Social media is frequently lambasted as being anti-social, unwelcoming, and full of arrogant over-sharers who feel the need to share every last second of their lives with the internet (let’s not forget the self-important bloggers who take this to a whole new level). It’s been blamed for crimes and radicalisation, and is associated with spreading fake news and false evidence that backs up conspiracy theories such as the world being flat. I can assure you that the world isn’t flat because if it was, it would be a damn sight easier to navigate from a wheelchair.
All social media sites have faced their fair share of criticism, whether it be for selling personal data for profit, or altering photographs so significantly that the people in them look more like tall Barbie dolls than they do actual human beings. Perhaps the site that has been the subject of the most controversy though, is the one that allowed the president of the United States to discuss the ever-important issue of covfefe with the public. I am of course referring to Twitter.
I didn’t set up a Twitter account until February 2018, mainly because I had heard so many stories of horrendous trolling and abuse that I didn’t want to become embroiled in the supposed melee. However, I decided reaching out to Twitter would be a cheap and easy way of introducing more people to my way of thinking, so I set up an account while mentally preparing myself for an onslaught of far-right conservatives telling me I would burn in hell for the heinous act of finding Jennifer Lawrence attractive. I was pleasantly surprised.
What I found on Twitter was not a bucket-load of prejudice and malice, but a large, supportive community of likeminded individuals who all banded together to help those around them, even when living on opposite sides of the planet (another one for the flat-Earthers). A lot of wheelchair users and chronic illness sufferers soon climbed aboard the Diary of a Disabled Person train, the only train where you don’t have to pre-book a ramp several years in advance to then play an adrenalin-rush inducing gambling game of whether said ramp will even materialise. I also had people with other kinds of disabilities and learning difficulties follow me, as well as a large LGBTQ+ community, some medical professionals, a few academics, and somehow I seem to have attracted a reasonably large black community, which is uplifting considering I’m so white that my skin peels upon exposure to moderate sunlight.
It is undeniable that I have faced plenty of trolls, my particular favourite calling me an unemployed scrounger living off of other’s pity, clearly having never bothered to actually read my blog or refer to any of my social media history. He shut up pretty quickly after I had pointed out the fact that I was responding to his Tweet on my lunch break while sat in the office kitchen. I have also been told that disabled people should be left behind in the dust as a result of natural selection, obviously having failed to consider that many disabilities are developed later in life and are not genetic, nor understanding that humans evolved the trait of intelligence, not the ability to walk far.
However, when I compare the number of trolls I have encountered to all the positive support and encouragement I’ve received from everyone else, particularly during rough times, I’ve come to realise that social media is not the ugly dog-eat-dog situation some people would have you believe. It is, from personal experience at least, a useful tool for connecting with others and learning about our differences, and is a great platform to advocate for social change.