Many years ago, back when the internet was still young, there was an ongoing joke in an online community (b3ta) that went, "BAN THIS SICK FILTH." It was a mockery of the kind of title frequently seen in the Daily Mail newspaper, and such a title was the vehicle commonly used as an excuse to print a set of lewd pictures, an outrageous quote, or some other act worthy of public disapproval. This outrage technique was a boon to the paper because it attracted readers who both approved and disapproved of the content, thereby increasing their potential for ad revenue, and it provided endless opportunities for the use of CAPS. What's more, OUTRAGE is a fantastic psychological tool for drawing in our feeble, easily manipulated little amygdalae, and these days, making us choose to engage in that fatal and valuable click.*
But let's think about what that does to a society, and what it means for Twitter. Imagine, for a moment, that we are all kids back at school. You're standing with your friend - let's call them Phil - and another kid (Sarah) comes up to them and taunts, "Big nose!"
You choose to defend Phil by shouting to the entire playground, "OMG EVERYONE, Sarah just called Phil BIG NOSE!!"
How does this make Phil feel? What lesson does Sarah learn from this? Because what happens is everyone in the playground starts thinking about the size of Phil's nose, when previously they hadn't, and now Phil is forced to worry about it too.
Right now this is happening on Twitter (okay, I accept it's been happening for a decade), but with racist Tweets about members of the men's England football team (big well done to the team, by the way - I keep saying it, but I am totally blown away by their performance in this tournament) - seemingly (I haven't counted) hundreds of accounts are bashing out the equivalent of "BAN THIS SICK FILTH", and then following it up with a screenshot of the offending tweet. The account then gets lots of likes and adulation for essentially recycling and laundering horrible content, and worse, the original racist gains the notoriety they desire.
I keep asking myself, does amplifying the amount of racist content out there actually solve anything? Is it making the targets of that racism feel any better about the world they live in? No, it makes everyone talk about their ethnicity like it's the only thing worth remarking upon. And why aren't these "ally" accounts writing positive messages of support? Surely it is better to grow something out of the shit by planting a thousand times more flowers? (sorry, puke-laden metaphor, but you get the idea).
Even without the original content, does writing, "OMG I'M SO OFFENDED THIS IS SO AWFUL," actually make the world a better place? I'd argue no to that as well, because it's the same as (let's start another analogy) sitting in a group of friends, telling them your partner cheated on you, and one of them leans in (you know the one) and goes, "Oh, that is so AWFUL! You must feel TERRIBLE! I would just *kill myself* if that were me. I can't BELIEVE your partner did that!" That is not what you want to hear, is it? You want to be told you're worthy of better, and for your friends to make clear what it is about you they like. Those other comments only serve the person making them. We can be charitable and suggest they demonstrate good intent, but if so, I feel it is sadly misplaced.
To me it seems the inevitable result is that the growing outrage noise translates all too easily into an imbalance of news coverage. At the time of writing, racist outrage articles hold the larger-font headlines, and they are sadly more numerous than those articles simply saying, "well done" to the players. It does not seem fair that racists and their comments should have far more web space and airtime than the achievements of the people they target.
So next time you see a Tweet purporting to be OUTRAGED about something, ask yourself if they are posting that because they want to protect the person being targeted, or whether they are posting it to get likes.
I don't believe we will ever live in a world where there is zero discrimination. Humans are uniquely equipped to handle feelings of insecurity by finding ways of looking down on others. That doesn't have to be ethnicity - sometimes it's money, or looks, or weight, or brains... There will always be an arsehole in the great backside of humanity, and I agree that we do need to be aware our collective anus. But this can happen through education, peaceful protest, promoting causes at major events, talking in person, maybe some very light press regulation, and good social media management.
I am certainly not saying that racism shouldn't be discussed, or that racist Tweets should not be reported and erased. Racist posters deserve to be deleted, sacked, forgotten. But seriously, I wish all the fucking outraged retweets would fuck right off too.
Edit: really good coverage and mention of Twitter algorithms from 15 min in: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000xwmw/newsnight-13072021
*You can read more about outrage, fear and the amygdala elsewhere online, but for an easily digestible source, I highly recommend Charlie Brooker's "How TV Ruined Your Life" (ironically a TV programme).