New York social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has expressed concern that the era of shared reality is fading, that if an event of the magnitude of 9/11 were to happen now we would struggle to find common ground across partisan divides. He lays the blame particularly at the door of social media, with left and right wing Twitter likely to push their own vastly divergent narratives in the aftermath, threatening the ability of democratic states to come up with a coherent response.

It is a depressing prospect, but there have been warning signs to confirm this hypothesis already in 2020. In the aftermath of the US strike on Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in January of this year, looking only at commentary you could be fooled into believing two entirely separate events had taken place.

Contrary to popular belief, social media is not to blame for all of today’s ills, and politics was polarising well before Silicon Valley’s takeover of our lives, but Twitter’s format has certainly encouraged this, with the culture of outrage and ‘cancellations’ making pivotal foreign policy decisions much more blurred and much more difficult to communicate to the public.

Social media is a lot like a party leadership contest. Instead of speaking to the electorate, party leadership candidates are performing for a highly curated, partisan and nowadays sectarian base. Hence, leadership candidates can often be found debasing themselves with the most ridiculous suggestions, as they perform for a base which is largely decoupled from reality.

On Twitter, you similarly perform for your own curated base, your followers, and too many fall into the trap of throwing chunks of raw flesh to the baying mob, rather than providing thoughtful and balanced analysis. This process is self-escalating: the more provocative, the more moralistic and emotional, the more retweets.

In the age of polarising issues like Trump and Brexit, even the Coronavirus response has been subsumed to the culture wars, and you must hack through thickets of the inflammatory and conspiratorial to earn the prize of a nuanced take.

On one issue there is a glimmer of hope that we are still capable of finding a shared reality: the freedom of Hong Kong.

While the world is distracted trying to contain a pandemic that the banal ineptitude of China’s dictatorship had its own role in unleashing, Hong Kongers feel this is their endgame. Beijing has stepped up its interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, proposing a security law which may spell the end for ‘One Country, Two Systems’.

A letter arranged by the tireless NGO Hong KongWatch has emphasised the universality of this cause, securing the support of social democrats, socialists, greens and conservatives from around the world, as well as united Republican and Democrat signatories. How many recent issues could see Guy Verhofstadt and Liam Fox on the same page? Hong Kong’s future really matters.

How unique this non-partisan consensus is in recent years should not be understated. Beijing’s lies and clumsy public relations efforts in response to the COVID-19 outbreak have added insult to injury of a mounting global body count, but the crisis has also added clarity to the unique wickedness of a regime which is not only threatening Hong Kong, but conducting what can only be described as an ethnic and religious cleansing campaign against China’s Uighur Muslim population. An abuse which has itself seen Defense Secretary Mike Pompeo and outspoken US foreign policy critic Rep Ihlan Omar united in condemnation.

Britain would be on the verge of reaching the nirvana of once again realising shared reality, were it not for the lightning rod that is Dominic Cummings. Ironically, Remainers who rued that Britain was turning into an insular little island are in full echo chamber mode over the advisor’s drive to Durham, while the same can be said of the leavers who promised a truly global Britain after Brexit. The inferno only pushing Hong Kong’s desperate cling to freedom further down the agenda.

Sadly, but somewhat predictably, the US has again been more outspoken on this issue so far despite Britain’s moral, historical and legal responsibility to Hong Kong. For his part though, the Prime Minister has allegedly entertained opening Britain to refugees fleeing China’s clampdown. If it came to this, it would be a truly historic move that should make any Briton proud – even the most immigration sceptic.

The menace to Hong Kong’s freedom threatens not just 7 million Hong Kongers, but leaves the fate of freedom across Asia in the balance. When we eventually emerge from this pandemic, the world’s relations with China will be unrecognisable, and Beijing’s dominance may prove a challenge to the free world the likes of which we have never seen. If we are to rediscover our ability to possess a shared reality once again, let it be on this issue.