Clever content trumps trolls

Clear, straightforward, factually accurate and truthful writing has always been the single best way to inspire, engage and communicate with fellow humans.

At a time when an alarming number of minds are influenced by unverified material they read on social and digital media, this is more relevant than ever.

There are several good aspects to social media, but there is one significantly bad one: that people can attack others, without mercy or fear of retribution.

Bullying of school children to the point of suicide is just one example of this egregious behaviour. Anonymous racist, religious and political tracts that result in murderous action are another.

We have to assume that the geniuses who devised and developed Facebook, Twitter and other platforms did not do so to give a voice to unrestrained anarchy and hatred. It is not so much that the bad content needs to be censored; what is required is for it to be shown to be bad and, crucially, replaced by good.

One of the exceptionally bright people with whom we are fortunate to share the planet, Dr Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, continues to demonstrate how to use words to more beneficial and positive effect.

A couple of years ago, Prof. Beard’s statements about the attacks on the World Trade Centre, immigration and other seminal issues provoked online abuse of extraordinary malevolence. Much of it centred around her hair and her being a woman.

Dr Beard has confounded similar nonsense by doing what she does best: communicating by writing. In her latest book, SPQR, the main theme is: “Rome still helps to define the way we understand our world and think about ourselves, from high theory to low comedy. After 2,000 years, it continues to underpin Western culture and politics, what we write and how we see the world and our place in it.”

In SPQR Prof. Beard tells us that among the keys to Rome’s rise to greatness, rather than a Grand Plan on Napoleonic, Nazi or ISIS lines, were a perfect mix of good luck, timing, flexibility and what she calls “a flair for improvisation.”

For example, once the Romans started invading places, in exchange for granting them much coveted citizenship, males in conquered territories were required to do military service. It was, she says, a practical solution to an immediate problem – control of the invaded territories. And it gave Rome a massive trained army.

SPQR is well worth reading for three reasons. First, the writing is clear and, as you would expect from a classical scholar, exquisitely crafted. Second, it illuminates brightly our world with a light from the past that allows few shadows where fools may hide. Finally, it elegantly underlines, beyond all shadow of doubt, that straightforward writing is unbeatable when it comes to getting your message across.