“Politics is a rough old trade”, John Major noted in his concession speech in 1997. I suppose it comes with the territory of being a politician, you put your name out there and you should be willing to take some flak from the public.
Now, this is not a piece defending politicians I have to stress. I read dozens of news stories everyday and lament the missed opportunities and failures of leadership that we often see on our TV screens.
However, since I have had some role in running this sites social media account, I have witnessed politicians who have made some of the most netural comments come in for a torrent of abuse. Some of the most vile things that you can imagine being said are hurled at politicians across parties and most of the time for no other reason than they hold a different political opinion.
I engage with politicians across our society on a regular basis and yes, sometimes criticise them. But, this has never stopped me from separating the politcs from the personality behind it. Most of the politicians I engage with are on a personal level nice people, some of whom I think their policies are for the birds but that’s another days work.
Yet, I am always concerned when I witness these same people recieve something that goes beyond criticism. Some of the most personal, insulting and hateful abuse that you can possibly imagine thrown out on Twitter/Facebook by people who appear to just be filled full of hatred.
I would suggest that if you’re spending your free time goading politicians and sending out abuse left, right and centre, then you really need a new hobby.
I know political leaders let us down, but the great thing about a democracy is that no politician can hold office forever or without the support of the electorate. If you’re so annoyed at a politician bide your time and vote them out at the next election. Don’t sit and hurl abuse from behind a computer screen.
Social media can be a brilliant way of engaging with your public representatives, but it’s a real shame that we see many looking to pander to a mob mentality of thinking they can just throw anything they like out there.
When you’re watching TV later, just pause for a moment before you send that tweet or make that post and think is there a better way for me to put this. If you are worked up about an issue and have been continously trolling a politician ask yourself is this really an effective use of my time?
Use social media to engage with your representatives, not to troll them. You wouldn’t expect your Mum or Dad to put up with a huge level of abuse, nor should an elected representative. Just because you politically disagree with someone, doesn’t mean you have to hate them.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs