24 May 2021 | OPINION
Running for Mayor of Greater Manchester was fun. I did not expect to win, so was not disappointed. I worked full-time on my campaign and gave it everything. I give every opportunity my all, for that is how success is achieved. I never take my foot off the accelerator. I am my best friend and my harshest critic.
I did not receive much negative attention during my campaign. I had a fairly easy ride, considering Reform UK was the Brexit Party. Some people are still fighting the memory of this war over our EU membership. I did not have online trolls trying to destroy me. They probably thought better of it, after my successful online battle last year. Bullies tend not to pick on people who fight back – cowards.
I was expecting my criticism of BLM to be used as ‘anti-racist bullets’ to try to bring me down. But BLM is now tarnished and is no longer a force in the UK. No attacks were forthcoming on any topic or issue. I like to think it is because I am a decent person who put forward a positive, common-sense view – but I could be wrong. I could just have been seen as a ‘nobody’ and not worth confronting.
I am not saying I did not receive any criticism. I had many people who disagreed with me and were opposed to my views and policies. This is called democracy. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and no-one is above critical analysis – as it should be. Good ideas can stand the test of scrutiny from others. I do not profess to know everything, or to be completely correct in all my views. I am willing to learn.
I was surprised at how the small number of insignificant insults affected me. Little things that were probably throwaway comments from people I did not know. Insults and remarks that were not trying to make a political point, but were anti-social in nature. It was these little things that sometimes hit an existing nerve. The flaws that we already know exist within ourselves and are in need of self-improvement.
I am a man who takes my responsibilities seriously. I use feedback from family and friends to help me stay on the right path and avoid being corrupted by the system. I listen to my staff at the charity I founded. They repeat the concerns of people left behind in our communities. I read and I watch documentaries. I talk to people I do not agree with. I try hard to be better than I am. I try to be the person I wish I could be. A better version of me.
Reading negative comments about yourself is difficult. Emotionally challenging. Psychologically damaging. We forget we are social creatures and designed to take heed of what people we know say. It is how we influence individuals for the greater good. It is how we create harmony. It is how we created society.
Imagine that I was walking down the street. A stranger approaches me and says my forehead is so huge that pilots could use it as a runway. Would I take it seriously? No, of course not. I would think they were crazy and walk away as quick as I could. So why is a comment on social media different and not processed in the same manner?
We look upon social media as a friend, a confidant, a gateway to the people we know and love. We put ourselves on these social platforms to be engaged. We crave validation. We check our ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ to judge our worth, our self-worth and our societal worth – arbitrary measurement that we are not accustomed to. If we accept the praise and adulation, then should we take the criticism and rejection seriously?
Social media is a cruel mistress of shallow pleasure. It may be doing more harm than good. We will get the results of this experiment in another decade.
I started my online campaign with one protocol: to engage with me online was a privilege. I would offer everyone this privilege until abused. The consequence of non-compliance would be the removal of that privilege – I would simply block anti-social people. I do not wish to engage with individuals who contravene basic rules of public discourse.
Disagreement is fine. Telling me I am wrong is fine. Offering no evidence supporting your opinion is fine. But I would draw the line at posts that referred to me as a racist, fascist, ugly, evil and Nazi. This is purely anti-social behaviour. I should know – I have 2 decades of experience in tackling such delinquency across Greater Manchester. Fortunately for me, not many people broke our societal norm of respect.
Some did, though. It was very frustrating for me not to respond and challenge such behaviour. But common sense told me it was pointless and exactly the reaction they hoped for. My reaction would validate their initial comment, for in reality, they were fishing for a bite. You cannot beat idiots at their game. You have to resist playing or risk becoming an idiot yourself. Non-engagement starves the game of the oxygen of publicity, which is their ultimate manna.
But this does not stop the hurt when reading comments. The hurt can be avoided if you refuse to read the comments. Or if you view the individuals commenting as damaged goods and in need of help. Anti-social behaviour is directly related to unhappiness and low self-worth. Lashing out at ‘others’ can be a coping mechanism for one’s own failures and inadequacies.
I now have an understanding of how people can suffer from having an online presence. It is a narcotic, for it offers pleasure – instant, meaningless pleasure. There is no joy without pain. A constant barrage of negativity erodes the very foundation of who you feel you are. It does not surprise me that some succumb to suicide. Our internal moral compass can become corrupted. We can mistakenly believe the comments are from people who care about us – they are not. In such circumstances, it is not a huge leap to feeling that society would be better off without you. Tragic.
This article is not a cry for help. I have not been damaged by the handful of anti-social comments directed at me during my campaign. My moral compass is working perfectly. I know this to be true, for I had to make a change to my actions. I found myself reposting anti-social comments if they related to my opponent. It felt wrong when I did it, but I ignored the feeling. I told myself that my action was different, for I had not composed the post – I was only sharing it. Freedom of speech. One evening, a nagging voice inside informed me that I was a disappointment. I knew it instantly – I felt shame. I was fully conscious of my actions while performing them. So I made a change: I stopped doing what I knew to be wrong and immoral. And for doing so in the first place, I apologise.
If we wish to change the world for the better, then the starting point should always be with oneself. Be in no doubt about it: it will be the hardest challenge you will ever face.