OPINION - We’re all trapped in an internet re-education camp and it’s melting our brains

 (Mark Harrison)
(Mark Harrison)

Does Brexit make you sick to your stomach, did you secretly love lockdown, while using your extra time on performative dissertations on social media, imagining yourself as an expert epidemiologist while delighting in shaming anyone you perceived to be questioning social distancing or masks? Do you despise Boris Johnson for daring to consider the economy might be as important as the lives of people over 86? Are you definitely right about everything, so sure in fact that you often make highly presumptuous political remarks to passing acquaintances because you are so certain they are middle-class too, so will definitely agree with every opinion you share? Please don’t. I find it nauseating.

And of course now, despite a month ago most people not knowing the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, we are now being subjected to armchair polemicists who aren’t exactly over-educated on the finer tensions of the Middle East, who, if we were being really unkind we could say, quite truthfully, wouldn’t be able to point to Gaza on a map, now subjecting us to their own very passionate opinions on who is right, who is wrong and what is needed to solve the conflict on Instagram — #painful.

We have abandoned our critical faculties at the altar of social media where you must declare your side

And it’s strange, because it felt like not that long ago we were trying so hard to focus our accusations on silence is violence and micro-aggressions, whereas now everyone is speaking out, and are suddenly much more understanding of “context” when it comes to some very macro murders. The atrocities on both sides are unbelievably upsetting, but are you certain your opinions are adding value? Have you made your statement on social media yet, spelling out where exactly you, Alan from Muswell Hill, stands on the Israel-Gaza conflict?

And am I alone in fearing that there also might be something socially performative going on, that these iPhone warriors are clumsily trying to convey something important about themselves with these opinions, as well as the news. That opinions have lost something vital, and have now just become tribal, that they are to do with personal identity declarations. And, to take another leap, is it because we have abandoned our critical faculties at the altar of social media where information runs fast and loose and to engage the audience, opinions must be viciously polarising, and you must declare your side.

What worries me is that in our ever-increasingly digital-first world, the more people click on something, the more it proliferates, and so reality becomes distorted, and this is leading to intellectual homogeneity as people trying to make themselves popular in the digital playground instinctively know which opinions have a higher social currency. We seem to have forgotten the value in the ability to hold several opposing ideas concurrently, and the awareness that opinions are inevitably intersectional.

Throw in an unjustified lack of trust in the mainstream media with total credulity when it comes to social media, and everything starts to melt into poorly informed groupthink. That’s why reading a print newspaper is so valuable, because inadvertently your eye will wander to stories the internet, knowing your predilections better than your own mother, would never in a million years serve up to you. But we’re all trapped in an internet re-education camp in our own individual echo chamber doom loops. Welcome to the disinformation wars — and by the way, we’re all complicit.

Elizabeth Debicki (Invision)
Elizabeth Debicki (Invision)

I can't wait for the new series of The Crown

I am unbelievably excited about the launch of series six of The Crown next week, featuring the events around the death of Diana. For those of us in London at the time, 1997 felt like the most exciting time to be alive in the capital. Tony Blair was elected, Patsy and Liam were on the cover of Vanity Fair covered by a Union Jack bedsheet with the headline “London Swings Again” and Diana’s death brought everything to a crescendo. The depiction of London at that time is bound to be electric.

I’m particularly keen to watch Elizabeth Debicki, one of my favourite actresses, portray the magnificently complex Diana.

The ultimate media operator, Diana’s harnessing and manipulation of the press was fascinating. She also had a bewitching hold over the British public. It will be gripping to watch Debicki recreate it all.

As for all the criticism of The Crown I have to say I used to be a republican and the programme has turned me into someone who now admires the royals.

The first four episodes are released on November 16 and the rest on December 14. I’m hoping to save the whole lot as a present to myself for Christmas week. Let’s see if I can resist watching it all early.

Anna van Praagh is the Evening Standard’s chief content officer