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Twitter can showcase the worst of lowlifes

By Sarah Cowen-Strong | Talking Point | Published:

Express & Star columnist Sarah Cowen-Strong is biting her tongue for today's Talking Point

What your Ps and Qs online

Eleven times every week each one of us bites our tongue to avoid upsetting someone.

Whether it’s new shoes or a stew recipe most of us, according to a new survey, would be happier to lie than admit the truth.

Being non-committal and nice is so much sweeter than saying ‘no, your shoes are ugly and your stew tastes of rotting swede’.

It’s also a lot easier. As Brits we find it so much easier to sugar-coat than to admit the truth. ‘Do you like my new man’? ‘Don’t you love this new perfume’? How could we possibly say, ‘no, he’s a loser’, and ‘no, you smell like a polecat’.

Well, if we’re all so good at being good, how come so many people are so very nasty on social media?

Take Boris Johnson. Yes, his ‘wheat field’ photo was a little amusing, but it was also unkind. This swipe at Theresa – whatever her politics – was basically hurtful. I know that he has harmed her far more with the actual spoken word, but Twitter is the 21st century version of passing a note around the class. Only the victim gets to see it in all its vicious glory. When did it become okay to be so spiteful?

TV shows like Spitting Image and Have I Got News for You along with publications like Viz and Private Eye, columnists and many a brilliant comedian have also been near the knuckle, but with more humour than malice.

It could be argued that people in the public eye are sitting ducks: they give as ferociously as they take and are suitably thick-skinned. Yes, but it doesn’t make it right.

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It also filters down the social scale, with more and more ‘ordinary’ social media users grabbing any opportunity to be hateful. One person’s sideswipe turns into a heartless assault as more and more lowlifes join in.

Do I sound like I’m taking this a little too personally?

I have good reason. A few weeks ago I was trolled by a television newsreader. I’m not going to name her because I sense a Google alert and I can’t be doing with her venom spitting out all over again. I wrote an article commenting favourably on her attitude towards a facelift that had been featured in a weekend supplement. I read that she had been honest enough not to try to hide the fact she’d had a procedure – and for that I praised her.

Was she grateful? Was she heck. The bile oozed. Suddenly, she was on my Twitter feed, flashing an up-to-date picture of her chiselled face, suggesting I was the one who had broken the news of her procedure and had done so out of pure wickedness. She then plunged the dagger in deeper by signing off with the hastag ‘sisterhood’.

She obviously hadn’t read my column but didn’t let that omission get in the way of a good dose of vitriol. Tweets from her followers came thick and fast. Within a couple of hours I had been labelled every name under the sun.

It was odious stuff. I was upset and outraged not just for myself but for other victims of trolling and the realisation that in the pantomime land of Twitter, basic standards of decency and dignity are forgotten. To our shame.

Sarah Cowen-Strong

By Sarah Cowen-Strong

Journalist with the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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