I love Twitter. But it can be a cruel place. Personal attacks and even threats of death are not uncommon. Sue Perkins and Jack Monroe are the latest high profile quitters following unrelated horridness – in Sue’s case, she was attacked for being (wrongly) tipped as Jeremy Clarkson’s replacement on Top Gear. Jack’s was about supporting the Greens on the election. Death threats for this? There are no words.
I’m nowhere near their league, but I’ve had my share of online nastiness, and it continues. It can be overwhelming when you are under an onslaught from many directions. And unless you reply and risk even worse, other more measured folk won’t know what’s happening, because the vile stuff won’t appear in their time line.
I am of the “Whatever we wear and wherever we go, Yes means Yes and No means No” generation. I don’t see why bullies should frighten us away from places that belong to us all. But I’m also concerned for my own wellbeing and that of others.
It is good that Twitter are cracking down on abuse – better late than never. Meanwhile, here are my tips for staying emotionally safe and still getting the best from Twitter.
Be yourself but think really carefully about how much you share. Social media is still a relatively new medium. Some are already regretting earlier openness. I’m thinking particularly of people like me who experience mental illness from time to time. Talking with others who have similar experiences really helps, because with diseases of the mind, unchecked irrational thoughts about ourselves can snowball and be really bad for us. But sharing also makes us vulnerable. Only a handful of people have accused me of psychological weakness, attention seeking or of using my depression as an excuse for past failings. Even fewer have defaced my image, called me vile names, and traduced my appearance, intelligence, morals, motivations and career. I have forgiven but I cannot forget their words. On a bad day, I imagine that others may feel the same way about me. On a really bad day, I may even agree with some of this shit. So please, take care.
Be wary of individual tweeters who follow few people themselves. They may say interesting stuff, but they are unlikely to be interested in an online conversation with you. Maybe you don’t mind just reading their views? It’s a good way to start, especially if you are shy. But most of us are on social media because we want to exchange thoughts, share experiences and ideas.
Don’t just follow those you know you will agree with. It might feel cosy to be in a cocoon of like – minded folk, but it won’t stimulate or enlighten. If it weren’t for Twitter, we wouldn’t know the odious extent of the views of, say, Katie Hopkins on people seeking asylum. What better spur to get the previously disaffected to vote than the thought of people like Hopkins (who always vote, by the way – they know their rights) getting more of a say than us non neo-Nazis? We need to know these things.
Take the plunge and join in conversations when you haven’t got a view or are still making up your mind. Some people think that being open – minded, even undecided, is feeble or wishy-washy. I disagree. Just be sure that when you in one of these discussions, everyone is treated with politeness, including you. Be prepared to walk away if that doesn’t happen.
Join in with conversations that are happening at the time you are actually on Twitter. Prepare yourself so you don’t feel too hurt if people whose views you admire don’t respond. Just move on and chat to someone else. Don’t assume people are being rude; they might be but that really isn’t your problem. Easier said than done when you desperately want a reply, I know!
Try not to get involved in those angry ding-dongs where an increasing number of @names get added, until in the end there is no space to say anything. If you get copied in, these are best ignored, in my experience.
Don’t be heavy – handed with the Block button. Some people collect blocks like trophies, and will proudly list you as a person who lacks empathy along with others you may prefer not to be associated with. And you won’t know about this if you have blocked them. Save blocking for porn sites, annoying bots and people who are genuinely harassing you. And for the latter, do also report them. Twitter are rightly upping their game in dealing with online harassment. If you are being repeatedly harassed by someone, you may also need to check if they have other profiles. In my experience, these are relatively easy to spot. And do also report them to the police. They definitely do take action when serious threats are made.
My thoughts here are aimed at people like me who are able to tweet as individuals. The freedom we enjoy compared to those in public positions cannot be underestimated. I’ve been in one of those jobs, and written about use of Twitter from that perspective here. It is great if such people can share something personal of themselves, but it is a big ask, given what can happen and the impacts. Which leads me to my final point.
Don’t rush to judgement of others. No-one knows what it’s like to sit where they are sitting, other than they themselves. Be kind, always. Never, ever make remarks like James May did recently about those who made death threats towards Sue Perkins. He only made a bad situation worse. If you can’t be kind, walk politely but firmly away.
I’ve blogged in the past about forgiveness. If you haven’t seen it and are interested, here it is.
I start by declaring an interest. I really like The Right Honourable Norman Lamb. He knows his stuff on mental health. His values are sound, and he is an unassuming, witty and extremely kind man. He has also been dealing with distressing family issues and still managed to maintain focus on his job as Minister of State for Care and Support. Senior staff at NHS England such as Professor Sir Bruce Keogh vouch for him “holding our feet to the fire on mental health.”
Yet I became tetchy on reading the Liberal Democratic manifesto mental health promises yesterday. It feels a bit rich that a party that has been in power for a full parliamentary term, albeit as a junior partner in a coalition, should be making promises now after 5 years of not making these things happen.
My supporting evidence:
I:4 of us will be mentally ill in any one year, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Yet mental health services are still the poor relation within the NHS family, missing out on new money and bearing the brunt when public sector “efficiencies” are required, as they have been during the last parliament. Under the coalition, this imbalance has grown measurably worse. The funding promises made in yesterday’s Lib Dem manifesto will to some extent redress the balance – but only if they come to fruition.
I will need persuasion to believe that we will see this money, given the promises made in 2010 not in the last Lib Dem manifesto, but after the coalition government was formed. I was chairing the Mental Health Network of the NHS Confederation at the time, and was invited to speak at the launch of the coalition’s mental health strategy alongside Mr Lamb’s predecessor Paul Burstow. We felt excited and optimistic that parity of esteem between physical and mental health services was being promised at the start of the new parliament and ahead of any other health announcements. What happened?
Children’s mental health services, one of the top priority areas in the manifesto, are in a state of particular crisis. This is because of cuts to local authority funding of front-line services in schools and those provided by the third sector, reductions to NHS community services, substantial increases in referrals linked in part to the downturn but also modern pressures felt by young people. There has been near-chaos in the commissioning of these services arising from changes to the NHS and Social Care Act, which although a Conservative-led initiative which they now admit was a mistake, could have been halted or at least improved by the Lib Dems. One of the most troubling outcomes is that sick children now wait regularly in police cells while desperate clinicians and managers scour the country for a suitable hospital bed. Staff are overwhelmed, and parents are desperate. Given that 75% of mental illnesses start, as mine did, before the age of 18, and that early intervention is now known to make such a difference, this situation is not only cruel, it is also extremely short-sighted.
According to W Edwards Deming, if you don’t measure, you can’t manage. Mental health services have been crying out for a commissioning currency so they aren’t expected to respond to infinite levels of demand under open-ended block contracts. They need national benchmarks, targets and some form of payment by results, otherwise bids for increased funding will continue to be trumped by those for diseases such as cancer or heart disease, where there are a wealth of measurements. This was promised by the last Labour government in 2005 and by the coalition in 2010. It appears again in this manifesto; if the Lib Dems help to form the next coalition, will we be third time lucky?
Here are Royal College of Psychiatrists’ President Professor Sir Simon Wessely and Time to Change ambassador Alastair Campbell explaining why in their view, when it comes to mental illness and mental health care and support, government actions speak louder than words.
It’s not just the 1:4 of us who experience mental illness who should carefully consider these promises and those made by each of the other political parties. 4:4 of us will be voting on May 7th, or rather, we have the right to vote that others have died to get for us. This will apparently be the closest election in a lifetime. We have the greatest ever diversity of candidates. If we don’t each exercise our democratic right, we risk allowing those more certain than us about matters as important as mental health to decide who will run the country.
According to pundits, the outcome of the election is likely to be another coalition with at least two parties. This time, whoever forms the new government, I intend to make a fuss right from the beginning about funding and evidence-based support for mental health services. The more of us who do, the more they will realise that we mean business.
The recent dog-whistle headlines about the aircrash co-pilot show that we have a way to go in tackling the stigma of mental illness. So please ignore Russell Brand and vote; being disenfranchised would be really bad for our mental health.
If you haven’t been to see the film Selma yet, here are 10 reasons why I think you should go.
The film has some of the best acting you will ever see. Within moments, David Oyelowo is Dr Martin Luther King. And Carmen Ojogo is Coretta Scott King, Tom Wilkinson is President Lyndon B Johnson, Tim Roth is loathsome Governor George Wallace, and Oprah Winfrey is quiet, noble Annie Lee Cooper who you would easily pass by in the street.
The cinematography is stunning. The views of people marching together over the bridge in Selma, Alabama will make every hair on your body stand up.
Vintage news footage is used with truthfulness and skill.
The musical score is thrilling. The title track Glory by John Legend and Common, who also stars in the film, is up for best original song at the Oscars. Play it when you have something difficult to do; it will feel a little easier.
The story is told with limited dramatic adaptation. For example, King’s reported infidelities are not brushed over, nor are they over-emphasised. We get a hint of the power of the media to ruin people’s reputations – sadly, no change there.
King is just 35 when the film is set. We already knew about his rhetoric. His responsibility, political nous and shared approach to making decisions would be extraordinary in a person twice his age.
The film contains a pithy argument between LBJ and Wallace about doing something for the people who are being prevented from registering to vote. Pure gold advice for anyone in a position of responsibility who tends to avoid the messy stuff.
The film has only been nominated for two Oscars – best picture and best original song. It should have been up for best actor, best supporting actor, best actress and best supporting actress at least. There are all sorts of reasons being given for the modest number of nominations for Selma. I expect the truth is pretty ugly. You should decide on this film’s merits for yourself.
The world is in trouble. Young people need role models that can relate to, people who are brilliant yet flawed, who they can identify with. I’m sorry, but posh white boys from public schools are not enough any more.
People are being discouraged from voting in our forthcoming UK general election by the likes of Russell Brand. How dare he? Although, given the way our media present politicians in 2015, can we blame those turned off voting? Selma is the best explanation possible about why having the vote is a fundamental human right. People continue to be prepared to die for it in our lifetimes. The least we can do is make sure we use ours.
I hope Selma wins Best Picture and Best Original Song at the Oscars tonight. But anyway, it is my film of 2015.