When Twitter really makes a difference.

Social media can be both a curse and a blessing. Sadly it’s the curses that too often hit the headlines – teenagers and young people being bullied on Facebook, Twitter trolls issuing intimidating threats, and people feeling under immense pressure to live up to the standards and lifestyles portrayed by their celebrity idols on Instagram. Did you know that Kim Kardashian takes on average 300 selfies before finding the perfect image to post to her 100 million followers? She also has an army of hairdressers and make-up artists to help her look spontaneously glamorous. None of us should be fooled.

I’d hate to add up all the hours I have ‘wasted’ staring mindlessly at my phone – hours when I could have been interacting with my friends in person, or at least getting the ironing done. But I can’t deny that my life is undeniably richer thanks to social media. Facebook connects me with friends across the country and across the globe – we can chat as if there are no miles and years separating us, and maintain a closeness that couldn’t exist through occasional letters or phone calls.

Our Facebook family group chat keeps the four of us – currently living in four different European cities – in daily contact. It means that the monumental (exam results or new jobs) can be instantly communicated, but so can the mundane – the hum-drum of daily life – the stuff that wouldn’t warrant a letter or phone call. Daughter #1 found an unidentifiable vegetable in her veg box today and sent a photo – it was a celeriac. Daughter #2 found a mouse in her flat – we alll offered advice, various versions of ‘kill it’. Mr Marr managed to successfully change the locks in the Edinburgh flat – hooray! And I needed help to turn on our telly. Incidentally, does anyone else’s telly need four remote controls?

And thanks to social media, whenever I hook up with a friend I’ve not seen for a couple of years we can ‘hit the ground running’ with our conversation.  I’ll know, from her posts, that her kids are in their Higher year at school, or off to university, that she’s recently got a new puppy and that she’s partial to a Friday night cocktail. And thanks to my own chronic over-sharing online, she’ll know that I watched Forrest Gump for the very first time on Sunday afternoon, and that the sweet-peas in my garden are still flowering into November.

Social media is an essential marketing and communications tool for every business these days, but I’m not sure it has ever been used to better effect than last weekend, with a series of Tweets on Saturday afternoon by Lochaber and Skye Police.

The first one began: “A letter to a young woman in Skye. We know you follow this account and want you to see this.”

The Tweets continued: “We want to help you and are doing lots with other agencies to try to keep you safe. You might not see us, you might not even like us being involved but we are always thinking about how we can help you. Your family and friends have told you they think you are in danger – they support you and want you to be safe.

“We think he’s probably told you, “It won’t happen again”, “I’m sorry”, “I’ll change”, he’s maybe even told you that it’s your fault – IT’S NOT. The violence, threats, degrading comments and controlling behaviour are not the life you need to lead, it can be better.”

The final tweet encouraged the woman to contact police or Women’s Aid, and gave the phone numbers.

Although addressed to one woman on Skye, the officers behind the account later revealed their ‘letter’ was written to any and every woman who was following their Twitter account, or who saw re-tweets of  the messages, and that they hoped it would give women in a domestic abuse situation the strength and courage to come forward.

So far the letter has been retweeted (at time of writing) almost 8000 times, and has been wholeheartedly praised by Women’s Aid. Anecdotally, it has already encouraged some women to come forward and report abuse. Even if just one person is freed from a life of fear and intimidation, the exercise was worthwhile.

None of us knows what really happens in other people’s relationships, so this is a powerful message to share. With the current focus on the predatory and inappropriate behaviour of Hollywood producers and actors, and on MPs, MSPs and government officials, it’s a timely reminder that none of us should have to put up with behaviour which makes us feel uncomfortable, threatened or puts us – or our children – in danger.

Thank you, Lochalsh and Skye Police for this wonderfully proactive message. And if you are even half wondering whether the message might have been meant for you, remember that Women’s Aid have a Freephone number and will listen and give advice round the clock – 0808 2000 247.

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This column first appeared in six SPP Group newspapers week ended 24th November 2017.