Posted on: September 9, 2020 Posted by: Lucy Summerton Comments: 0

There are few things in life more rewarding than free stuff. There’s a universally shared thrill in feeling like you’ve somehow cheated the system by snagging an extra, completely free, sausage roll (guilty). Similarly, joy may be found reaping the benefits of Caffè Nero’s app glitch (again, guilty – but I highly doubt the lack of my £2.60 will make a substantial dent in their off-shore accounts). Ah yes, we do all love a freebie, be it free food, free drinks, free haircuts or free speech. I would like to add a disclaimer here that the irony of having an opinion about how people express their opinions has not been lost.

Definitions vary, but to avoid the risk of being pedantic and boring, some will argue I’m already guilty of these vices, the general consensus regarding freedom of expression is that you have a right to hold your opinions and express them freely without government interference. Article 10 of The Human Rights Act states that an individual possesses the right to express such views via published articles, books, leaflets, television or radio-broadcasting, works of art and, last but certainly not least, the internet and social media.

To use the classic adage: opinions are like arseholes; everyone has one and most of them stink. I’m paraphrasing here, but some are also hairier than others. There are many variables, no doubt, which I’ll leave to your imagination as this is not that kind of article…

I digress. The point is: we are all entitled to our opinions… unless. Unless yours differs from mine. It is no longer just the motley-crew of middle-aged aunts that offer up realms and realms of unsolicited opinions on their Facebook page. This is, of course, a sweeping generalisation but if you know, you know. These unrequested insights range anywhere from the classic Anyone-Who-Doesn’t-Share-This-Post-Doesn’t-Care-About-The-Donkeys, Share-If-you-Agree to the more pressing conservations surrounding the current political climate. Owing to this modern age we live in, everyone and anyone with access to the internet can share, offer, criticise, endorse, judge, impose, slander, rate and scrutinise opinions. 

As the world navigates its way through a global pandemic, incidents of police brutality racial tensions and border crises, an increase in voices, expressions and opinions is rightly and justly inevitable. Less inevitable, though, is the hatred, contempt and vitriol directed at others who show signs of straying from the status quo. Insults, assumptions and misinterpretations are so brazenly thrown around the walls of social media. At this, I can’t help but despair. The energy from this tirade could instead be harnessed and channelled into action about the issues in question.  Instead of mindlessly posting and sharing for the sake of saving face and then admonishing friends who don’t follow suit, have a word with yourself. Educate yourself, engage with others in a meaningful conversation – realise you can learn some of the most valuable insights from those who disagree with you.

On the other side of all the noise of social media are those not willing to be subject to scrutiny. Instead, these individuals are resigned to a silent and meek URL existence. It is safer, encouraged almost, to stick to the cosy realms of “TBT!” and pictures of the family dog. The minefield of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are best avoided. Yet, those in this camp incur a cost too: the charge of appearing blasé and indifferent when it comes to current affairs. Many of my peers, IRL, fall into the following categories: a) far from shy and retiring types or b) far from shy and retiring types, after a pint or seven. Assumed to be apolitical, indifferent or dispassionate, this seems better than the alternative. The social media sharks are continually circling below, waiting for their prey to make a blunder. Society’s increasing obsession with consistently being right and being seen to be saying the right thing intimidates many of us into merely remaining silent. 

Large corporations are not exempt from online intimation either. There is a colossal pressure for businesses to not only act but react to certain situations, to always censor their content, ambassadors and employees. Whilst some issues, such as fundamental human rights, are never up for debate, I wonder if it is fair to continually superimpose ideals onto influencers and public figures, for them to regurgitate back to the consumer. Take the example of influencer Grace Beverley (formerly known as @gracefituk). Despite a net worth of over a million, named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30, she comes across as very relatable and down-to-earth. Recently, she was inundated with angry messages from her followers, demanding to know why she had not yet spoken out about issues X, Y, & Z. They argued that in her position as an influencer, she must do so. She responded that she had been making dinner and had not seen the news. My question to the angry online mob: if you are already aware that X, Y, Z is immoral and should not be happening, then why are you so insistent on being assured X, Y, Z is immoral and should not be happening by someone else? 

There are numerous reasons as to why public figures do or do not speak out about a topic. Perhaps they are in the bath, saving the economy with their Wagamamas order (cheers, Rishi) or getting a free flat white. Radio or, in this case, internet silence does not necessarily equate to a silent mind or a lack of opinion. Sometimes, we all just need to take a day off, sit back and log off.

By Lucy Summerton

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