Is social media really good for communities – or does it fan the flames of hatred

The Mulberry Tree Pub closed last year. Picture: ARCHANT

The Mulberry Tree Pub closed last year. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Anyone who has read my columns over the years will know I have a very mixed view of social media.

While I enjoy using Twitter, I am aware that the explosion in the various social media platforms has led to the opening of a Pandora’s Box of bile and hateful comments.

There’s a temptation to ignore them – but occasionally you get the urge to bite back.

I found out about this the other day when I challenged the well-known columnist Owen Jones after one of his regular Tweets complaining about “The British Media.”

My point was that “The British Media” is not a homogenous body. It’s a bit rich to lump a left-wing columnist writing for the Guardian or the New Statesman together with Boris Johnson and using that to criticise a whole profession – let alone the thousands of regional news journalists finding out the kind of information that makes local communities tick.

After putting up this post, I suddenly got responses from Rotherham, Somerset and Scotland telling me I was a capitalist lacky only writing what my proprietor told me to write!

To be honest that didn’t bother me – at least I got a response, however ill-informed. But I can understand why some MPs and other people in the public eye have withdrawn from social media after receiving a barrage of very unpleasant responses.

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Twitter is a medium that has to be treated with care – but I seem to be able to cope with it.

I am more disturbed by some of what appears on other platforms – and the ability this seems to have to bring out the worst in people.

This week there has been controversy over the proposal to turn the Mulberry Tree pub near Major’s Corner into a community centre.

The Nawracy Cultural Centre, which is based at an address in London, has put in a planning application for a change of use to Ipswich council – saying it wants to convert it into a community centre.

The application does not mention using it as a mosque. A place of worship requires a different planning permission to a community centre. But a video has appeared on Youtube describing the proposal as the “Ipswich Mosque” and that has got some people very upset.

It’s fair to say those behind The Nawracy Cultural Centre haven’t done themselves any favours. By making an application for a community centre and then issuing a video saying they want to build a mosque they have given their opponents an excuse to claim they are not being entirely straight.

Also they have not engaged with local people – they have not responded to our requests to speak to them and I understand council officials have also had difficulty in making contact.

That isn’t helpful – although maybe I can understand some of their reluctance to engage given the really unpleasant racist and Islamophobic comments that have been posted about the application on social media.

Some sites seem to be fanning the flames of sectarian hatred by claiming that every Muslim is an Islamic extremist and potential terrorist.

That is a travesty of a religion based on hospitality and care for fellow human beings – a religion based on the same God as Christianity and Judaism.

Some extremists who claim to be Muslims seek justification for their beliefs in religious texts. But there are also fairly extreme texts in the Christian Bible, particularly the Old Testament, that have been used by some fundamentalists to justify some barbaric behaviour.

To try to suggest that a new mosque in Ipswich will be nest of terrorists trying to convert the town to an alien religion is like suggesting that churches are all full of Christian fundamentalists hearing nothing but tales of fire and brimstone. That is daft.

It was interesting that one of the most vocal supporters of the proposed new use for the Mulberry Tree has come from local vicar Rev Andrew Dotchin, who probably knows more about Faith than all the opponents put together!

The actions of the applicants have put the planning committee who will eventually decide the application in a difficult position – it remains to be seen if there will be any amendments.

Don’t forget they approved the conversion of the former Odeon opposite the Mulberry Tree into a church earlier this year.

But I can’t see that the use of social media has done anything other than pour petrol on the flames of this whole issue.

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