I watched with interest this little storm in a Twitter teacup this morning. (I couldn’t bring myself to write Tweacup. Oh, look, I just did.)
To be honest, I found the whole thing pretty disquieting.
Now, generally speaking I wear a poppy. Even when I don’t, I still give to Poppy Appeal at this time of year. I do not lack respect for what the poppies stand for.
But the attacks levelled at Poundland today through social media really disturbed me. “People died for your freedom!” (to be told what to do by a baying mob). “I bet you’d let a Muslim wear a turban!” (Actual, distressingly bigoted and hilariously inaccurate statement on the Poundland Facebook Page that betrayed what, for this man at least, the argument was really all about).
I rarely talk about my faith, or my beliefs, or anything else that is largely a private matter, but I can tell you this: if my work uniform policy told me I couldn’t wear a symbol of support for something that is personal to me, I wouldn’t think twice about removing it. Because symbols are only external props; they do not take away what’s within. And what’s within can also be kept private; not wearing a poppy is not an act of disrespect.
When it comes to charity symbols, I think that they’re a perfectly valid and enjoyable fundraising tool: from badges and pins to Twibbons, people like a way to indicate their adherence to a particular cause and in our private lives I think it’s lovely that we have that opportunity. But, as grateful as I am to generations of soldiers, I don’t see why one symbol should be an exception when others are not. Poundland’s policy was simply to have their chosen charities’ symbols visible, but no others.
To many, the moral of today is that if you kick up a righteous stink, your wishes will be granted. And that’s true. But, at the risk of sounding like Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. When we march upon anyone waving our pitchforks over something like this, how long before it all stops being taken seriously at all? I can’t help feeling that if Poundland had dug their heels in, everyone would have forgotten about it shortly anyway (and, really, if they hadn’t gone making statements about it in the first place hardly anyone outside Lisburn would have heard of the story), and they would have discovered that it might not have been as big a crisis as they thought.
I really love that people power has been given a new lease of life through social channels. I just think that when you compare this to using social channels to organise a revolution, we might want to think about whether we’re mindlessly abusing the privilege – and whether we’ll be the Tweeters that cry wolf.