Plea to show some respect on social media

Social media has revolutionised communication and interaction with friends and public figures. It has become the primary way in which many people read local and national news and engage with elected representatives. This opens politics up in an exciting way to people who have previously not chosen to be involved and whose voices would otherwise not be heard.

It can be likened to the Trade Union Movement which changed the making of public policy from something done by those in power who often had a wealthy background to a ‘power to the people’ situation where strength of feeling from the masses could be demonstrated.

Social media enables grass roots petitions to gather thousands of signatures, forcing parliamentary debate, it allows powerful poetry inspired by social injustice to ’go viral’ like Hollie McNish’s statement about breastfeeding, and it prevents the silencing of Iceland/Greenpeace’s Christmas ad which was banned from TV but has been watched by millions on YouTube.

However, it doesn’t come without a cost. We all know a ‘keyboard warrior’ or two, who are rude and abusive from the safety of their lounge in a way that they would never speak to anyone face to face. We also know personally how easy it is to share a meme or funny photo without thinking first of how embarrassed or ashamed the person who is the subject of that photo might be. For me, there are politicians who lend themselves so easily to that type of ‘share’ but I try to remember that it’s their policies that I want to critique and I don’t need to stoop to playground insults to highlight what I disagree with.

In fact, often the advice that I give to my children is the very same advice that I need to follow on social media: “don’t call people names”, “show respect even if you disagree with someone”, “think before you speak”, and, crucially, “would you like it if someone said that to you?”

As the councillor for Beeston, Holbeck and Cottingley Hall I want the opportunity to hear from all the people that I represent. I want to make sure that I represent everyone, not just those who think like me. In an attempt to do this I have been part of all the local groups that I am aware of and have been invited to join on social media. All three of the councillors for this area participate in regular online ‘surgeries’ on Facebook groups that are open to all residents – scheduling a regular time (every other Wednesday evening) when we will be available to answer questions from anyone on anything that matters to you.

Occasionally these tackle topics that are contentious, where feelings run high due to opposing interests eg landlord licensing – some residents want higher standards to be enforced to protect tenants living in appalling conditions, others fear that high costs will affect their income from their properties which is their livelihood. These different stances can be discussed with real depth of feeling but retain a respectful tone.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. When comments move from discussion of the topic and even our handling of it (which is of course fair game for discussion) and turn into simple abuse alongside untruthful statements about the work that we do, where we live and whether we care, the value of the discussion is nullified and nothing fruitful can be achieved. So much time, energy and emotion can be wasted in these places that can be much better used in engaging with other people or even, in my experience, the same people face-to-face. For this reason, there will now be discussion spaces that I opt out of but I will still be available online or in person to anyone in this ward.

Additionally, whilst I am fairly thick-skinned and am able to choose to keep working with people and for people despite the abuse, this is not a precedent that I am prepared to accept. Politicians, journalists and other public figures should always be open-minded but should not be silenced by bullying tactics. Online abuse of public figures, private individuals and groups or children is no better than face-to-face abuse and it is not the way that we should interact. If there is anything to be learnt from the ‘British Values’ that are being promoted in schools and elsewhere, it is that our best can be achieved when we behave with dignity and respect for each other, especially when we disagree.


This post was written by Cllr Andrew Scopes.


3 Replies to “Plea to show some respect on social media”

  1. Thanks Andrew, good piece. There’s plenty for us all to disagree about: that makes for good democracy. But when we lose sight of one another’s humanity, it takes us in the opposite direction. Onwards.

  2. Well said, Andrew. I’m a leedsface admin and we face constant abuse from people who have been banned from the group, or even just had a post removed!

    The world has gone mad!

  3. On the other side of the coin, I can really understand why so many people in South Leeds, in particular most of LS11 and the part of LS10 adjoining LS11, are so frustrated and angry with local councillors. As you will read below, and already know, these particular areas of South Leeds are having a hell of a time, with things only getting worse when HS2 hits, whilst the local councillors do nothing.

    Firstly, dealing with the whole of South Leeds, nobody in a massive part of LS10/11 feels safe walking the streets at night, areas which used to be quiet are now unsafe, why aren’t our local councillors putting pressure on the police, the council, and the government to sort it? Yes police resources are stretched, however if the posher parts of North Leeds had the same issues then I bet the police would be all over the place like a rash until it was sorted! Why are local residents having to play detective on Facebook with images from expensive personal CCTV systems, why isn’t Leeds City Council installing CCTV? They have no money but can afford to install arty farty projects such as a set of legs in City Square! Bet they’ll find their contribution to that stupid land Lighthouse project as well!

    Why are many in South Leeds having to put up with so many dangerous motorists, particularly at night? Would frequent dangerous speeding be tolerated in posh parts of North Leeds? I bet the council would be quick to sort it out! But we’re only common people from South Leeds so we don’t matter.

    Why are South Leeds bus services so bad? Yes the council doesn’t have responsibility for them, however our councillors could do so much more, including gathering evidence on missed and late journeys to submit to the VOSA who have the power to call First bosses into a public enquiry, the sanctions of which can go as far as licence revocation. Councillors, take note, employers will only tolerate so much lateness from employees before things get serious! Also take note roads in South Leeds aren’t big enough for all the drivers on them, but crap, slow, late and missing bus services won’t help that issue any time soon, only make it worse so you need to get on the ball and put First under real pressure! If that makes you look like a bully, well do you know what, First have taken the mick with peoples lives in the name of profit so need a kicking!

    People in a large part of Holbeck and Beeston are having to cope with the so called ‘managed zone’ becoming very unmanaged into residential streets, streets where families with children live! One local councillor thinks the ‘managed zone’ should be kept going and has totally ignored ALL evidence from her own constituents that it clearly is unsafe, has become wildly unmanaged, will lead to local women and children being put into dangerous situations etc. And you wonder why people in her ward are super angry!

    This HS2 project is yet another thing a large swathe of South Leeds is having to cope with. Who will benefit from much of Hunslet getting smashed to pieces, cut up, heavily disrupted for years whilst it’s being built? I doubt it’ll be many from South Leeds unless they are lucky enough to work on the project, and to be blunt, I doubt the contractor will employ all that many locals, preferring to take on one set of employees for the whole section of the project. However, I can see Mr Posh from North Leeds being pleased with his extra 20 minute saving! Our local councillors haven’t been at all vocal about any of this, choosing to sit back, but I bet if this rail line was proposed to cut through North Leeds, I bet the council would soon stop it!

    Finally, why are all the park and ride sites in South Leeds? Why don’t you hear local councillors objecting to the latest one (Stourton) like locals want them to! North Leeds has big traffic jams, so too does West Leeds, and parts of East Leeds not within easy reach of Temple Green so why don’t the council dump a few park and ride sites in these areas?

Comments are closed.