically dehumanised to such a degree that the followers and fans of the shows have no issue in ripping the individuals asunder. Still, hey, it’s ok, they’re TV personalities, they can handle it.

While “reality TV” plays a significant role in this, it hasn’t stopped there, and online hate goes so much more profound. British MP, Tracey Brabin had something of a sartorial faux-pas where she wore an ‘off the shoulder’ dress in Parliament. Hardly a big deal, but what followed was nothing short of sexist, misogynistic and degrading commentary. So much so that the MP then had to tweet the following:

“Sorry I don’t have time to reply to all of you commenting on this, but I can confirm I’m not… A slag / Hungover / A tart / about to breastfeed / A slapper / Drunk / Just been banged over a wheelie bin [trash can].” The abuse was thick and fast, led by several tabloid “journalists” and Cheap-shot shock Jock types. Then comes the bandwagon who are encouraged by the influential high-profile commenters, but hey, it’s ok, others are doing so why wouldn’t your give your opinion of what you think she should be wearing or not wearing.

Fake news abounds social media and has become highly problematic for many reasons. One fundamental problem with fake news is that when a story/headline is corrected or called out for being nothing but a fabrication, the retraction which comes a few days later gets nothing more than a by-line in the newspaper or website. It is too late; the damage has been done. Take the story of the Wise Judge, for example:

Once in a village, there was an older man who didn’t like his young neighbour. So, he spread rumours saying, “My neighbour is a thief…” One day a theft happened in the same neighbourhood, and because of a story, everybody pointed the finger at the young man, who was subsequently arrested. A few days later, after the investigation, the young man was found to be innocent and was released from police custody. Humiliated and disgraced, the young man returned home but decided to take action against the man who had defamed him. On the day of the hearing, the Judge asked the older man about why he had spread the rumours. The old man replied, “They were just comments, it didn’t harm anyone…” Before passing judgement on the case, the Judge said to the old man, “Before you leave today, write up everything that you said about that young man, then cut it up into confetti sized pieces. Take those pieces home with you and on your way back, throw all the pieces into the air, then come here tomorrow for the hearing for your sentence. The older man left and did as was directed. The next morning, just before the hearing commenced, the Judge said to the old man, “I want you to do one more thing!” The old man replied, “What is that?” The Judge replied, “I want you to go out and gather all of those pieces of paper that you threw away yesterday”. The old man was taken aback and replied, “How am I supposed to do that? The wind will have spread them around; I’ll never be able to find them all!” The Judge replied, “Same way… When you comment something negative about somebody that may destroy the honour of that man to such an extent that you cannot fix it! – The moral of the story being “don’t denigrate without knowing the real facts and truths, words may ruin a person’s reputation without it being any fault of their own, or even destroy their life entirely.

One problem with all of this is that it has become too easy to denigrate, harass and hate on people. Before the informational technology era, if you wanted to harass somebody anonymously, you’d have to spend hours cutting up newspaper headlines and taking out the letters to spell whatever message you wanted to convey. You had to go to the bother of posting it and run the risk of absolutely no self-gratification as you were unlikely to witness the reaction or response to it. Whereas nowadays all you need to do is create an email account that doesn’t have your name attached, like trollboy124@Whatever.com, now armed with your new email address you can create a raft of social media accounts where you can, without impunity, troll, harass and spew whatever warped rhetoric you like, and hey, if you push it too far you may end up having your account suspended or terminated, no big deal, you can start again, maybe this time with the name trollboy125@whatever.com.

One final example that emerged in late 2019 was an article from a fake news site with the headline “Swedish child beaten by Muslim immigrant for having blue eyes”, atop the item was an image of a traumatised looking child, possible 6/7 years old with a horrendous cut below her eye with some twenty stitches. It spread like wildfire across the recesses of social media and created tensions and

influenced some of the worst racial remarks imaginable, which in turn prompted massive online debates and arguments, insults were thrown by social media users, and the threads descended into the most divisive type of hate. That type of animosity online doesn’t serve anybody well at all; there are no winners in an online debate, more often than not, it just results in two losers. Two days later, somebody spotted something about the story. The image used was that of a young English girl who’d been attacked by a Rottweiler in her own home, and the information had been nothing but a lie to create outrage, but yet again, that confetti is impossible to retrieve!

This is cyberbullying on a whole other level, and it is rife, and it is most certainly impacting society’s wellbeing, but how do we overcome it? Can it change? Trying to change the behaviour of society as a whole is an impossible task, and given that people are utterly divided on so many issues, trying to foster change on a grand level wouldn’t work. What we can do is look at ourselves first and ask, how are we as individuals contributing to this? Are we interacting with the fake news because it strikes a chord with us, i.e. telling us what we want to hear? Are we watching all of these wholly exploitative TV shows, thus sustaining the demand? Are we purchasing the worst of the worst newspapers? Are we sharing media online that has shady origins or bias? There is a whole culmination of things we could and should avoid doing. We always must remember that we are often very close to the older man and his confetti, then other days we are the young man whose reputation is being sullied.

Our shares, likes, retweets, follows (and whatever up to date buzzword lingo) have more of an impact than we realise. We all have our bug-bears and outrage on social media can send people into a frenzy, “I’m right, you’re wrong”, “this party is the right political party; no my political party is the right party”. This frenzy can lead to frustration and anger, neither of which do your wellbeing any good, and by you projecting your agitation into a social media thread, you may very well be triggering somebody else, and then it starts all over again.

The moral of this, bring your empathy with you when online; don’t be a nasty commentator, there’s enough of them out there already, and some of whom are paid (well) to be provocative and divisive. Please don’t buy into it; your emotional wellbeing will thank you for it!

How Millennials can Escape the Cesspit Avoid the Gossipy Rags

There a monologue within Award Winning Ricky Gervais’ comedic masterpiece ‘Extras’ which sums ups the rationale better than I ever could: ‘You open the paper, and you see a picture of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car, and the headline is “Cover-Up Lindsay, We Can See Your Knickers”. Of course, you can see her knickers – your photographer is lying in the road, pointing his camera up her dress to see her knickers! You’re literally the gutter press’. This is rife across all media, buyer beware!

Cross Check News

Fake News is everywhere, much of the time it is exaggerated half-truths, hyperbole or outright lies. If you are getting your news from “somebody on Facebook”, please check for a valid source at the very least. Use reputable news sites. During my time as a writer for a national magazine, I was offered one key piece of advice about “Breaking News” on the company’s social media. It is more important to be accurate and correct than it is to be first.

Avoid Fake Accounts on Social Media

I made a rule for myself on social media that I do not interact or even respond to somewhat anonymous accounts. If your profile photo is a car, I’ll have to assume that you are a Transformer. Also, don’t ever hesitate in blocking or muting any account that is badgering you or spewing garbage.

From Mental Health For Millennials Vol 3 On Wellbeing (pp. 35-41) Galway: Book Hub Publishing.