Tricoteuse is French for ‘a woman who knits’. However, be careful how to use the word if you’re going over to France this summer. If you’re somewhere in the middle of a cute Provence village and you spot a woman on a chair in her doorway knitting, do not say: “Bonjour! Violà une tricoteuse! Je suis enchanté!” for she won’t be amused. 

The word is only used in the historical sense as the name for those who sat beside the guillotine during public executions in Paris in the French Revolution, knitting while they watched the heads roll. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens has it that the tricoteuses even stitched the names of those executed into their knitting.

They are such an institution that they even get a mention in a David Bowie song. In a Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing there’s a line saying: “Someone scrawled on the wall ‘I smell the blood of les tricoteuses’.”

This week I read the news report of how that restaurant owner was mob lynched on social media after she found a dead cat in front of her restaurant in Golden Bay; before that we had the mother who went on Facebook to falsely accuse a man of abusing her son at the beach; then I read Manuel Delia’s blog post on the soul-darkening comments he gets on Facebook including several ‘RIH’, which does not mean wind, but ‘Rest in Hell’; then Minister Edward Scicluna joined the ‘liking’ hate speech frenzy (which he later said was a mistake). And my only thought was: Facebook is making us drool for victims even if we have to create them, and it’s turning us all into bloodthirsty tricoteurs and tricoteuses.

I remember when we all started joining this new social media ‘in thing’ a decade ago; it was all very rosy and chummy and funny. Then it started becoming all about social comparison. “Look how wow was my holiday!”; “Look how much my husband loves me!”; “Look how great I am at my job!”. That started darkening souls, and then came the next stage, the stage we’re at now, which is the equivalent of knocking down doors and dragging people to the gallows with the only trial being haphazard gossip.

Hanging by Facebook has become the new bloodsport. It is the perfect platform because false gossip on Facebook spreads like fire

Public execution has been a favourite sport throughout history: gladiators in Roman times, the bloody Inquisition, the Holocaust and so on. Humans always seem to need to find excuses to shed blood. And because now we live in societies where we can’t just whip a knife and slit a throat, hanging by Facebook has become the new bloodsport. It is the perfect platform because false gossip on Facebook spreads like fire. Science journal found that a fabrication reached 1,500 people on social media roughly six times faster than truth.

Jaron Lanier, an American technological guru who works with Microsoft, recently gave an interview to The Sunday Times of London about his new book on why everyone should get off social media.

He argues that Facebook is destroying empathy and “it is chipping away at humanity” and compares it to a devious priest who takes confession from two billion people “then sells those deep dark secrets to the highest bidder”.

That bidder then feeds each Facebooker whatever they want them to believe. This is what makes Facebook worth €450 billion. And this is what has given rise to racist nationalist movements all round the world, “the kind of which we haven’t seen in generations”.

Lanier believes all two billion members should quit Facebook and lists his reasons: it is undermining the truth; making us unhappy; making politics impossible; destroying empathy and in general turning us all into assholes (his words not mine).

I think that no one more than the Maltese should listen to this advice. Because we are such a micro society, our Facebook interactions are more intense, more personal, more cruel. It has become an ugly machine, eating away at our souls, spewing hate and ruining our very fibre.

I quit FB back in November, for pretty much these reasons Lanier mentioned plus some creative death threats. It was not easy to quit because it had become a habit.

I’d check my smartphone to see what time the supermarket opened and instead I’d end up checking statuses, looking at posts, and 20 minutes later realise that I’d forgotten all about the supermarket.

In the US, the average Facebook user spends around 50 minutes a day on Facebook, and we’re probably not far off. In those 50 minutes you could go to a garden centre, buy some herb plants come back home and plant them; or play a challenging Backgammon game; or get three friends over and share a bottle of wine; or put on an Abba album and dance; or simply lie in the sun and watch the clouds float by.

It’s not easy of course if you’re used to pulling your phone out of your pocket every 15 seconds to check Facebook updates. I mean, what are you going to do with your thumbs every 15 seconds now?

Well, you could consider taking up knitting.
twitter: @krischetcuti

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us