Imagine if you walked down the street today and every single person along the way said exactly what they thought of you out loud, to your face? Whatever they liked, about what you were wearing, about your new pixie cut - it would be shocking and devastating. Responding without a filter out loud, online, is exactly like shouting at someone on the street - so every time we step onto the street we need to be prepared for that. I share a lot of glimpses of me and my life online, but not intimate details of my home and family life.
For me social media has been a positive force. I get to share what interests me with people who want to discover it, whether that be work, clothes, cats or a cause I'm championing. One-line moments of my life aren't the same as opening myself up. Once you invite strangers into your life and become intimate with them there is no turning back, even when you want to switch off. People absorb what you say and see their own life reflected in what they're reading, which is why everything becomes so personal. I don't share me, I just share my interests and that means that when I get the shouting from the strangers on the street I can just ignore them.
There is an instinctive human trait to want to be liked and understood, and having an opportunity to explain who you are, and why you're like who you are, is addictive. Getting instant approval and feedback from people who view life through the same lens is instantly gratifying, but it's not nourishing or healthy to believe in people we don't know. There is no forgiveness on Twitter. In real life words disappear in the air; on social media, they are there forever - you can delete your tweet but others can then still have ownership over your words through a timely screen grab or a re-tweet. An innocent mistake, a flippant remark, a tweet poorly wordsmithed can change your life in a moment. And there are no shades of grey. For those who type how they think, or don't think before they type, the tide can turn towards them, and those who previously championed their voices might try to silence them. If you are feeling you can defend your choices, or explain your life in 140 characters, it's not enough.
When you type be ready to act too. The power of words can transform into action. The power of social media as activism is simply an amazing thing. If you have a strong enough message you can use it for the benefit of others; reaching those who have the same voice, to drive awareness and charity campaigning. When news needs to travel fast there is nothing like Twitter. An idea can spread in minutes. Some friends and I wanted to help the refugees in Calais and in two weeks, purely through the power of Twitter and social media, 'Help Refugees' aid arrived in Calais.
But we have to be careful that we don't replace activism with a status update. It's so easy to make a bold statement online and feel like you're actively adding to a cause, movement or view. But moaning on Facebook to 500 people you haven't seen for 10 years isn't being socially minded, it's having a rant to people who don't really care. Typing your feelings is a temporary relief; getting a 'like' can be an instant way to salve your conscience, but it's not changing anything. If you're experiencing sexism in the work place, then walk in and confront it. Don't anonymize it online.
The Cows, by Dawn O'Porter, is published by HarperCollins on 6th April.
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