Twitter, Brexit & the Cycle of Despair

If we have learnt one thing over the last 2 years of political upheaval and the worldwide sag into right-wing nationalism it's that Twitter can't be trusted.

It's been 9 months since that fateful day where the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and I for one cannot remember a time before it. Anybody who says they can is lying, like people who claim to be able to remember being in the womb. Since then Brexit has constantly churning away in the back of my mind taking up 10% of my mental energy. I can be having a perfectly fine day, having a walk, eating a nice sandwich, the BAM...I remember Brexit. I curl up into the fetal position and start making wailing noises like a cat that's got it's tail trapped in a door. The security staff at the shopping centre put cones around my body, the police are called.

Twitter has not helped this. For the past 9 months my daily use of Twitter has mainly inflicted worry, depression and anxiety about the future of our pathetic country on me. Speculation about the economy being wrecked, about hard-right policies being legitimised, about jobs being lost, about the NHS crashing. Occasionally some clever people will point out an administrative loophole which may stop it all and mean everything will be fine. But that never materialises and Brexit is pushed through, crushing my fragile and ultimately naive dreams. All of these predictions may be true, but does this speculation actually help anyone?

The fact is, the stupid decision has been made, and citing your reservations about it to people who agree with you on social media doesn't help. It makes everyone who agrees feel more defeated and won't change the mind of anyone who disagrees. We still have 2 more years of this to go while the negotiations take place and it will take longer for the effects to be felt. Nobody knows what Brexit will look like and validating each other's fears of the worst doesn't strengthen those on the left, it depresses us, makes us feel beaten, makes resistance seem futile.

Twitter is like any drug. You feel like you need to get a hit, no matter knowing how miserable it will actually make you feel. Even before Brexit it was cesspit of miserable news around the globe and the occasional funny Vine. Now there are no more Vines but a lot more Brexits. Sometimes it's better not to know, to be ignorant to the tragedies. Knowing these things are happening but that you can't change them is a difficult one for your brain to process. The animal brain inside us isn't built to compute this, we are only built to look after ourselves and our immediate family.

Evolving to a point of having empathy for others is a double-edged sword. Never before have we been as aware of the atrocities happening around the world. In reality, we actually live in the most peaceful times ever with technology advancing to the point where most diseases are treatable. And Britain won't turn into a 3rd world country where we have to fight Mad Max-style through a wasteland for the last dregs of fuel post-Brexit. But because of the internet and social media it feels like we are living in a desperate time which is only going to get worse. Hope is in short supply.

'What's happening?' indeed Twitter.

'What's happening?' indeed Twitter.

There is a popular post on The Student Room, picked up by a couple national papers as a hotbed for 'millennial snowflakes' where young people were talking about Brexit making them feel completely broken and sad. It's something that, at least anecdotally, I can see in a lot of people of my generation, like the older generations are deliberately sabotaging the world for us. But again I believe social media is a large contributing factor to this. Most people on social media are young and a lot of the more active users tend to be depressed. It's one big bubble, but we are all to anxious of the consequences to actually pop it. That's a bad metaphor. Please pretend you didn't read that.

I have battled with my moods my whole life. I am very prone to bouts of depression and anxiety which turn me in on myself, sucking out all my energy and appetite for existence. The day that Brexit was announced was possibly one of the most traumatic in my life and I couldn't muster the energy to work for days (luckily I was unemployed at the time). Twitter can become the schizophrenic voice in your head confirming your anxieties. It doesn't take much for me to be convinced that there is no point in trying. While it doesn't cause me to go into a downward spiral, it certainly facilitates and speeds the process up. Depression is on the rise in our generation due to our sedentary lifestyles and the isolation of the modern working worlds. The people you follow on Twitter and the pages you like on Facebook act not only as a means of solidifying your political beliefs, but also as a means trapping you in a negative state of mind.

And while in theory it should be simple to just break out the habit of using social media, it's not that easy. Once social media is part of your life, cutting it out is like losing a limb. We use our online profiles to define ourselves, to present a version of ourselves to the world that we can't do in the real world. Maybe it's just matter of shutting down all references to politics in my feed, or just following delusional pro-Brexit people and tricking myself into thinking it's all a good thing. I might change my avatar to Pepe the Frog or a picture of myself wearing a Meninist t-shirt. I might even start re-tweeting Piers Morgan saying “I don't always agree with him but he's not afraid to speak his mind”, like that's a noble thing to do. The world's my oyster. Well most of it. Not Europe.

It's going to be a long 2 years. See you on the other side.