Newsletter - sign up here
Search Webster
Webster's pieces from The Oldie
Webster's Webwatch

Immortal online

December 2017

The BBC believes that no radio programme is complete without insisting we use some ‘hashtag’ or other on ‘social media’.   This social media industry is far from fresh-faced (Facebook is 13 years old, Twitter is eleven, Instagram is six) and it’s growing.
What baffles me is why so many otherwise sensible people take part so enthusiastically.  I just don’t get it.
First, in case you’re not up to speed, here are the basics. All social media platforms are free to use; you are given your own page and you can all ‘post’ anything we want to it – text, pictures, videos – with almost no scrutiny.  
Your post is visible to all users, but most won’t see it unless they specifically follow you or if you have included a phrase prefixed by the hash symbol (# - hence ‘hashtag’).  The platform will then group together all posts that include that hashtag; for example, the BBC Any Questions hashtag is #bbcaq.
Similar rules apply to the various platforms, with variations, but you get the idea.  They use all the information in our posts to sell advertising; that’s how they make money. 
Now, if you are one of those who post things on these platforms, may I ask you to gaze into your soul and ask yourself why on earth you do it?  Is there really any benefit to you or anyone else other than the platform itself?
I have concluded that ‘posters’ fall into one or more of only a few categories:
  • People with something to promote: OK, fair enough, we all have a living to earn. The broadcaster Piers Morgan says he is now contractually obliged to use Twitter because it promotes his television work; as he has over six million followers on Twitter, I expect it does.   We do it at The Oldie, too.
  • Customer service: Another good use.  It is often easier to find out via Twitter why your train is late than from the hard-pressed guard. 
  • Citizen Journalists: Those people who send posts from places where something interesting is happening.  The trouble is – are they telling the truth?
  • Correcting mistakes: Honest people who want put right a wrong they have noticed, perhaps on a TV programme. They are sincere and well-meaning but I am afraid that their posts are seldom read. I am reminded of a Randall Munroe cartoon: a man is sitting at his computer, saying to his wife, “I can’t come to bed, this is important; someone is wrong on the internet”.
  • People with an axe to grind:  They always appear during any politically related television programme and are usually very cross.
  • Nasty pieces of work:  These are ‘trolls’ who anonymously write hateful things about public figures.  Just examine the Twitter feed of any prominent female or upper crust politician, if you want an eye-opening glance into some unpleasant minds. 
  • People who love the sound of their own voices:  The largest group, and I’m afraid also the vainest; it includes all the people who used to flock to pubs and club bars and bore us all with their endless ill-informed twaddle.  I suppose if we can thank the internet for one thing, it is that it might keep some of these people out of the bars.
I don’t want to appear too dismissive, especially as I suspect that there may be another group of people who find that posting offers a kind of solution to loneliness.
However, if you do post online, for whatever reason (and I am sure that amongst Oldie Readers they are all pure), please always keep in mind that you should never post a comment that you would not want attributed to you on the front page of the Daily Mail. 
Because one day, it might be. The Internet is for ever.