Since posting some of my research into the RSPCA on Facebook, I now better understand the way social networking works.
Social networking is local as well as global. So if you live in Surrey and ride horses you can join a Facebook group full of people in the same area doing the same thing. Only because these people are not speaking face to face, they can be tremendously rude to each other.
The upshot of my spending a couple of days on one of these sites plugging my investigations into the RSPCA, including its role in the seizure of 123 horses from a farm down the road from my home, was that all these people started arguing and fighting with each other online in a way they would never dream of doing if they were standing in the same room.
Of course, the main point was that so long as they were arguing, it kept the issue going, and so on balance I was so grateful to Facebook I could have kissed Mark Zuckerberg. Talk about people power.
It really was quite astonishing, the response I had. But I had to get used to the rudeness. At one point, a lady put up a post so confrontational, complete with swearing, it made me wonder if she was really who she said she was. As I couldn’t see any pictures of her because she and I weren’t ‘Friends’ (and neither did I want us to be), I emailed an actual friend of mine who I suspected might know her. And she emailed me back to say the swearing lady was lovely. And she included a picture she had of her to prove it.
I am rarely shocked but when I saw the petite, pretty, glamorous woman smiling sweetly back at me I was even less able to marry her with the foul-mouthed tirade she had posted.
Good for her, I suppose. She really gave it to my supporters with both barrels. She laid into anyone who liked my article with such righteous indignation you would think she had single-handedly invented the concept of animal welfare.
This then inflamed the people she was attacking — broadly those who were trying to be inquiring and give me a fair hearing. And so they then went ballistic. Before long, certainly inside a few hours, this Facebook group of nice Surrey horse owners was vibrating with such sound and fury as was not to be believed.
They raged at each other and typed in capital letters and inserted emoticons in long rows so that the page became a sea of angry faces, shocked faces, crying faces, hearts and thumbs and clapping hands and devil’s horns.
‘This is worse than Brexit,’ I said to a girlfriend staying with me, who was getting stuck in on her iPad. ‘Look at what this person has put!’ she exclaimed, tapping her machine.
‘Stop it! Put it down!’ I said, for truly I feared we were being pulled down into the abyss.
It was democracy in action, this Facebook arguing. But it was also polarisation. I keep coming back to this. Our country now seems to fracture frighteningly quickly into two extreme viewpoints no matter what someone says. The waves part instantly and half the population are on one side of the argument screaming blue murder while half are on the other side screaming that murder is well known to be red.
Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t I post an article and a debate begin in which people discuss it by saying: ‘Now isn’t this interesting? Let’s have a think. On the one hand, she’s got a point, and she does quote her evidence, but on the other hand…’
Hardly anyone did that, maybe a handful, no more. The vast majority just went ballistic. Some said this showed that everything I had painstakingly researched for seven years was a figment of my overactive imagination while everything they simply assumed to be true with no evidence was 100 per cent right. Quite a few seemed to say the exact opposite.
Both the people who liked my article and those who didn’t blew gaskets in places I didn’t know people had gaskets. At one point someone disagreed about what day it was.
I could have stated my name and a debate would have ensued as to whether I was a dangerous manic who knew nothing about what it said on my driving licence.
Meanwhile, several people who posted comments supporting me or linking to my articles found themselves blocked from the group. They contacted me to say not only had the administrators of that group permanently blocked them but other groups had barred them too.
The lady who had sworn was not removed. She’s still on there. As am I, pleasingly enough.