GUEST COLUMNIST: Is social media killing off our community spirit, asks Graham Parker

Graham Parker.
Graham Parker.

As a PR professional I’m well aware of the value of social media. I make use of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest to assist my clients.

I’m also well aware of the dangers of misusing it when promoting a company, organisation, event or place. There is a litany of case studies showing us all how not to do social media and learn the lessons of others’ mistakes. Of late I’ve become more concerned about a wider danger that social media seems to encourage – the malaise of negativity and apathy and the possibility that it is eating away at the community spirit in Mansfield.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter give people the opportunity to sit behind a PC or laptop and take pops at anything and everything. It seems that the relative anonymity of a social media account encourages people to want to pull things down instead of making positive contributions to our communities.

Time and again I log on to see comment after comment taking a side swipe at anything related to Mansfield, its people and the surrounding area to the point where it almost becomes a feeding frenzy for negativity.

There is plenty that could be better in our town, equally there is plenty that could be a hell of a lot worse, but it’s the downside that many of the social media commentators seem to not only focus on but actively encourage others to see as well; blinkering them to the positives at the same time.

Isolated comments and pictures are taken out of context and used as evidence that Mansfield is the worst place on earth to live, bring up children, go shopping – you name it, they will drag it down.

These snippets are thrown out to the hungry for destruction so their appetites can be satiated – but to what good end? All this does is foster more damaging views and perceptions about the area, crushes the spirit and lessens further the chance of something positive being done about whatever problems we may be facing.

Don’t misunderstand me, if something needs bringing to light and action taking to sort things out or create a solution then you can count me in. I have been fortunate enough to be involved with some incredible community actions that have not only brought about real change and made a difference, they have also instilled a sense of civic pride in those that have been involved.

I have seen hundreds of local people get off their backsides and contribute to making Mansfield a better place to live.

I see businesses giving up their time to assist students in schools, local people volunteering to work on nature reserves, charity fundraising of all sorts, Scooterists doing annual Easter Egg runs to Kings Mill Hospital and projects like the Mansfield’s Heroes Memorial receiving support from literally thousands of people from our district.

So when I see people on sites like Mansfield Uncovered harping on about the smallest thing that is supposed to indicate how rubbish the town is, or how crass the services are, I’m left wondering if any of them would ever take the initiative and commit to some positive action themselves?

Last year I wrote to Mansfield District Council’s Parks Department about the overgrown trees on Sheepbridge Lane that were restricting the view of pedestrians and drivers crossing the road at the junction with Western Ave. MDC quite quickly forwarded the email to the Highways Department of Nottinghamshire County Council as it was their responsibility. A year on and no action had been taken to prevent a potentially fatal accident occurring.

Now I could have logged on to Facebook and Twitter to whine and gripe about it,but instead I spent an hour cutting back the trees so that a clear view of oncoming traffic is now possible. Granted I should not have had to do that, the County Council should have made sure it was safe to use the road at that junction – but for reasons best known to them, cutbacks no doubt being one of them, it did not happen.

So what was my choice; to sit there and wait to be proven right that someone had been killed or to spend a relatively short part of my life making a contribution that could prevent an accident taking place? This country has a fantastic history of individuals and its communities pulling together for the greater good, which is why it grieves me so much to see so much negativity on social media sites.

It’s so easy to complain about how wrong everything is, but it’s equally as easy to stop moaning and do something positive – go on, try it – you never know you might enjoy it.