I’ve spent a lot of time this month seriously considering removing myself from social media and newsfeeds.
I stopped using Twitter when it was still Twitter because of the torrent of rancid hatred that was popping up on my feed. At the time, I was fascinated by a barrage of new verbs (or new meanings for old verbs) like to cancel, to ghost, to gaslight.
To cancel someone is to completely reject and stop supporting them, especially because they have said something that offends you. To ghost someone is to abruptly end communication with someone without an explanation. To gaslight someone to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition. To save you checking, I asked Google to define these things and took the first definition offered.
At the time of my divorce from Twitter (now X), JK Rowling was being cancelled (although she never called it this herself) for her allegedly anti-trans remarks. The more I read, the more lost I got. Is it so wrong to have an opinion? Whatever your thoughts on the subject, the vitriol posted about Rowling and others who weren’t flowing with the tide was nasty. Vile. Horrendous. I found myself logging in to see what more filth was being spewed until I realized one day that it was making me physically sick.
So I logged out.
Closed my account.
And never looked back.
I moved to Instagram. I have three blogs that I’d like more people to read and Instagram seemed a good platform to promote them. I’m not at all convinced about the return on investment but it seems a more rational crowd – or perhaps my feed is so select that I’m effectively communicating in a bubble.
Facebook is where I get my news. News about what’s happening in other people’s lives. News about what’s going on in the world. And while I’ve found myself increasingly curating this stream, too, I’m reluctant to cut it off completely. If I hadn’t been on FB, I’d never have known that the Van Gogh immersive experience is back in Budapest. I’d never have seen the fab line-up for JAZZFEST this year. And I wouldn’t have heard of the largest surviving chained library in the world.
I have other newsfeeds. I use Journal.ie for what’s going on in Ireland and despair at how a section of Irish society is buying into and fomenting a fear of migrants. I get notifications from both the Washington Post and the New York Times for US and international news as well as following posts from friends on both sides of the US political divide.
I have a stream of Hungary news sites, too.
I read that Pinter and state secretaries received a 17% pay increase last year even though we we told that no government pay increases were given. I saw that the controversial Lake Fertő resort project has gotten the go-ahead, for the third time. And the mud-slinging between Poland and Hungary continues. Prams and toys come to mind.
I spend more time than I care to keeping track of what’s going on and have noticed recently, that the same Twitter/X sick feeling is returning.
There’s just too much bad stuff out there. Too much. People are letting their nastiness reign freely. I am so tempted to magic up a bubble and move into it.
But then I read an article by Bobby McDonagh, a former Irish Ambassador to the EU, UK, and Italy.
In it, he urges readers to ‘try not to look away from a world in flames, no matter how tempting.’
He offers three reasons.
Don’t look away, because that’s what they want you to do.
Precisely because bad actors have an interest in encouraging us to turn our attention away from their wrongdoing and atrocities, we should keep our eyes resolutely open.
Some time ago, I read something somewhere about whenever a government reports something bad, the chances are they’re hiding something worse. Is that a jaded opinion or is it realism? Whatever it is, it too now has a label: it’s called deadcatting.
McDonagh’s second reason is that collectively, we have power.
Although as individuals we may often feel impotent, we can collectively, especially in democracies, help to shape public opinion and the societies in which we live.
This one is difficult for me. From where I’m sitting, the ones shaping public opinion are not to be lauded. Where have all the good guys gone?
Finally, McDonagh says we need to watch, to observe, to try to understand what’s going on as this is
…our most effective riposte to the torrent of fake news and false narratives that increasingly sweep across social media, as well as the many fraudulent media outlets now posing as journalism.
But it’s so hard. So hard.
As I read McDonagh’s article, I found myself talking back to him.
Easy for you to say, mate. You’ve worked in diplomacy most of your life. Information, be it real or fake, is your stock in trade. What’s stopping me from opting out? Stepping off? Magicing up that bubble?
He had an answer for that, too:
Reading decent newspapers and publications, listening to serious radio programmes and podcasts, watching insightful news and current affairs programmes are part of our armoury of weapons in the defence of decency and democracy. It can be personally distressing to observe things that unsettle us, but it is a price worth paying.
So, I’m not going to quit. I’m going to ration.
First published in the Budapest Times 28 January 2024