Twitter: The Good, The Bad & The Blind
I love using Twitter – I follow people who post all sorts of interesting articles, and learn a lot. Like everyone else, I laughed when the Waitrose hashtag campaign backfired, resulting in some very witty tweets. But there’s long been a side of the system that bothers me.
My problem was highlighted this week. I’ve been following various political events, especially the hard Right’s attempt to derail Cameron’s policies on Europe, immigration and gay marriage, and the rise of Nigel Farage’s UKIP party, which for overseas readers is a sort of slightly more guarded version of the National Front, the fascist organisation that gave us the cult of the skinhead.
Yesterday I used Twitter to mention my concerns that the Hard right could derail Euro-policies, and received a tweet back from a Mr Jeremy Jacobs, suggesting I should go and live in a Socialist Superstate. I thought Aha, we’re going to be in for an interesting debate here, so I replied that I felt the Far Right wished to retreat to a nostalgic view of England that doesn’t and probably never did exist.
He responded by telling me how wonderful Monte Carlo was because there were no working class people there, then blocked me from replying.
Mr Jacobs is, of course, entirely entitled to his views, even though his profile suggests that he doesn’t have a real job. (He also retweets without endorsement, which rather suggests he does’t understand the point of RT.) But banning debate is the oldest of hard Right tricks. Famously, when Mary Whitehouse took questions from the audience in her Festival of Light censorship debates, she had them delivered in advance and censored them. When we initialise Twitter, we tend to follow those whose opinions match our own. We create a consensual world in which we all agree, warm bubbles of comfort in the Twittersphere.
I have a habit of following those with whom I don’t agree, because I can learn more from them. I’ve had arguments with very intelligent, hardworking US Republicans who can explain and justify their opinions, and in the process they have changed mine. I believe that Socratic debate furthers intelligence. On Twitter – as on much of the internet – it’s hard to do that without the whole thing descending into a slanging match. And placing your hands over your ears and going ‘La la la’ when someone replies to provocation typifies the UK’s political debate right now.
This is Chris Bryant, a magazine editor. He and his partner were violently beaten up by six men and left with severe head injuries on Saturday night as they walked home from a birthday party through Bromley, South London. With the gay marriage bill expected to pass today despite hard Right opposition, Mr Bryant said he feared homophobic attitudes were being legitimised by politicians.
The other day I overheard a lady at King’s Cross station tell a friend that she ‘wished all this gay talk would just go away’, and I can sympathise with her – there has been a lot of discussion, not just here but around the First World in the last few months. But we know that when the discussion goes away, problems return. According to figures published last year, there were 4,252 gay hate crimes recorded by police in Britain between 2011 and 2012.
Last week, a gay man was shot dead in the street near New York’s Stonewall Inn. Police said it was a hate crime linked to a rash of recent homophobic attacks in NYC. There are powerful hate-crime rises now in Russia, which is now seeking to legally discriminate, state by state. Rights are not enshrined forever – they can be rescinded, whether it’s abortion, women’s rights or immigration laws.
Twitter is fun. It could also be used as a tool for much greater good. Does anyone know if there’s a good intelligent debate site where commenters can answer each other in a paragraph rather than 145 characters?