The Perils of ‘Social’ Media and Children Having Fun

As we go into yet another of these now totally useless seasonal time changes, I find myself increasingly disturbed by the ever increasing and all pervasive power of what is laughingly called ‘social media.’

What on earth is social about it? Yes, I have a Facebook page and an Instagram account but I rarely resort to either and I feel that they pose an incredible threat to the rights and safety of individuals. Social media acts as judge, jury and executioner usually totally without evidence. With a few short clicks, a reputation can be destroyed – sometimes even a life is lost.

It was a social media campaign last year that ultimately led to the beheading of Samuel Paty, a teacher in Paris. His killer, a young Chechen Muslim called Abdullakh Anzorov had been angered by online posts from a parent at the school where Paty taught, denouncing him for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on free speech.

The parent, the father of a girl in Paty’s class published the teacher’s name and the address of the school on Facebook and YouTube, demanding the teacher’s sacking and urging his followers to act.

Only later did it emerge that the girl had lied to her father about the whole incident. She was not even in class that day, having been suspended for truancy. Thus the lies of a troubled thirteen year old passed on by her father cost a man his life.

That is surely a sad reflection on society and it is hardly surprising that the teacher at Batley Grammar in Yorkshire, who earlier last week was suspended following accusations of Islamophobia, has reportedly gone into hiding with his wife and children.

Not only did the school’s headmaster make things worse by offering an ‘unequivocal apology’ before any sort of sensible investigation had taken place (has the world ever experienced such an outburst of useless and meaningless apologies?) the similarities with the Paty case are also pretty terrifying.

Both centre around the use of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in lessons, although in this case it was part of a Religious Education class and both have led to a climate of intimidation fuelled by dangerous rhetoric in social media circles.

The man leading this particular hate campaign, Mohammad Sajad Hussain (who runs a charity called Purpose of Life, allegedly dedicated to community harmony) called the decision to illustrate the nature of blasphemy in the context of an RE lesson with the cartoon ‘clearly sadistic’ and ‘terrorism to Islam.’

Surely these are seditious words in themselves and should be investigated by the cops? I am not holding my breath!

Hussein published his accusations, together with the teacher’s name and the address of the school on Twitter before doing the rounds of the TV and radio studios repeating his allegations. Such behaviour surely should not be encouraged by any media outlets as it is completely disproportionate to any alleged offence. Yet they seem all too keen to encourage the rantings of anyone wanting to spread hatred.

By acting in this way – and by being allowed to do so – Hussain has potentially exposed this teacher to serious danger without himself being subject to a shred of accountability. There ought to be a law against it and there is, but it is selective and does not apply to everyone.

It’s only if you happen to possess the necessary ‘protected characteristics’ such as disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity that being accused of wrongdoing without any evidence can be called a ‘hate crime.’ For me as a heterosexual white male without disabilities of any sort, there is no recourse to authority should I feel ‘hated.’

The law, in this respect, is discriminatory in favour of certain groups of people. These obviously do not include ‘burly Yorkshire lads’ as this teacher has been described. But the man was doing his job dammit!  He was explaining to a classroom the truth about religion and prejudice? He was challenging young minds to think independently and intelligently about important issues? Yet he is now being pilloried by the current hysterical climate of loathing and victimhood so prevalent on social media and exposed with family to all sorts of risks – just because he does not happen to have the same beliefs as his accuser.

I am no fan of Ricky Gervais but perhaps he put it best when he said that everyone has a right to believe what they want to and everyone else has the right to find it ridiculous.

That is the fundamental principle of free speech and it should apply in all British institutions – especially schools. Otherwise the madness will spread, good teachers will look for other careers and ultimately it is the children who will suffer.

Reading about the Kill the Bill protests in Bristol last Friday, I could not hep thinking that the protesters were pretty stupid. If there is one thing guaranteed to banish any iota of sympathy the British public might have for their alleged cause, it is violence against defenceless animals. Throwing fireworks at horses is pretty horrible and probably a real measure of the kind of idiots they are. For all that, I have not read of any politician – even the Labour firebrands – coming out to condemn them and even the PETA mob and other animal rights groups are ominously silent.

Does everyone in this soggy little island like living in fear of giving offence I wonder?

Although my natural cynicism, engendered by many years of police work has undoubtedly increased over the past year of lockdown, I encountered a glimmer of hope this week.

I was talking (quite legally I assure you) to a young Mother who is married to a very adventurous man who among other things is a mountaineer. They have two children, aged if I remember correctly five and seven. Amy proudly showed me a video clip taken when her husband was sorting out his climbing ropes. He had hung them from a large tree in their garden and the children were taking turns in climbing up, fitting themselves into the safety harness and launching themselves into space.

What a boost to my spirits that was. I smiled at the squeals of joy from the mites and was almost surprised to see young children actually having fun. Potentially dangerous fun I suppose but fun that can only boost their confidence in life and make them into really good people.

When I was a child, my parents encouraged me to walk alone in the African bush despite the profusion of dangerous wild animals that were around. I learned a lot from my early wanderings and those lessons have kept me alive on many occasions since then.

Nowadays my enlightened parents would probably have been prosecuted for child cruelty and I would have been taken into care. Modern parents have a vicious tightrope to walk when raising their children and for me it was heart-warming to see the evidence of a modern couple who are prepared to encourage a little bit of risk in the cause of actual living.

I know it is a nasty, dangerous world but if we take freedom and fun away from the very young, we are going to make it an ever nastier one in the future.

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