Let's say that you were an evil genius along the lines of The Joker in The Dark Knight*, bent upon creating the most chaotic, hostile world imaginable, as quickly as possible.
How would you go about engendering the maximum amount of mutual distrust, discord and suspicion amongst your fellow human beings? Would you e.g. hijack boats full of citizens and prisoners, and force them to choose which of them would be destroyed with high explosives?
Probably not. A better way would be to maximise everybody's exposure to the sections of society that most hate and fear them, people whom they would never usually encounter.
To do that, you'd need a mechanism that exacerbates existing faults in society - a way of pitting people against their immediate religious, political or cultural foes. Ideally, you'd want to ensure that this occurs in an intimate and familiar setting where people feel most safe. Somewhere like, maybe, their own homes, just to really make them feel threatened and uncomfortable.
What you'd want, would be to bring vulnerable or just mildly thin-skinned people into contact with all manner of highly aggressive idiots. You'd want earnest feminists arguing with the most bitter misogynists; ardent secularists being brought into the orbit of religious zealots; devout Muslims discovering that there are legions of people who utterly despise them and their religion; to find ways of bringing even the most atheistic of Jews into the immediate proximity of rabid Holocaust-deniers.
What you'd want really, is just a way of making sure that insecure and irritable people - by which I mean, normal, everyday people - are roundly and thoroughly abused by others who deliberately seek them out to offend and upset them.
And, most important of all, this has to happen in an environment where nothing, nothing at all, could ever possibly be resolved, and where the arguments can only ever get angrier, nastier and more fraught with bitterness and mutual recrimination, rather than less.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Twitter. If you want to bring the haters together with the hated, accept no substitutes.
Some academic should run an experiment on the prevalence of social media and perceptions of personal and communal persecution, before and after. I think the results would be stark. Truly, it is one of the few venues I can think of where the prey willingly and enthusiastically line up to be introduced to the predators.
Whatever your opinions are, on any damn issue, Twitter in particular has some idiot somewhere on Earth, just desperate to call you a Commie or a nigger or a faggot, or whatever derogatory racial/religious/political/sexual etc. slur it is that you'll find most offensive, just for conveying them. Simply log in, express yourself, and there's a good chance that they'll turn up eventually.
Now, I recognise that most people who use social media don't have to deal with this type of this stuff, most of the time. I'm guessing that my brother's Twitter account, for instance, is mostly comprised of footballers and comedians, and that he doesn't get much abuse for posting the occasional photo of his dinner or an opinion on a film.
Nonetheless, for lots of people like me - mainly, mouthy twats who want an audience to sound off at about their super-controversial views on lots of micro-political issues of minority interest - it's a much more hostile environment**.
And yet, still. You can't open a paper without finding out all about the sudden upsurge of bigotry against... well, whoever anyone hates, anywhere, as evidenced by some sad berks with Twitter accounts. Of which there are millions of examples worldwide.
For the most part, this signifies nothing, beyond the fact that vindictive people all over the planet who would otherwise have had to have satisfied themselves with merely being horrible to their neighbours, now have a swish application that allows them to be vindictive to strangers on the other side of the planet. And it's sure not restricted to Twitter.
But let's remember - the biggest internet squabble of the last few years wasn't about, oh, the rise of ISIS or the genocide of the Armenians. It was about video game reviews written by girls, and it got really, really nasty. Nowadays, people get death-threats for saying that they don't like superhero films or particular computer games.
I think people mistake all of this emboldened cuntishness, where what was once unspeakable is now said openly, for an upsurge in prejudice. It probably isn't - it is, after all, only twenty years since a good chunk of the Scottish populace went bug-fuck mental at the idea that a teacher could tell a pupil that it is, theoretically, okay to be gay.
The major difference is that every dipshit, almost everywhere in the world, can now speak where they can be heard. It'd probably be a good idea for us to work out how to deal with that, sooner rather than later.
*But less shit than The Dark Knight.
**I'm fine with this myself - I am, by and large, as much of a complete dick on social media as I am in real life, and so I expect to get a certain amount of dickishness in return. I appreciate however that others aren't trying to be dicks like I am, and try to moderate my behaviour. Occasionally, at least.
I'm also not letting Facebook off the hook here. I've seen shit on there that would turn your hair white, and from family members rather than acquaintances. Twitter just gets more scrutiny, because there are more politicians, celebrities and journalists who use that platform regularly.