Social media as a sedative (First published Feb 2013)

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A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across this article on the BBC website by entitled ‘Why vandalism rates are falling’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21041160). The article explains that, according to latest figures, set to be confirmed by the office of national statistics, vandalism is on the decline! Good news and all sorts of parties, from the people that make bus stops through to Ofcom, are tripping over each other to claim credit for this decrease, but how real is the decline, who actually can take credit and what are the down sides?

In the piece, co-director from the Institute for Criminal policy research sets our minds at ease by stating that the new way of recording crime figures by “interviews with random members of the public, rather than raw crime statistics” is “Probably real”! Good enough for me, I’m sure questioning randoms is much more accurate than actual numbers of recorded crime! So lets move on…. The first to claim credit, in the article, for this ‘decline’ are the people that make bus shelters, The Clear channel, who are pretty sure that it’s their new and improved bus shelters that are the positive influence. Local authorities were also quick to claim that it is due to those ASBO things that teenagers are so scared of. Criminologist Chris Hough believes it might be that kids are drinking less, as teenagers now see “getting smashed” as “un-cool”. Hard to argue with this one as, no-doubt, for this astute insight into the mind of today’s teenager combined with the, hip and trendy, vernacular that we all associate with today’s youth Chris Hough himself can be no-more than 15. Dr David Green from Think tank Civitas suggests that vandalism rates are down because of the reduction of lead in paint and petrol. I really don’t know about this, but, I think, there are also less Rolos in a standard pack now than there was in 1990, so maybe it’s that too. Good thinking, think tank guy.

I think the one that perhaps make most sense to me, if vandalism has actually decreased, is the potential correlation with smart phone use and social media, suggested in the article by Ofcom. I admit this seems a tenuous link, but social networking has given us a vent for feelings that no longer need to be satisfied by scrawling a profanity on a bus shelter and as the teenager in the piece states, instead of vandalism, “If I get angry about something, I go on Facebook”. Isn’t that what we all do now? Does it change anything? We are told that Social media was instrumental in many of the Revolutions that marked the Arab spring back in 2011. Apparently twitter helped coordinate protests in countries including Egypt,Tunisia and the Yemen. Twitter and Facebook are now seen as the way to protest, after all typing 140 characters is much quicker than other forms of protest.

Other forms of protest used to include breaking windows and vandalism. Alongside these suffragette Emily Davidson, threw herself in front of the King’s horse? I suppose today throwing yourself in front of Camilla may echo the protest, but I’m not sure if she’s even planning to run in this years Derby. Other options include a hunger strike? But, to be fair, it takes an awful long time and it’s boring. How about self-immolation? Much more headline grabbing, but ends up being a little futile and reminds me of the ‘crack suicide squad’ featured at the end of Monty python’s ‘The life of Brian’ – “that showed em, huh?”. An easier way if you happen to share the kind of celebrity status that John Lennon held in 1969 is spending a fortnight in bed with a Japanese avant-gart artist, but I doubt that any of today’s corporate shill, record company owned, puppets have the pulling power or social consciousness to do this, unless it was for a Pepsi commercial. So what are we left with…“If I get angry about something, I go on Facebook”.

On a daily basis we are urged to help a cause by clicking like or re-tweeting some graphic to bring attention to a cause and most of the time we do it, why? Because it makes us feel better, it makes us feel like we are socially responsible and in some way we are fighting the system. The problem is this stuff never works, nowhere in the world are cancer research scientists keeping one eye on Facebook, just in case the ‘Lets put a stop to cancer’ page reaches its goal of 500,000 likes, rendering them unemployed. Sharing graphics depicting the money lost to corporate tax avoiders overshadowing, many tens of times, the money lost to ‘benefit cheats’ hasn’t and won’t bring about a change in government policy or even stop ‘The daily mail’ demonising the unemployed. Social media suits the status quo by letting us get angry about the status quo, for a second or two, before going back to work for the status quo.

Like many I personally, quite regularly, rebel in this approved, socially acceptable way, via facebook or twitter. I have found that a witty 140 character, statement of dissent, which generally goes unread, helps to reduce my desire to go and break the windows like Starbucks or Vodafone. This however is a pity as I’m pretty sure the mass breaking of the windows of corporate tax avoiders would have more of an impact. Smart phones have hypnotised our teenagers, whilst dissent has been corporatised via social networking in a place where it can be monitored, controlled and lost in the deluge. If the Suffragettes had only used Facebook instead of vandalism and breaking windows I’m pretty sure women would have had to wait a lot longer to get the vote.

Please don’t forget to share this article via your social media and then go about your day.

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