Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 30.1.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.                                                                                                             
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • With - surprise, surprise - no EU policy forthcoming, Spain gets tougher on immigration, says El País here.
  • Whatever Spanish laws exist on the reporting on crimes and sensational events, they seem to be honoured more in the breach than the observance. 'Feeding frenzy' is the phrase that springs to mind. The estimable Matthew Bennett takes up this issue here, in the context of the little boy who fell down a deep well and was - not to my surprise - found to be dead when the miners finally reached him. As MB says: Where Spain differs from other countries is perhaps in the degree to which such constant media coverage seems to know almost no ethical bounds, whether the medium is broadcast, online, social or mobile. . . .   If there is a national lesson to be learned from this new tragedy, perhaps it is that, if the media are not willing to exercise more self-control, politicians should come up with a way to do so. Victims and their families deserve that dignity and respect. Who could disagree?
  • Gibraltar: As you'd expect, trouble ahead.
  • Galicia boasts 36% of Spain's abandoned villages, 40% of the national total of e empty properties. You can find them on the internet, somewhere.
The UK and Brexit
  • Says someone: The UK parliament has voted for a unicorn option but the EU doesn't believe in unicorns. 
  • Says someone else: Nothing has changed. Plan B is Plan A with a wig on.
  • Richard North this morning: There's a conundrum: what does Mrs May think she is doing? As I think I said the other day, the answer might be, as RN himself puts it: She will return to parliament and tell MPs how sorry she is. "I tried my best", she will say, "but the EU says 'no'". Her basic message to parliament will be: "Over to you". The same choice then awaits them: the Withdrawal Agreement or a no-deal. But it will be parliament that makes the decision. She is but the obedient servant, doing her best to execute parliament's will. 
  • Me: So, more games, self-exculpation and responsibility-shifting for failure.+
The EU and Brexit
  • The betting is now on a 3 month extension of the Article 50 deadline.
  • But, if there is, indeed, a No Deal Brexit, British pensioners, tourists and students in Spain will lose free healthcare as of 29 March, says the UK Government guidelines. See here.
  • Here's what the Spanish government says on this.
  • At Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer, 4th quarter profit was all but wiped out because of restructuring costs linked to Trump’s trade battles and the impact of EU retaliatory tariffs.
  • Speaking of Fart . . . My friend Eamon in La Coruña captured him on a recent visit to Pontevedra:-

Social Media
  • See the trenchant article below. How much longer can this go on? 
  • Here's an example of a word which suddenly takes off and takes the place of previous acceptable words and then disappears from sight. From a  TV ad:- Qatar: Curated for you.
  • From Private Eye's Pseuds Corner, English at its creative best:-

Finally . . 
  • Here's a sentence from the web page of an estate agent, about a flat in my mother's community:- Montrose court has an excellent range of amenities, including a salacious communal lounge, dining room, lifts to all floors, carpark and 24 hour on-site manager. As all readers will know, 'salacious' is defined as: 'Having or conveying undue or inappropriate interest in sexual matters'. I wonder if this is why the manager is on-site for 24 hours. Doesn't want to miss any of the fun.

Let's call social media what it is - an evil that must be stopped: Allison Pearson

After years of scrolling through stories about man’s inhumanity to man (and women and children), I thought I was pretty unshockable, desensitised even. Then I started researching the character of a teenage girl in my novel How Hard Can It Be? Emily is self-harming, but her parents haven’t noticed. That is partly because they are preoccupied with their own stressful lives.

It’s also because their sixteen-year-old daughter is extremely good at hiding it and tells her mum and dad to “Back off” whenever they come too close. The main reason Emily and girls like her can keep their painful secret, though, is because the older generation simply hasn’t got a clue about self-harming andthe DIY lessons in that cruel practice which their vulnerable children can access so easily on social media.

To give you just one warped example I came across, when the One Direction star Zayn Malik quit the band in 2015, a hashtag started trending #Cut4Zayn. The idea seemed to be that girls could assuage their sorrow in some kind of communal blood-letting. If they searched for #Cut4Zayn or expressed upset or anxiety over his departure, a helpful algorithm would soon direct those tearful teenagers to pro-self-harm websites.

What the hell is a pro-self-harm website? You may well ask. I didn’t know such a grotesque thing was possible, but I soon found out as my research saw me ensnared in that sticky web of images and aspirational lifestyles where my daughter and her friends live out a large part of their lives. Yesterday, out of curiosity, I Googled self harm and Pinterest and up popped, “104 Best Self Harm Images”.

Best in what sense exactly? How can a picture of a tearful young woman, her thighs cross-hatched with cuts, actually be highly recommended on a social media site? Women my age who think Pinterest is just a handy pinboard for pictures of fashionable interiors and scrumptious cupcakes are living in a dream world.

Pinterest meant something quite different to Molly Russell. A wonderful fourteen-year-old girl, Molly looked at images of self-harm on the site before she took her own life in 2017. I can hardly write what follows without furious tears forming in my eyes: Pinterest sent Molly a personalised email a month after she died containing images of self-harm. One featured a gruesome image of a girl who had self-harmed which was captioned, “I can’t tell you how many times I wish I was dead.”

Allow that to sink in for a moment. A beloved child, aided and abetted by social media, has taken her precious young life and one of the sites which may well have provided the inspiration sends her a handy round-up of horrors. “Hi Molly, We notice you are interested in self-harm. Here are many more imaginative ways in which you can mutilate yourself!”

Evil is a word that has fallen out of use. A bit too black and white, too judgmental for these godless times. But we can surely detect the devil in the detail of these internet sites which agitate teenagers with unattainable images of perfect lives and then, when they type in “lonely” or “depressed”, direct them to instructions on how to maim or murder themselves. It’s diabolical, that’s what it is.

“I have no doubt Instagram helped kill my daughter,” says Molly Russell’s father Ian. The family with three daughters, who live in Harrow, North West London, had no idea anything was wrong with young Molly, who loved horse-riding and sailing and had just landed the lead role in the school production of The Fantastic Mr Fox.

Ian Russell doesn’t believe Molly intended to kill herself when she went up to bed that November night. “It was her middle sister’s birthday the day after her body was discovered. Being such a caring soul, she would never have planned that.” He thinks Molly used her phone to log onto Instagram, the photo-sharing app, where algorithms encouraged her to view more and more distressing material.

If you or I google sheepskin slippers, whatever internet sites we use will bombard us with images of slippers. Annoying, yes, but essentially harmless. If girls like Molly do a search on “sad” or “depressed” the same algorithm will show them more and more posts on self-harm and even suicide. It’s easy to see how a teenager alone in her bedroom, doubts and fears crowding in, could be triggered by seductively macabre pictures of girls her own age.

Facebook executive Steve Hatch said that Molly’s was “a difficult story to read”. Confronted with print-outs of posts from Facebook-owned Instagram showing graphic photos of self-harm, Hatch said, “We’d have to make sure that we look at these and ensure that those are taken down if they are against our policies”.

Making sure “we look at those” is simply not good enough. In fact it’s criminally inadequate. Print media, like this newspaper, would be in terrible trouble if it reported the manner in which a young person had killed themselves, lest we encouraged copycat behaviour. The idea that the Telegraph would ever run graphic pictures of self-harm, let alone suicide, is abhorrent. And yet just a couple of clicks on social media can lead a highly suggestible young person to such toxic, potentially lethal material.

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock says that, following Molly Russell’s tragic death, he is “desperately concerned to ensure young people are protected”. He has written to a number of internet giants telling them they have a duty to act.

Judging by the clueless response of Nick Clegg, Facebook’s new communications chief, that will hardly suffice. The former Deputy Prime Minister told the BBC he would not allow any of his own three children to view images of self harm found on the site. Well, I’ve got news for Nick. You’re not going to know what they’re looking at. Just as the Russells had no idea what Molly was looking at. Because you and your wife will simply not be able to police their social-media usage 24/7 when they are teenagers. Confiscate their phones as a last resort, as so many worried parents do, and you will effectively be shutting down their social life which will make them even more anxious and unhappy. This is the parallel world that Facebook has made.

Nick Clegg claimed that Facebook had saved the lives of thousands of suicidal users by flagging their posts to charity and mental health services. “We will do whatever it takes in order to make this environment safer online particularly for youngsters.”

I’m afraid the unpalatable truth for the social media providers like Facebook is that it is the online world which is making kids depressed in the first place. The only remedy is to tell young users to stop scrolling through Instagram, comparing themselves unfavourably to rich, thin strangers, and to go back to the place call IRL (In Real Life) where they are known and loved for themselves.

Matt Hancock suggests Parliament could ban social media companies that don’t purge their sites of harmful material. I reckon we should go even further and start jailing the bosses of companies which sent Molly Russell suggestions as to how she might hurt herself or end a life that was barely begun. Instagram helped kill his daughter, Ian Russell believes. I believe it, too. Look at her. Look at Molly’s blameless, gentle face and ask yourself this, would that same lovely girl have killed herself in an era before social media could warp her brain and lure her to her death? There’s a word for that. Evil.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

Much as I try, I can't discover what the 4 % gap may be between '36% of Spain's abandoned villages' and '40% of the national total'. Please clarify?

Incidentally: I do wonder what word the estate agent meant to use. Salient perhaps?


Colin Davies said...

Total includes pazos etc.

Colin Davies said...

You have far too much time on your hands,. Can't you find something useful to do?

Sierra said...

'Feeding frenzy' - to be fair to the Spanish media, the recent "boys in Thailand cave" was very similar - even rumbled on via Teslaman's subsequent accusations

Kev said...

Estate agent may be looking for salubrious.

Colin Davies said...

Or just 'spacious'