How the internet shows how cruel we really are

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The BBC called in police to investigate after Ruth Brown, 20, received a deluge of vile remarks on Twitter targeting her skin colour, appearance and weight.

London - Are girls getting meaner? The headmistress of an independent school certainly thinks so, and she claims that the cause lies in Facebook and celebrity culture.

The head of St Mary’s Calne in Wiltshire, Dr Helen Wright, has said that sites such as Facebook encourage teenagers to believe ‘bitching is good’ because they are desensitising girls to the effects on others of what they might say or do.

Girls are being led to believe that making or breaking friendships is like making ‘friends’ on Facebook, where they are made or dropped at the click of a button.

Her warnings were echoed at the weekend by others voicing concern that the compulsion to post up intimate information online is not only encouraging voyeurism but is also causing more and more people to mistake electronic reactions for human emotions.

Social encounters are being reduced to texting or tweeting, which have as much resemblance to genuine relationships as a cartoon does to real life.

Abuse

Nor is this the worst effect of social media. After Tory MP Louise Mensch voted against the select committee report on phone hacking on account of its harsh judgment on Rupert Murdoch, she found herself at the receiving end on Twitter of a cascade of foul, sexually charged and violent abuse.

Of course, this was an example of a woman being the victim of internet meanness, rather than its perpetrator.

Ms Mensch was merely one in a long line of targets for vile cyber-bullying. The BBC has just called in the police to report racist internet attacks on Ruth Brown, a contestant in its talent show The Voice.

Women seem to be disproportionately targeted by men for such attacks on the net.

But it’s by no means only directed at women; it also takes the form of attacks on disabled people, individuals who have been bereaved — in short, anyone who appears vulnerable.

It is therefore a particularly vicious type of bullying. And there is something very weird about this kind of electronic pogrom which goes far beyond mere incivility or anger.

There seems to be a boundless reservoir of pathologically incontrollable hatred and violence which the internet has unleashed.

So where have all these freaks come from? Do social media create all this bitching and bullying, or do they merely provide a platform for what is already out there?

In my view, both are almost certainly true. The mob has always been brutish, given the absence of any social or legal controls. What the uncontrolled internet has done is provide the mob with an electronic platform.

This not only emboldens people to respond to vile messages in a similarly vile manner, but enables them to bully with impunity under the shield of anonymity.

Dr Wright, however, is talking more broadly about a culture whose brutalising effects upon girls go way beyond social media.

She observed that the female judges in the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing were always pitted against each other, with a subtext of meanness or nastiness. Young girls took this at face value, she said, and believed that this was how they too should act.

There was also an absence of positive role models for young women in celebrity culture where high-profile female friendships, such as that between Paris Hilton and TV personality Nicole Richie, seemed to be based on “bitchiness, meanness, cruelty and criticising what someone’s wearing and how they look”.

When impressionable young girls see this kind of behaviour glorified by the rich and famous, it becomes much harder for them to separate fact from fantasy and to realise there is anything wrong with behaving so atrociously.

Some people think that girls are meaner than boys anyway. Although this is a wild generalisation, it contains an element of truth which you can see if you look at the behaviour of young children.

While little boys tend to be more direct, physical and violent, little girls tend to more manipulative, calculating and spiteful behaviour. On the other hand, women have been traditionally believed to be more moral, responsible and prudent than men. But all that has been destroyed, alas, by modern feminism.

Violence

In the 19th century, the early feminist pioneers thought their struggle would count for nothing if women merely used their newfound political freedom to emulate dissolute male behaviour.

But that is precisely what has happened. With sexual equality being redefined as identicality, women and girls were told that women’s liberation meant behaving just like men.

This gave rise to the ‘ladette’ culture among girls of sexual promiscuity, heavy drinking, smoking, swearing and violence.

At the same time, women and girls were encouraged to think of themselves as able to do without men, who were vilified on a spectrum ranging from emotionally illiterate to rapist and child abuser.

Those pushing non-judgmental ‘lifestyle choices’ told women and girls it was their right to bring up children without fathers. This amounted to nothing less than telling them they were entitled to cause harm and distress to the children who depended upon their parents for care and protection.

In other words, as Dr Wright commented, the ladette culture entailed a total lack of both self-respect and respect for others.

But this surely goes way beyond the behaviour of women. Increasingly, Britain is displaying a general culture of cruelty, indifference and even sadism.

You can see it on TV in the countless shows — ‘reality TV’ and others — which seek to exploit precisely those horrible characteristics.

This cynical and devastating brutalisation of popular attitudes derives in turn from the moral vacuum of the ‘me society’ which is now to be found in just about every aspect of contemporary life.

Often, people are genuinely astonished to be told how much hurt they may have caused someone else by their own behaviour. And that’s because — frighteningly — more and more are simply unaware of other people’s feelings at all.

You only have to go abroad and then return to become all too aware of how crude Britain has become with its all-pervasive public obscenities, incivilities and yobbishness.

This is a society which no longer cares about others because it is almost entirely focused on the individual. Any proposed restraint on sexual behaviour, whether legal or social, is considered to be an assault on the fundamental human right to instant gratification.

Fragile

In schools, protecting children’s fragile ‘self-esteem’ is considered so important that all obstacles — such as failure — are removed. In turn, subjects have to be presented as ‘relevant’ to the child’s own life.

So instead of helping children negotiate the outside world, the education system makes children feel the world revolves around them. They grow into adults who simply don’t register other people’s interests at all, and are astounded to be told they may have some responsibility towards acknowledging or even protecting those interests.

In intellectual circles, meanwhile, verbal abuse is a commonplace. Insult has been substituted for argument on the left, which vilifies everyone who disagrees with it as right-wing, evil or a nutcase — even in newspaper articles lamenting the culture of abuse.

All this, however, is only to be expected in a society which has junked Judeo-Christian moral values precisely to live lives of unbridled self-centredness.

Moral rules were developed to restrain the worst in human nature and encourage the best. In this post-religious, post-moral society, selflessness, compassion and generosity of spirit have been replaced by selfishness, sentimentality and cruelty.

Civilisation is only ever a thin veneer. As Dr Wright said, the combination of the ‘me-society’ and the new anti-social media is toxic. The internet has peeled back our culture and given us Lord — and Ladettes — of the Flies. - Daily Mail

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