Social media abuse seems to be falling in the lockdown – Christine Jardine

The Covid crisis seems to be helping us realise the importance of being kind to one another and see the positive benefits of social media, writes Christine Jardine

Social media can be used to set up fundraising pages for good causes (Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

Facebook memories set me thinking this week. Most of the pictures that popped up each day were ones which made me smile.

My daughter’s birthday in past years, friends, romantic weekends and daft pictures of just having fun. Little trinkets to pepper the day with happy thoughts.

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I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what memories of lockdown might pop up in future years, and what picture they will paint of our individual and collective experiences.

How will these months influence how we use, and view, social media platforms?

As the Covid-19 shutters were coming down it was a means of communication that appeared in danger of being swept away by a flood of bad press.

The mere term social media had for many become synonymous with abuse, torment and threat, particularly for those dealing with a mental health issue.

It was no coincidence that the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week was ‘Be Kind’ – a reference to the invocation to us all by the late Caroline Flack whose death prompted outrage at the tone of many on the internet.

So what – if anything – has changed as we have become more reliant on platforms like Zoom and Facebook to replace the social contact we had all taken for granted?

The first thing I noticed is that I have received less abuse than normal.

Of course there are still those who take delight in expressing their often graphic opinion of my political stance.

But I am hoping that the decline in mindless abusive taunts is a common experience and perhaps reflects an awareness that we all have more important concerns, for which these platforms have become crucial.

The various community pages across Edinburgh reflect the kindness of strangers from the fantastic growth of donations to food parcels to simply keeping in touch with those facing this crisis alone.

Mental health charities have been able to improve awareness of issues and Facebook tools make it possible to create fundraising pages for the non-profit organisations, helping to support so many people through this.

On a more personal level which of us hasn’t experienced the rush of emotion when a face we have yearned to see pops up on a video call, or virtual get-together?

So far I have been fortunate in my family experience of this crisis.

I can confidently predict that the virtual photograph album of the past few weeks will be a montage of work, interspersed with pics of our new Cockapoo pup Brora and, of course, my daughter’s birthday.

Brora joined us just a few days before lockdown. She has been a bit of a Godsend.

Puppy training was a welcome – if challenging – distraction from the avalanche of issues and concerns created by coronavirus.

But she has also helped create some of those little anecdotes we are all sharing virtually.

There is the day the calm silence of our morning walk became a brief panic when it was broken by a roar of a lion from Edinburgh zoo just a few hundred yards from where we live.

Clearly audible now, but something I had never noticed amidst the normal ambient noise it almost sent me scurrying back indoors.

Or the time I responded to her appeal to be taken out by leaping from an early morning Zoom meeting for which I had been impeccably presented only to remember as the door closed behind me that I was still wearing pyjama bottoms.

These and other incidents have given us all a laugh on the family Zoom calls which continue to prove a challenge to elderly relatives, less used to online technology, but determined to defeat poor internet or confusing instructions from the rest of us, just to say hello.

Drinks with friends have become so much easier when the bar is within reach and the commute is mere seconds from the kitchen.

Any danger that the family might suffer from quiz withdrawal symptoms has long since passed.

Of course there have been more difficult virtual experiences imposed on us all as the pandemic robbed many of a final farewell with loved ones or the comfort of personal support so vital in grief.

And social media is now more of a lifeline than ever for those whose circumstances are difficult or unhappy.

Video links can never be a completely satisfactory replacement for face-to-face contact, or the chance to reach out and hug a loved one.

But it has brought people together.

The value of that in our current socially distant world is something we all recognise, and I suspect, quietly cherish.

This past week the First Minister revealed that we will all be able to loosen those lockdown binds just a little.

We can start to look forward to the days when the Covid emergency will be a series of memories popping up on Facebook.

Then we will probably laugh at the posts created as we convinced ourselves to try crocheting, or in my case baking, one more time just in case lockdown had mysteriously improved our abilities.

Or smile at the memory of using social media to reconnect with friends from whom we had drifted apart.

We may even look differently on a modern phenomenon that we had begun to distrust but, in the toughest of circumstances, proved that it may have social value after all.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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