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Is there a place for language duelling on social platforms?

I came across this particular question when looking online for things to write about, and thought this would be incredibly interesting to explore. In the past, when two people would have a disagreement, you could settle it via a duel. That is now significantly outdated as people tend not to carry deadly weapons with them. It is interesting however that social platforms - particularly Twitter and Facebook are used and it is becoming more and more frequent.

Of course the rise in language duelling makes sense. Why? Well, according to Statista in July 2020 there were 4.57 billion internet users with a huge 3.96 billion people who are active social media users. This is fantastic in terms of bringing everyone closer together from all corners of the world, ensuring families and friends stay connected wherever they are in the world and helping entrepreneurs. It is dangerous however because language is a powerful tool, it is used to fuel hate (we only have to look at Donald Trump's twitter, especially during the 2016 Presidential Election) and because language is a powerful tool, using language in a certain why does disproportionately target the liberties of minorities (particularly used by right wing extremists.)

Language duelling is yet to have a definition, but one can infer it is a new concept that will be used more and more frequently. The reason why goes back to people ‘sorting out’ disagreements with each other via duelling, but now those arguments have transferred to being online. The body of words one constructs is the new deadly weapon. But does this have a place on social platforms? This is something I am torn on.

The reason why I wanted to write this piece was because of something I saw on Twitter, and that was a exchange of words between Conservative MP Johnny Mercer and Peter Hitchens, over a comment made by someone making a comment that appears to be confused as to how Britain won the Battle of Waterloo, because during a pandemic said person is apparently disgusted by people wearing face masks on a train. To me, Peter Hitchens attack on Johnny Mercer about his career before being an MP shows a huge amount of disrespect. And that is one of the problems with language duelling - the lack of respect and unfortunate consequences which follow (as explained further on.)

Language duelling on social platforms is the way forward, as it helps to provide a space for freedom of speech, enabling us to learn from one another (if you’re open minded enough). It’s safer (I use this term very loosely, I explain why in the next paragraph) but ultimately it is safer because people are not killing each other, over the pettiest of arguments. It is also the way forward because of how many people are signing up to social media, the online community is huge.

On the other hand, no. I am aware that is a rather bold thing to say, however people seem to forget several things; what goes on the internet - stays on the internet which can have consequences like being fired from a job and what happens when disagreements get personal? This is why I had in the previous paragraph I underlined the word safer. Social platforms are breeding grounds for mental health to deteriorate, increasing levels of anxiety and depression which can, in the most unfortunate cases lead to suicide.

The next point I wanted to raise in regard to language duelling on social platforms is the use of it by elected representatives. Above I briefly raised the most recent dispute I could think of (Johnny Mercer and Peter Hitchins) as it raises genuine questions and concerns. Is it time we revised the role of elected representatives, because yes in Parliament a MP represents their constituents but on social platforms what do MPs do then? How far is their social platform their own? To me, MPs getting into Twitter spats is incredibly unprofessional yet it seems to be a recurring theme with the 2019 cohort from both the Conservative and Labour Party.

So how do we go about it? It is a tricky one, because like most things we are now experiencing in the modern world, there is no set precedent. We do have to ask ourselves, what do we want social platforms to be used for? In a piece I have previously written on Artificial Intelligence and a book review on The Reality Game by Samuel Woolley, I have discussed the need for people to use their power to shape how technology affects our lives, and it is the same for social media. In an ideal world, social platforms would be perfect but we live in the real world. Ultimately, language duelling does have a place on social platforms but users need to be more considerate of how language is used.

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