Online Spaces and looking beyond what you see

At the last general election, voter turnout was down on what it had been in 2017. For anyone who had been following the election since it was called at the end of October, this might have come as a shock. In the weeks leading up to the election there had been talk of unprecedented levels of voter registration. On the day of the election there was even talk of a “youth quake”, and endless lines of people showing up to vote. There was even hope that Labour might be on the cusp of claiming electoral victory. Unfortunately, this was far from true.

It would be easy to be confused by this. There are photos of queues stretching out with what seems like record numbers of people, all of them eager to vote. And yet the final numbers are undeniable; less people voted in 2019 than 2017.

Since its invention, the world wide web has allowed countless millions of people from around the world to communicate with each other. Because of this, its easy to miss just how limited the internet truly is.

Social media today is set up so that you don’t have to hear from anyone you don’t want to. On Facebook you can choose to only interact with friends or people/pages you follow. On twitter you can mute people so that you are prevented from seeing what they say. As an aside; it should be noted that these tools are good. They can protect you from harassment, and help you maintain your mental health. The problem isn’t necessarily social media, or curating your feed however.

The problem is forgetting that social media is only a window to the wider world. Like all windows, it can only show you a limited view.

My early interactions with trans twitter are a perfect example of this. Almost all of the trans people I followed in my early days on twitter were binary, female, and white. There was nothing wrong with the people I followed being any of these things but, the fact that they were pretty much all of these things meant that I was only exposing myself to a fraction of our wonderful community. There were so many insightful, powerful voices that were invisible to me during this time.

A limited understanding of a community means that my understanding of the problems which face that community. Sure, I could tell you about some of the problems facing trans women back then. But I couldn’t begin to tell you what trans people of colour go through, and I was equally as unaware of the struggles faced by trans masculine people specifically, or what it is like to be non-binary. These are perspectives that can only be understood by people by people who don’t belong to those communities by seeking out their voices, and listening to them.

Doing this isn’t just essential to understanding the problems that various members of our community have to go through, it is also crucial to fixing them. Combating transphobia and other forms of bigotry to make our lives and the lives of those who follow us better is something that will take everyone working together. The alternative is becoming isolated in the very space we should be reaching out. It risks causing harm to the very people we should be joining with against those who would wish harm on all of us.

The result of the 2019 election caught many people unawares, myself included. Even when I considered the possibility of Boris Johnson winning I didn’t think he would do it with the large majority of seats that he now commands.

lThis surprise came because social media was used as the whole picture, rather than what it should be. Just one (important) tool in improving our understanding of the world. If trans people are to avoid being caught as unawares as a large part of the electorate was, we need to consider how we use websites like facebook and twitter. We need to reflect on and understand our own personal biases and listen to the people our blind spots might cause us to overlook. If we don’t do that then social media isn’t a window; it’s a wall


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