IF you are permanently suspended from Twitter, the first notification you get is at the top of your feed telling you that you can no longer tweet, retweet, follow or set up a new account. It does give you a link to appeal, but no detailed reason for the ultimate sanction – apart from the catch-all assertion that you have “violated Twitter rules”.

I got that notice out of the blue one evening a fortnight ago and I fear I would still be in digital jail if the talented SNP head of digital Ross Colquhoun hadn’t known the ins and outs of a medium and a company which, in recent weeks, has undergone a reluctant and painful revolution.

My account was reactivated after 48 hours, with an apology explaining that it had been mistakenly “flagged as spam” by an automated system – though it took another day or so for my 50,000+ followers to be restored.

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During that time, I did however get another quickly rescinded notice making my suspension irreversible, so left and right hands are clearly not yet tweeting to each other at Musk Mansions.

However, the whole experience has made me look at Twitter and other social media anew.

I have been contributing a photograph a day to Blipfoto for more than 12 years and can count on the fingers of one hand incidences of even the slightest hostility from a fellow blipper. I use Instagram only for pictures, but I have never warmed to Facebook for some reason, influential though it is. Jenny Gilruth once failed to get me to TikTok, and while I have found Mastodon to be civilised and free of Twitter-style abuse, it presently lacks the critical mass of members which contributes to Twitter’s diversity.

Yet although being on Twitter is almost essential for the inhabitants of Scotland’s political village, it is by no means always fun. Twitter is a confrontational as well as a conversational platform and deep divisions are not only reflected by it, but widened by it too.

Accordingly, seeing people react to my suspension was a bit like observing my own funeral.

Opponents were gleeful and keen to spread the word that I had been guilty of some appallingly foul online rant which had got me chucked off forever. Supporters were disbelieving – though some did surmise that there could be no smoke without fire. A few friends were nice enough to say they were missing me and hoped I would be back soon.

Suspension means that you can continue to read what others are posting but you cannot add your own take or say something new.

So the ability to curate my own news feed and pick up information I wouldn’t otherwise see was not initially affected.

The polarisation of contemporary politics and the narrow nature of our mass media makes the task of discovering a wide range of news and opinion hard and specialisation harder still. At present, there simply isn’t anywhere other than Twitter where you can – to use just a few examples from my own interests – seriously follow Irish & EU politics, record the endless detail of Brexit-related economic and social decline, and learn from skilled photographers worldwide.

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More comes by happenstance too. I wouldn’t normally seek out Brian Wilson’s journalism, nor would I often see the Stornoway Gazette, but last week, social media brought me his very interesting piece about the Uist Egg Cooperative of the 1950s which – seriously – has strong contemporary relevance.

And all this is only possible because of the vast number of Twitter members who are actively sharing their knowledge and interests. And that is why being only in receive mode is an unacceptably parasitic and frustrating use of social media. In order to make it work, you have to give too, which means joining in by contributing.

So far so good. But as in every part of life, some people go to extremes, or find it hard to express themselves constructively, or simply want to personally – and wrongly – weaponise something meant to be collectively useful.

Sometimes that may be on the spur of the moment and regretted – I admit to having fallen into that trap – but others appear motivated by a burning need to pay off old scores or exhibit deep prejudices. The cruelty and anonymity expressed by some would have severe consequences in any normal face-to-face interaction.

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This is the side of social media, and particularly Twitter, that causes not just controversy but sometimes huge distress. Of course, you can block or mute those who behave in that way, but any contact with such hatred leaves a bitter introspective aftertaste.

For my part, whilst I have no difficulty cutting off those whose spite is political or personal, I always hesitate to do the same to someone who purports to support independence. Surely we should be able to treat those ostensibly on the same side with a modicum of respect?

As we approach the end of Burns week, his injunction to “gently scan your brother man, still gentler sister woman” is more needed than ever. Particularly on social media and amongst the independence-supporting community.

My brief suspension did make my heart grow fonder of the rich and remarkable resource that Twitter can be, but it also made me see anew the damage and hurt being done every day by those who, because they are human beings, should know better.

The bots will always be with us and can be silenced with a click, but we can’t win a better future so easily.

I shall no doubt be reviled online for saying so but a touch of restraint and a small helping of kindness in nationalist social media usage would go a long way. Not just in creating that type of unity of purpose but also of policy.

After all, isn’t unity paramount for any movement setting out to change the world?