When did we all become so nasty? I’ve repeatedly expressed my enthusiasm for social media, especially Twitter. But in the last couple of weeks, it’s really bugged me. I know how to handle criticism. I wouldn’t have survived two decades on radio without learning how to listen to those who I respect and ignore those who are just baiting for a reaction. But last week, someone made it through the armour. Why? Because Ben Limmer (real name? Who knows? Who can tell on Twitter?) wasn’t attacking me. He was cutting down the hopes and dreams of an 11-year-old girl. Here’s what happened.
Saturday night at 9.52pm, I tweeted: “Lemonade stall, you’ve been replaced! Eleven-year-old girl has dropped home-made pizza menu in our letterbox! Have ordered for next weekend! :)”And Ben’s reaction (I’ve fixed his spelling):“Hope she has a BCC (Brisbane City Council) food licence”.I replied: “Hope you have tongue in cheek”.He continued: “No, if you are paying money for her food it would be illegal.”I told him that I had no doubt how the court of public opinion would find this girl’s business get-up-and-go, to which he responded: “If your whole street got food poisoning where would public opinion be then?”
At this point, other Twitter users or tweeps added their two cents worth. There was Lyndon, who showed support by asking: “Does she offer a blue cheese and pear pizza?” (For the record, she’s kicking off with Supreme, Hawaiian and Vegetarian). Nathan, who co-owns a café, suggested there was a higher risk at “most Saturday barbecues”.Zsa Zsa described the girl’s pizza business as “wonderful” and Elizabeth simply tweeted“Awww…”Glenny chimed in from Melbourne with: “It’s just a young girl making a little pocket money. Good luck to her. People just read too much into a girl getting off her butt to make a few bob”.
So yes, there were those who jumped to defend my neighbour, but it was Ben Limmer who scored a victory by getting to me. On the Monday, I asked my radio listeners why we’re so quick to judge nowadays. Stan said: “The girl was just getting off her posterior and doing something for herself. She deserves praise not negative comment. But I am afraid I fall into that category from time to time. I blame it on the pressures of living.”From Deb: “I don’t know why but crankiness seems to kick in a lot earlier. It used to be the domain of the older people but the young’uns seem to get really cranky these days. Maybe it’s impatience?”Christina offered: “It’s stress, trying to keep a husband and five kids happy, juggle the little money we have and all for very little thanks. Some days it’s not too easy to pull out a smile, a laugh or even a smirk.”Paul’s response was simple: “There are too many people!”Linda took aim squarely at Twitter: “It’s a platform for uninformed and uneducated morons to vent about anything and everything without thinking about the impact their sometimes poisonous words have on innocent individuals”.
And finally, Patty suggested it’s because we can, now that social media has given everyone a voice. There’s something in all of the above but I think Patty’s nailed it. Social media sites don’t have a gatekeeper. Where newspapers have always been able to select which letters they publish, and radio producers have enjoyed similar control over which talkback callers get to air, Twitter, Facebook and the internet in general have given everyone the ability to publish whatever they like.
This whole experience has really affected me and I’m going to do what I can to change the tone. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to watching TV and live-tweeting comments about what a newsreader or reality contestant is saying or wearing. It’s keyboard road rage. And it has to stop. Here and now, I’m taking a vow of social media positivity.
And for those who are wondering, no we didn’t all die of food poisoning. The pizzas were delivered piping hot and perfectly on time, packed high with toppings, exceeding all our expectations! And they earned our young neighbour both a handsome tip and another order for this weekend! Who’s joining us?