It all started in the midst of the first lockdown, during the Black Lives Matter protests. My dad phoned me and as usual we spoke about what was going on in the world. I always used to think my dad was perceptive; someone who understood the complexities of life.
I’m now 21 years old. Since I started studying journalism, Dad has turned 53. He has always tried to speak to me about current affairs and things he’s heard on the radio as a way to connect with me about things we may share an interest in.
I have memories of him listening to the 10pm news, particularly around the time of the 2008 financial crash, and ordering my stepmum, my sister and me to be quiet as he listened attentively. Little things like this made me assume he was smart; I think partly when I was that age, I assumed he was smart anyway, just because he was a man.
When he called me on that sunny lockdown day, I was pacing my room as we spoke about what we had been up to and how the pandemic was beginning to drag.
The more he spoke, the more hopeless it left me feeling and the more damage it did to our relationship.
Without hesitation, I brought up the subject of racism and the killing of George Floyd. I wanted to hear him condemn the situation and for us to speak about everything that is wrong in the world.
Instead his response was instantly provoked and distrustful. He began speaking about something he had seen on Facebook and said: "Black Lives Matter is an anarchy organisation... Terrorism and looting should be condemned."
His claims were outlandish and nonsensical. He sneered at my contention and proceeded to argue that the news is biased. I shouldn’t buy into all this "namby-pamby bullshit", he said. His arguments trod a fine line between the far right and the alt-right. They began to ring in my head, the same phrases repeated again and again, all "hidden agendas" and "Marxist propaganda".
The discourse between us spiralled from there. The more he spoke, the more hopeless it left me feeling and the more damage it did to our relationship.
Arguing with him became impossible. Dad’s views remained fixed, shaped entirely by the right-wing propaganda he was consuming on Facebook alongside a regular intake of articles from The Daily Mail and The Sun. A jeering group of his Facebook friends liked and commented on his posts, admonishing and showering scorn upon the "woke" enemy.
The thing is, my dad has only had a Facebook account for four years. Before that he was incredulously against it; he would say it’s for attention-seeking and used only by people who wish to overshare their lives.
At that time, while his opinions on social media were indifferent, I was at the age where mine were fraught. I found myself feeling the burden of it but still experiencing gratification from sharing my life online. Dad would take mine and my sister’s phones from us at night whenever we stayed with him. I suppose he was trying to be a good parent; one who felt they could control the obvious addiction unfolding between a teenager and their phone.
We saw the worry in our parents’ faces as we were exposed to an unregulated world over which they had no supervision. Ironically, it’s the same world my dad inhabits so uncritically now.
Dad joined Facebook recently, after he went vegan. He was a part of running clubs at the time and began to join different groups on the platform, building what seemed like healthy communities of people with shared interests.
But in the wake of joining, as well as becoming a mouthpiece for alt-right ideologies, he has been committed to sharing graphic animal cruelty videos in an attempt to promote veganism. Every post feels like a guilt-tripping attempt to encourage others to adopt his mentality.
I am conscious of the obligation I have here, too. What kind of ally am I if I am not actively anti-racist?
In early March 2020, before the first lockdown, Dad and I were having dinner at a Malaysian restaurant near my house. At this point, the news of coronavirus in China was well known but nobody in the UK suspected that lockdown was coming. As we waited for our food, he began to make xenophobic remarks about the culture surrounding food in east Asia. There was a lot of this going around on Facebook at the time due to the suggestion that the pandemic began in Wuhan because of bat meat. This theory is now being called into question by the World Health Organization as it conducts its investigation into the origins of the virus.
As the pandemic unfolded, Dad’s attitudes towards different cultures and cuisines became central to any conversation he and I would have. Every gruesome video of animals being killed for their meat, questionable article or graphic photo on the same subject that he saw on Facebook had to be shared. Today, his feed is littered with propaganda, notably from unverified accounts with no date or exact location of where the events they describe have taken place.
Intertwined with this was the denouncing of people who are politically liberal. He posted and shared things which wilfully misunderstood the arguments in favour of defunding the police, for example, alongside conspiracy theories about Black Lives Matter and anything that vilified China and Chinese culture. This was in contradiction to the fact that until he and my stepmum tested positive for coronavirus, he refused to believe it existed.
One year into the pandemic, I’m at a loss. Whenever I look at his Facebook page, all I can see is how easily fake news and disinformation spreads on social media, how dangerous it is to our society and how much damage it has done to one of the most important relationships in my life.
Dad and I don’t speak half as much as we used to since our arguments unfolded last summer. After months of arguing over Facebook messenger and him swearing at me for being condescending about his "lived experience", I just found it too difficult to maintain a relationship with him. He is so absorbed in the discourse of Facebook and nothing else.
I am conscious of the obligation I have here, too. What kind of ally would I be if I wasn't actively trying to challenge his views? I have frequently sent him books to read in the post over the last year. I doubt he has looked at them.
I know I am not the only person whose relationship with a loved one has been damaged by the disinformation which big tech has failed to tackle, by the divisive discourse which has been allowed to fester online. But it hurts. My dad is lost in an echo chamber. He has no need to look anywhere else for information, the only things he sees are things he believes to be true.