In which Anna McGovern, the Chair of Medway Youth Council, takes a look at the current state of our political conversations, and how things can be improved..
The political discourse in our society is fractured – and arguably, beyond repair. One could argue that our online discourse, in itself, is a broken mechanism, aside from the political sphere. When Caroline Flack tragically died, our collective response was to circulate the hashtag #BeKind across social media; a seemingly powerful message with the well-intended commission to implore a more “considerate” nature towards one another. That lasted mere days. Well-intended hashtags cannot shape the toxicity of our rampant society.
The unfaltering bullying from our society never ceases to exist. Take Chris Whitty as an example. Cited by the BBC as being “the man with our lives in his hands”, he is one of the leading figures in Britain’s response to the coronavirus. However you feel about the Government’s response to COVID-19, this is regardless a global pandemic killing hundreds of people every day in the UK alone. Yet all we care to discuss is the way Whitty looks. Welcome to our modern-day world.
On a further level, it is all the more common to publicly desire the demise of high profile individuals. Mere weeks ago we were preaching #BeKind to anybody who cared to listen, yet now we perpetuate targeted death sentences behind the safety of our phones. Society thrives on our inexorable hypocrisy.
Whatever your political persuasions, left or right, it is dangerous and disturbing to condone or normalise the incitement of death upon anyone. Imploring someone to “kill” themselves or to “die” on a public platform is a telling portrayal of the type of person you really are.
All of these screenshots I found within minutes, exposing the true reality of what many, many individuals, high profile or not, are subjected to on a daily basis. A laughable fact for some, but I question whether you would be laughing if you were the frontier model for strangers inciting death upon you online? What if it were your sibling, partner, or best friend being slanted mercilessly by a hoard of those they were unaccustomed towards? Would you still be contributing to the mass chains if you had been exposed to this reality yourself? I somehow doubt it.
I am not going to sit here and preach about promoting a “kinder” discourse when the actuality of this will fall upon deaf ears. Well-meaning encouragement may be stirred; many of you may agree with my words and advocate to your network of followers to pursue this mechanism for kinder change. But, as always, we slip back into our present ways. #BeKind is not going to bring Caroline Flack back – nor any of the individuals subjected to prevailing abuse, online and offline, who felt that their only escape was to meet a more permanent end. Campaigns of this nature are incredible in shining a light on the most prevalent issues in our society; but to many, these are mere words. Hashtags may make you look better to your plethora of supporters, but one must follow through with the messages that they preach within their everyday actions for it to actually mean something. The latter sentiment, of course, is a reality which many fail to uphold.
What can we do? In a society that perpetuates and normalises abuse, there is not much that can be done on a national level. We cannot force people to “be kind”, like how the Government can impose stringent measures on people to stay at home. But on an individual level, the smallest of actions we undertake every day do account for something. One active participation acting adversely against our fractured society, imploring towards a better world, has the scope to contribute towards a national frontier; a collective change, by being more mindful of our actions alone. What we are taught in early years education is an ethos that many of us tend to forget; if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. Sometimes you are better off by just staying silent. You may even save someone’s life in doing so.
Now, that does not mean to say you should just ‘shut up’ every time you see or hear something you disagree with. Your voice and your contribution to the societal discourse equally matter; just as long as this contribution is not perpetuating views that are harmful to others. The beauty of the new media allows anyone to contribute to the discourse, regardless of who you are or where you come from, allowing for a variety of perspectives to be platformed in our society. I argue that we should follow through with the words we preach and maintain good practices in our approach to others. Debate constructively, be open to new ideas – but remember that there is a fine line between constructive debate and sheer abuse.
Through Twitter, I have become acquainted with the most incredible people which I would have never met if it were not for this platform. Many are by now aware of the “youth political people” (which, I admit, could have been attributed with a better name!) – which constitutes of a group of young people from Medway and beyond, holding a variety of differential political perspectives, yet come together to challenge the toxic atmosphere of politics. Parties within this friendship include the Conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party and the Women’s Equality Party – the latter of which I proudly belong to! Cross-party politics does not have to be an apparatus for prevailing opposition and potent toxicity, which we see every day in the mainstream political sphere. There is a toxic, dangerous mentality that one cannot befriend another if their views belong to a particular political party; if anything, they should be dispelled and hated for having differentiating views to the former. But we promote an atmosphere of tolerance; the group chat itself is often bursting with wide constructive debate, as you can imagine, yet we are open to different views and are respectful to those who have contrasting views to ourselves.
We make mistakes. We learn from them – and we get better, as everybody experiences in their lives. But this alone paves the way towards a more constructive contribution to the discourse that is currently irreparably fractured in the modern-day world.
Be mindful of your actions. Think about what you say when you next post that comment, that tweet, that social media pile-on you instigate upon that one person. Is it really worth it? I will leave you with that thought.
Anna McGovern is the Chair of the Medway Youth Council and a former Member of UK Youth Parliament for Medway. She is in her final year of A Levels at Rochester Independent College, and she is passionate in making a difference to other people’s lives locally and nationally. You can be kept updated on her work on Twitter and Instagram.