Social Media During the Pandemic: the Good, the Bad, the Trolling


The world we live in today is more connected and accessible (outside of covid restrictions, but we can avoid that topic for now) than it has ever been before. The rate of technology progress is faster than it ever has been but slower than it ever will be – could you have imagined just five years ago that virtual meetings would be the mainstay of our daily working lives? I certainly couldn’t have and to be honest, they are something I would have wanted to avoid – unfortunately, the last two years have proved that to be impossible.

Whilst this progress feels revolutionary in terms of technology and has enabled some of us to continue working through a time where we have been restricted more than any other time in history, it feels a huge step back in human relations. Many aspects of our lives have some sort of technology involved and yes of course, there are benefits to this – for example, I don’t have to drag thousands of CDs around with me in the car anymore, I can simply plug my phone in and have unlimited access to any music in the world (would there be a CD holder big enough for this otherwise?!). However, with the digital age comes a removal of connection.

Before the pandemic hit, I was a single girl enjoying my life – I lived on my own in Kent and I went to work in London, commuting every day, I had an active social life and did plenty of activities outside of the 9-5. Online dating was something I avoided like the plague (sorry, poor turn of phrase there!) – it is a vapid pit of disposability. The endless torrent of swipe left, swipe right has generated a sense of removed reality – the person you are talking to is not ‘real’.

My life (like many people) went from 100mph to 0mph overnight at the mercy of pandemic restrictions. Everything became virtual – work, catch ups with friends (anyone remember House Party?), shopping and exercise classes to name a few and being frank, I loathed it. I looked for excuses to get out the house at every opportunity and to have contact with real human beings, not a pixelated, stuttering version of the life I had known before.

I searched for outlets to fulfil the basic human requirement to have real life human interaction, but this of course was extremely limited…let’s face it, we weren’t even allowed to sit on park benches. I also searched for online places I could connect with likeminded souls who were also in a state of despair about lockdowns.

Twitter was something I had not used much in the past save for following traffic reporting and train delay accounts in the days before Waze and the Trainline app, but suddenly I had found the outlet I was looking for! There were many others who were voicing their concerns and thoughts about restrictions and the long-term damage they could render. I have made incredible connections with people I would have never had the opportunity to meet – a luminously shiny silver lining to an incredibly bleak dark cloud.

To every Yin, there is of course a Yang. Opposing voices whose opinions, thoughts and feelings were every bit as valid, were speaking against those of us baffled by the government’s measures, the onslaught of propaganda and the manipulation of data being portrayed in the media. Let’s face it, if everyone had the same opinion, the world would be a truly boring place.

People who know me well, know I love to debate – it doesn’t matter what it is! A large glass of red wine normally assists the process and makes it more enjoyable (Malbec if you’re asking). I like to debate respectfully and without the need for personal attack, albeit with the odd f-bomb dropped in. In return, I expect the same level of respect. I am naturally inquisitive and like to ask lots of questions and certainly with the Covid situation, I inherently wanted to be able to say, “I was wrong”.

In a very short period, I had gained a large following and today it stands at 33,000, something I never set out to do or expected. I have some wonderful followers who are so supportive and there truly is a lovely network of people out there in the Twittersphere.

On the flip side, over the course of the last 18 months I have been subjected to what can only be described as a cacophony of abuse. I have been called a murderer, a cunt, people have wished me dead, I’ve even been compared to Harold Shipman (maybe I should shave). Selfish, stupid, conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, the list goes on. Personal insults on my looks and appearance have also been rife.

Twitter unfortunately is another example of modern technology being abused and perpetuating the non-real persona some parts of society possess. Faceless accounts have relentlessly bombarded me with accusations and insults. There have been accounts which are from what look like genuine individuals, even from doctors which have retorted in a way which clarifies to me – these people are caught in a digital mindset where no one is ‘real’. I standby every one of my tweets and would not write anything down I would not be prepared to say in real life (probably a learning from my day job in Finance).

So, my question is, how is this acceptable or allowed? I have a thick skin and can easily shake off comments devoid of any humility or humanity, but what about those individuals who are perhaps more sensitive? We have sadly seen all too often the effects of abuse on social media where young people with everything to live for have found it too much. These faceless bullies and cowards have no comeuppance at all, except maybe a temporary Twitter ban – hardly a punishment to fit the crime.

There are methods for reporting abuse by contacting the police and I’m aware that laws are changing – not a moment too soon. However, to those individuals who behave in such a way – what are you gaining? What is your end game? How would you feel if it was one of your family members receiving the abuse? Of course, these questions are all apparently rhetorical as I have learned that modern society does not seem to like healthy debate, it would prefer to shut down those with opposing views.

A couple of months into voicing my opinions, I took the decision to change my name to a pseudonym for fear of the Twitter trolls searching for my name on Google. Although this has gone against any of my beliefs, it was the right decision looking back with full knowledge of the abuse I have received. One day I hope to be able to speak openly and I look forward to it immensely.

Someone once wrote, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”, maybe we could all benefit from taking this into consideration before desecrating someone for their love of Malbec. 

Jenny Rickson is on Twitter here.