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.

Bryantv3This 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?

14 comments on “Twitter: The Good, The Bad & The Blind”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    I go as far as what the NYT gets up. They have good commentary and opinion discussions. (You may have to pay to gain full paper access.) The Washington Post more frequently has Laurel and Hardy stone pie throwing contests, much of which are not funny.
    All issues are now a slack wire balancing act. Hold up the umbrella, go forward, quickly step backwards a few feet, adjust balance, go forward, and all the while some people are throwing stuff at the wire walkers! Shhhh….

  2. Ken says:

    I’m hesitant to recommend yet another social network but Google+ tends to be less trollish, probably because there are less people on there. Takes a bit more effort to build up your social circles and there’s always the niggling feeling that you’re going to get sucked up in some nightmarish Google data network but, for an online community, the conversations and people are remarkably civilised

  3. Steve says:

    I’ve not found a site yet that allows one to engage in intelligent and thoughtful debate. All of the “comments” sections on sites like CNN and NBCNews are overflowing with opinionated mouth-breathers who don’t seem to have the capacity for critical thinking. They can take ANY story….something about black holes for example….and twist it into a platform for them to screech on about their political and/or religious views. They don’t think they’re “views” at all; they act as if they’re the pillars that hold up the universe.
    Very disappointing.

  4. Bob Low says:

    I’m not on Twitter, but have recently been using the comments section of a Scottish broadsheet newspaper to express views on, amongst other things, the ugly pantomime which ensued when Farage came to Edinburgh. The experience has been dispiriting, and vaguely scarey. Admin makes a very good point about UKIP embodying a desire on the part of many people in England to return to some mythical recent past-their manifesto can be summarised as ”Twenty Reasons Why It Would Be Much Better If We Still Lived In the 1950s”. The problem with the Scots at the moment, is that , amongst our more outspoken ”Separatists” is a very similair pathological nostalgia, only in their case, for the pre-Thatcher era of the 70s, when real men had proper jobs, and women knew their place-yes, for all the crap we Scots have been spouting about being more enlightened and socially democratic than our English neighbours, there is a very ugly strain of misogyny about. I found myself the subject of abuse for confronting one of the more despicable posters on a comment he had made about the acceptability to him of using the word ”c-t” to describe a female journalist in the Murdoch press. The hatred and rage are quite depressing. I signed off by comparing many of the self righteous Tartan Taliban to UKIP itself-they are just a weird, left leaning, hypocritical Caledonian version of Farage’s lot. They just hate the English more than the French. I illustrated this by pointing out the idiocy of ”demonstrators” trying to highlight their moral superiority to Farage by screaming at him to ”go back to England”. This did not go down well. It would be great to have the opportunity to engage constructively with those of an opposing view on-line-try this in Scottish newspaper sites, and you are more likely to find yourself condemned as ”scum”, and told to piss off. Sadly, many of those more outspoken participants in on-line political activity are just a bunch of sweaty-palmed inadequates, and best avoided.

  5. agatha hamilton says:

    I have seen UKIP referred to as the Provisional Wing of the Rotary Club. Can’t remember where, but it seems a good summing up.

  6. snowy says:

    It is possible to have a very decent debate on blogs if you pick your venue, and use a bit of sense/style/humour in phrasing your comments.

    Forums can be handy if you want some advice/info on a particular topic but can get a bit unruly if not properly moderated.

    Newspaper comment streams are not what they seem. They pretend to give a chance for readers to express their ‘opinions’.

    But in reality they are just a revenue stream, each time you visit or refresh the screen they serve you another advert. This puts a little bit of money into their coffers.

    With declining sales this has become an important source of income, and has changed the role of newspaper reporting. It is now in their interest to write the most inflammatory piece possible to garner as many page views and comments as possible.

    Some papers are particularly notorious for this, and get up to all sorts of naughty japes to increase page views.

  7. Ken Murray says:

    I’m reminded of the old Monty python sketch where Michael Palin pays John Cleese for a reasoned argument and gets nothing of the sort. And that’s the point really, that you can only get a reasoned debate if both sides enter into it. Currently most of those who claim to want to debate the issues are so entrenched, their views are very rarely open to discussion. We recently passed the guy marriage bill here in NZ. Unfortunately the rumbling still continues. It was reported last week that a lesbian couple were refused a room at a B&B sadly due to their sexuality. Something deplorable in itself. However equally abhorrent were the death threats received by the B&B owners. It would be great if we could debate the issues that surround us openly but it seems there’s little will to do so. I’d so like to be wrong?

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    The rise of UKIP is a good thing – you get to see who all the boil-in-the-bag fascists are. People you’d never suspect now sharing or mouthing whatever facile idiocy is purported to be to blame, so as to have something to blame. The internet is perfect for the jelly-brained, it’s all about dragging down everything rather than elevating oneself. Simple solutions to complex problems. Or hell, look around for a problem so as to spit and dribble the solution over it. Or make a problem up.

    See you on the barricades, comrades*!

    *Lol, as people say.

  9. Bob Low says:

    Snowy-not only are newspaper comment streams ways of generating revenue, I think they also might represent ways in which certain newspapers can subtly advance their own political agendas, especially when you consider the thorny issue of ”moderation” , or censorship, to be blunter. I had been under the impression the the moderation of comments on these sites was supposed to be a way of weeding out defamatory, threatening or otherwise offensive, or actionable material. When I first started reading through the comment streams on the newspaper I mentioned above, I was fairly taken aback by the sheer amount of vicious, nasty, and insulting material hurled by the posters, not only at each other, but at pretty much anyone they disagreed with, with the some of the worst material coming from ”Separatists”, or supporters of Scottish independence. It then occured to me that the newspaper in question is Labour supporting, and therefore a supporter of the Union. I posted, half-jokingly, in response to some hateful nonsense from another Caledonian suppremacist, that the only reason the newspaper let him get away with so much bile, was because it confirmed the Editorial staff’s prejudices about Nationalists, and that they were probably hoping that exposure to posts like his might deter people fron voting ”Yes” in the coming referendum. Guess whose comment didn’t make it through moderation? After that, I wondered if I had maybe struck a nerve.

  10. snowy says:

    You’re not wrong Bob, as you say one of the tricks used is to fiddle with the comments, but that is self defeating in the long term.

    As the paper shifts its position to pander to the extreme end of opinion it cannabalises its own readership, the more reasonable and moderate grow tired of the extreme rhetoric, [and all the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ it attracts], and leave.

    I’ll not detail the decline of the newspaper industry, but the first assault on their domination was the introduction of the ‘wireless’.

    [Though I suspect the first mortal blow was the invention of soft two-ply tissue by St Andrews’s Mill in Walthamstow.]

  11. Bob Low says:

    Snowy-long live the wireless! (not to mention the soft two-ply tissue).

  12. Ken Murray says:

    We are a 3-ply household and proud! We have no time for your proletarian 2-ply propaganda! ; 0)

  13. Alan G says:

    2-ply or 3-ply. They both put breeders of long-haired hamsters out of business.

    Sorry, sorry.

  14. Reuben says:

    Usually when ever I make negative comments about UKIP on Twitter I get some kind unpleasant response from their supporters who seem to have nothing better to do with their time but search Twitter for negative UKIP comments to respond to.

    (That sentence could have probably done with some punctuation there)

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