I’ve had a colourful week on the social media front. Last Sunday, my husband and I joined 36 other twitterers from all round the UK and beyond, swimming, cycling and running as part of #Irontweeps to raise money for Sport Relief. We had it lucky, in that our contribution merely involved trotting out of our front door and back for a couple of miles in very cold, but not snowy, conditions. We both run (well he runs, I jog) but given he’d had a bad foot infection and I’d been ill, it had been a bit touch and go. Others elsewhere in the country had it much tougher. Karen Teago, for example, cycled 25 km in the snow and cold, wearing a red superwoman cape. Collectively, we made more than double our £3K target and the camaraderie was fun too. Take a look at Ady Howes’ great film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_uBKRLeFHo
and feel free to donate too! #irontweeps
All downhill from there? Well, yes and no. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica debacle broke next. I do find it very disturbing that critical mandates won with slim majorities, like the US election and the Brexit referendum, may have been influenced by covert forces. I think the big social media players are going to have to be more regulated and we, the public, need more than ever to realise that there is rarely any such thing as a free lunch.
On to Thursday in London. I had the good fortune to attend an employment law seminar delivered by the employment team at Goodman Derrick. They covered a number of social media related tribunal cases. And ooh yes, it was fascinating. The number of employees who appear to think they can trash their employers in public, without repercussions, amazes me. Sometimes, the issues are far from clear. Who wrote it? Not necessarily the sender. Who saw it? Not necessarily those the sender intended. Etc etc. Sometimes, employers have just not followed their own policies – in one case, a major retailer. Tribunals clearly struggle with this brave new digital world. Often they find in the employee’s favour, but equally often compensation is halved, especially where the employee shows no remorse.
I also had the good fortune to discover a free lecture at the National Gallery, entitled “Four weddings and a funeral” given by the quite brilliant Dr Jenny Graham from the Uni of Plymouth. As I’m an art ignoramus, I thought I’d go. Dr Graham explored, in a really accessible way, both the content of the painting and the 4 different couples who – at various times – were thought to be the couple depicted.
Jan van Eyck, active 1422; died 1441
Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and his Wife
Oil on oak, 82.2 x 60 cm
Fake news was around in the 15th century. One of the 4 couples was dead before Van Eyck painted this.
And later on Thursday, I got a ticket for one of the last performances of ‘Beginnings’ by David Eldridge. Two lonely, unhappy individuals approaching middle age attempt to forge a romantic bond amid the debris of her flatwarming party. A brilliant tragi-comic play and great performances from actors Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton who hold the stage – and our attention – for nearly 2 hours non-stop. Some plays and films never leave you – for me this was one such. One of its many themes was how connectivity may enable internet dating, but doesn’t solve loneliness and may even create it.
So what do I conclude about social media? It can be a force for good, as I believe #Irontweeps was. My experience of Twitter has been largely positive and I have learnt a lot from it. But, social media can also be sinister, misleading, empty, competitive, combative, addictive.
To use an overworn phrase from the 2016 referendum, we – as the consumers and/or the product – need to get a grip and take back control.