Teach children to use social media? How about teaching adults…

THE main headline in The Observer last Sunday read: “Stop children bingeing on social media, parents urged.” This is a serious matter, but my first thought was that two words could be swapped: “Stop parents bingeing on social media, children urged.”

This was partly a personal reaction, as far too much of my time is frittered away on Twitter and Facebook. Such a modern form of wastage demands a new word. Perhaps we should instead now say that time is “Twittered” away.

Most of those who abuse social media are adults. Flinging verbal acid with cowardly abandon. Being rude about others behind their backs, or certainly not to their faces. Some body-shame, or so I hear, sharing supposedly embarrassing pictures of body-imperfect people at the gym, say – and bodily imperfection, naturally enough, afflicts all of us, as perfection is a Photoshopped mirage.

Then you have the president of the US, a 71-year-old going on sulky seven, who sends out an endless barrage of rude and puerile tweets – that’s when he is not announcing major US policy changes by Twitter. The most important man in the world floats on a cloud of puffed-up vanity, self-pleasuring tweets, and the endless distractions of a world reduced to 140 characters.

Almost anywhere you look on social media, someone or other is being vile or rude or just plain nasty, whether it’s about politicians or parties they hate – or ‘wrong’ members of their own tribe who they love to excoriate.

There are ‘nice’ contributions too, and anyway there is nothing wrong with a bit of social media argy-bargy, but the truly nasty stuff is a spreading stain.

As long ago as 2013 – eons back in the social media blizzard – Professor Mary Beard reeled under an onslaught of online abuse after appearing on the BBC’s Question Time. The classicist mentioned that immigration brought benefits, and was horridly abused and pelted with vile sexual taunts in “language too offensive to reprint”, according to a Guardian report at the time.

Now Beard has been misused again, this time for suggesting that there was ethnic diversity in Roman Britain, which unleashed a “torrent of aggressive insults”. An intelligent, thoughtful woman who knows her stuff is clearly too much for the morons who gather to spit and squabble online.

So, yes, stop children spending too much time on social media, as the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, suggests and draw them away from their tablets and smartphones – maybe even to go outside and get their knees muddy. Regulating children’s internet usage sounds sensible, although I am glad it’s no longer something I need worry about. Our children were young pre-social media, although I remember words being exchanged sometimes about computer games and Xboxes and those hand-held Gameboys.

Nowadays I probably spend as much or more time on social media as my three. Sometimes I love it; and sometimes I fear my brain will rot.

It’s all so addictive, time-wasting and endlessly fascinating in a throw-away manner. But maybe we ought to be teaching adults how to use social media before we worry about children.

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