27 August: Anti-Social Media?

This is the full-fat version of the Column which appeared in last week’s (21st Aug) Motor Sports News …

I once contributed to an on-line rally forum. Only once. I had submitted what I thought was an insightful, informative clarification about a topic that was obviously causing some hiatus amongst the forum members. All I did was point out the facts, and offered them up for wider consideration and discussion.

The resultant vitriol put me off for life. Folk who obviously couldn’t write but were able to stab fingers on a keypad, numpties who couldn’t think for themselves but responded to stimulus, and idiots who knew nothing about the workings of the sport vented their collective spleens on my carefully crafted piece of written artwork.

Had I not been so thick-skinned it would have scarred me for life. As it was, it put me off forums. For sure there were a few supportive texts and agreeable comments, but recent harrowing tales highlighted on the national news regarding teenagers who are being bullied – and worse – on un-regulated forums have highlighted just how bad ‘freedom of expression’ can be.

Nothing on the motor sport forums is ever that bad, but how many other decent and knowledgeable folk who have experiences to share, knowledge to disseminate and stories to tell are put off by the numpties who ruin it for the rest. It’s folk like these who keep sense and sensibility off the forums.

Yes, some of them are quite funny, and some of them are well meant, and whilst we all like opinions and welcome other views, those who don’t think before they electronically venture forth waste this valuable free resource.

What they have failed to realise is that that ignorance, stupidity and insults are putting off even more folk from joining the discussions and making such forums a genuine meeting place for like-minded souls who have the interests of our sport at heart. That’s why you see the same names cropping up again, and again, and again. Maybe it’s because it’s the only place they actually get a public voice and can say what they like – because no-one will listen to them at an event, club meeting or in the pub.

Most of these folk are bullies, hiding behind the anonymity of nicknames. Perhaps one standard rule should be that proper names are used at all times on all such forums. At least you know who to punch in the face at the next event! Sorry, violence never solved anything.

Last weekend for instance, great praise was heaped justifiably on the organisers of the two-day Solway Coast Rally festival, while the organisers came in for unjustified criticism and condemnation for Sunday’s Tyneside Stages at Otterburn because of a few wee time schedule errors. We all make mistakes, even me, but on the subject of running rallies, anyone can run a good rally, it’s when things go wrong that the true measure of an organising team can be measured, and nether event could be faulted at the end of each day’s sport.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘engage brain before opening mouth’, it’s the same with the internet, critics should employ some form of mental launch-control before setting off on a rant.

It used to be that the Letters Page of ‘Motor Sports News’ was the place to voice opinions and criticism, but ‘social media’ is now much more instantly accessible. And therein lies the problem. Whereas composing and writing a letter required a modicum of forethought and consideration before entrusting it to Postman Pat, now in these days of instant electronic contact with the world at large, no such forethought is required. Just look at Farcebook for instance.

Forums could and should be a place for sharing ideas, tips and experiences, for debating rules and regulations, and of course for having a laugh, but not at some poor unfortunate’s (like me?) expense. Very few of us are in this sport for money, we’re in it for the fun. Once we lose that, we’ve lost our sport.

Social media? I have another word for it, anti-social media.

And here’s another couple of words – deliberate before you digitate.