'Snowflake debate is no good - we all need to grow up and speak openly about the abortion referendum'
IT’S looking like our entire country has become a kind of college snowflake who has barricaded herself inside her safe space.
Less than two weeks out from the referendum, we aren’t having a proper debate about it. We – on both sides of the aisle – are still uncomfy with any kind of opposing thought, unless it’s done quietly so we can’t hear it.
Debate is this interesting notion that allows for the expression of ideas from every corner of our little island. It’s uncomfortable, and so it should be. It’s what makes us grow; it’s what makes us properly democratic. You might laugh at the notion of millennial-aged snowflakes. But the truth is, we could all use a refresher course in how to engage with and listen to each other.
I know that I live in an echo chamber. Most of us do. But the abortion referendum is highlighting our echo chambers like nothing else.
In our personal space, technology has allowed us to filter out the opinions of those we disagree with.
But it seems like we’re increasingly trying to shape our real lives to be as filtered as our Facebook feeds.
I’m not saying that our social media diets should (or can) perfectly represent the country or world as a whole, but we do need to be careful about getting blinded by our bubbles. There’s a danger in the absence of direct contact with demographics outside your own and in relying on stereotypes from far away.
It’s all taken to a new level with @repeal_shield on Twitter, an account that is “blocking blatant, harmful anti-choice misinformation so you don’t have to”.
Users can subscribe to the list, which will automatically block new accounts added by the admins.
The admins claim to be “a group of volunteers who feel that in the run-up to the #repealthe8th referendum”, they say, “there are better ways to campaign for repeal than arguing with pro-life trolls. To that end, we’ve set up this a/c and block list to share with the wider Twitter community”.
The account is unequivocally pro-repeal and the gauges for its block list are unclearly defined.
Lots of the accounts on their list are genuine ones (and not trolls or bots), but they are pro-life.
One pro-repeal doctor tweeted her thanks to them over the weekend, saying, “because of these tireless and unsung heroes, Twitter has largely been a safe space for all of us”. Sigh.
It goes on. On my Facebook page, discussions rage: is it OK to ‘defriend’ someone if they’ve ‘liked’ a page you don’t agree with? A high number of people said yes.
The latest ‘Sunday Independent’/ Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll shows 45pc in favour of repealing the Eighth, 34pc against, 18pc undecided and 4pc who did not express an opinion. But does it really mean anything? Opinion polls got the Brexit vote wrong and missed Donald Trump’s remarkable rise in the US presidential race.
Let’s not forget how people lie to pollsters when telling the truth is uncomfortable.
It’s called “social desirability bias”, where people respond to a pollster’s questions in a way that will make them look nice to the pollster.
In a time when debate is actively discouraged, people will say one thing to a pollster, but vote another way when they’re in the privacy of the voting booth. When people can’t talk openly to each other, everyone is left with a very fuzzy sense of public opinion.
It’s troubling that with less than two weeks to go, people are not having healthy, productive, honest exchanges about abortion.
It is a very complex issue that doesn’t always slot easily into a repeal/don’t repeal narrative. But a lack of debate means that we only hear from two very polarised camps.
There are people who feel like abortion is totally unethical but feel very conflicted about whether they should vote Yes.
There are people who think that the Eighth should be repealed but are very conflicted about whether it is ethical.
There are people who think we should only be voting for new legislation on hard cases like fatal foetal abnormality and rape. I’ve had friends admit this to me, but they whisper it like it’s a taboo.
There’s no space for feeling conflicted about abortion in either the pro or anti-repeal campaigns.
And politically this makes people anxious.
‘Are you with us or against us’ isn’t the ideal way to run a referendum campaign and potentially change minds so most of us pick a side and keep complexities and doubts to ourselves.
Either way, the referendum will produce a result that we will all have to accept.
We could repeal the Eighth, as opinion polls seem to suggest right now, or we could have our own Trump moment.
It’s troubling so many of us need our social media feeds and life sanitised from this important debate. Grow up, Ireland.