by Rab Bruce’s Spider

A couple of months ago, a gentleman named Brian sent an article in to the Rab Bruce’s Spider email, asking if I would publish it. I was happy to do so, and it was published under his pen name of “The Citadel". A short time afterwards, he sent in another article which was also published. Links to both of these are posted at the end of this article, although they are not really what this piece is about.

You see, I never met Brian, our exchanges being via email, and I know very little about him other than that he was blind, using Screen Reader to type his work, and that he was a keen supporter of Scottish independence.

I was thinking that I hadn’t heard any more from him and was toying with the idea of dropping him a line to ask whether he had any more articles, when I did receive a communication, but one which bore sad news. The email came from Brian’s daughter who advised me that Brian had passed away. Now, we’ve all lost loved ones, and we know how tough it is, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear or to find the right words to console someone who has suffered a bereavement. I did my inadequate best, but the truth is I was deeply saddened by the news even though I didn’t really know Brian at all.

I wanted to write something to commemorate Brian, but I couldn’t find the right words. But time tends to resolve such issues and the intervening couple of weeks have made me realise that my encounter with Brian represents a couple of aspects of our modern ways of interacting. So this article, while not specifically about Brian, is certainly inspired by him.

So here goes. Like many Yessers, I find Twitter a very useful tool for keeping up to date with current events, thoughts and arguments. One of the criticisms often levelled at those who use Twitter is that they live in an Echo Chamber, endlessly retweeting the same points over an over again, telling each other how wonderful they are and creating a very lop-sided view of the world.

Now, it must be admitted that this criticism is valid to some extent, but there are two points arising from it which we often don’t appreciate.

First, those who level the charge against the Echo Chamber tend to be professional journalists – and I use the word “professional" to denote how they earn a living rather than as an evaluation of the quality of their work . What few of them seem to realise is that, particularly in Scotland, the media is itself a vast Echo Chamber. We have seen that as recently as last week when the propaganda story about flags was in several newspapers and gleefully retweeted by Unionist politicians and their supporters. The only real difference between the two Echo Chambers is in the reach they have.

For those of us who use Twitter, it can often be a frustrating place, but we should not underestimate its power. We often hear anti-Indy news on the TV or radio, or read it in newspapers and wonder just how much truth there is behind it. Twitter allows us to access alternative viewpoints and perhaps find counter-arguments which we hadn’t thought of ourselves. Being able to retweet such arguments allows us to spread the word to like-minded people, thus providing them with ammunition for when they face friends and neighbours who need convincing of the merits of Indy and who rely on the mainstream Echo Chamber for their news.

The second point about online interaction is the sense of community it provides. I have had recent experience of this during my attempts to promote the #VIVID campaign to have Twitter images described in order to help visually impaired Tweeters. The response has been pretty good overall, and I really appreciate that many Yessers are now adding descriptions to their Tweets when they post a picture. We are a long way from persuading everyone, but it’s been a terrific response so far. Not only that, several people have offered to describe images which have been posted without a description, while others of a technical mind have been discussing whether there is a better way to provide descriptions rather than relying on people remembering to type them every time they upload an image. These people have done this out of a genuine desire to help, and this response has been truly overwhelming.

This shows the community spirit Twitter can engender. We are all individuals, and we may well have differing opinions on many issues, but on the matter of Scottish independence we share one aim. Twitter allows us to share our thoughts and hopes, and to encounter people we may never meet face to face but who are obviously of a like mind about the sort of Scotland we want to live in.

This is the great thing about the online world. Without it, many of us would be left sitting at home listening to the BBC and thinking the entire world had gone mad except us. Being able to go online and find that others share your views is a great feeling.

And if you feel the dark side of Twitter can be horrible, remember that you don’t need to engage with the Trolls. There are block and mute functions, or you can simply refuse to sink to their level by not responding to them.

Now, I have no idea whether Brian used Twitter. He found the Rab Bruce’s Spider site somehow, so perhaps he was. He certainly felt that he had something to say, and he knew that getting his words online would help him reach a wider audience. He was, you see, part of our online community and his passing has helped me realise just how important that community is. Even though we never actually met in person, I, for one, will miss him.