It seems counter-intuitive that free speech might have a cost, but the more I look at social media, the more the true price becomes clear:
Our collective sanity.
The sheer volume of abuse, opinions and half-facts on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Buzzfeed et al is surely reaching event horizon.
There has to come a point of no return after which the crushing weight of invective and inhumanity collapses in on itself like a dead star.
(Before you point it out – I know this opinion piece itself is yet another piece of flotsam adding to the flood. I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite.)
I realised the deleterious power of social media first hand when I – briefly – trended on Twitter.
Long story short – I appeared on ITV quiz show The Chase – did okay, answered some questions, won a bit of loot and went home.
Months later, as I watched my show being broadcast, I was keeping an eye on Twitter.
What I didn’t appreciate was how Bradley Walsh’s online army can switch from jocular banter to soul-corroding abuse (in the time it takes a billy goat to trot over a troll’s bridge).
Amy was first to draw blood on Twitter: “Alan just gives me the vibe that he’s very irritating with a drink in him.”
(“Not just with a drink in me!” I bellowed in my house to the bemusement of my wife and our Westie.)
On TV, I answered eight questions correctly in a minute and Terri remarked on Twitter: “He knows his stuff.”
I began to relax. Perhaps they were on my side after all.
Then disaster struck:
“Proper wrong ‘un this guy,” Tweeted Adam Devlin.
“Bradley’s not got a bloody clue what this Scotsman is saying. Neither have I,” jibed TheWigleyRyan.
“Alan looks like he could be the world’s oldest baby” proffered 13Horror.
Watching from my house, I noticed an odd thing as I answered the questions. At the time, I thought my face was a blend of concentration and wisdom.
In reality it looked pregnant with pungent thickery.
“My head’s not as big and as round as that in real life, is it?” I whined at my wife. “I look like a confused planet.”
Amanda laughed, but crucially did not challenge my description.
I was then called – amongst other things:
- Massive tit
- Scottish nob
- Cocky Jock in a frock
- Long-lost member of The Proclaimers
- Frankie Boyle
- Rid neck
- Sweaty sock
- Scottish transvestite
Then up stepped one of my team-mates for the day – who elected to play it safe … and cost us a potential £2k each.
Twitter duly exploded – vomiting venom and deranged outrage all over the broadband.
The comments sent my way had been pretty funny and I didn’t take anything to heart – after all it’s not every day you find yourself besieged by more trolls than a Hans Christian Andersen fever dream.
I just hope my female team-mate for the day didn’t follow my lead and watch our show while scanning Twitter.
The abuse was not only disproportionate, it was disturbingly misogynistic and utterly bleak.
And that all came from people watching a tea-time quiz show.
I simply can’t imagine how heroes like Emma Watson and Lily Allen managed to put up with social media as long as they did before pulling the plug.
Yes, it’s great that everyone can have a say and we enjoy freedom of speech.
But as the abuse begins to bleed more and more from social media into real life I find myself wondering if the cost of that freedom is decency, respect and our collective sanity.
I’m not arguing for more controls over social media – I’m arguing for restraint.
And that, dear reader, is down to you (and I).