Sunday, 4 August 2013

So has Twitter finally shown the middle classes that the world is ugly?

Back when I was still one of those blue-skied optimists who smiled at kittens and sang Abba hits when walking jauntily down the road, I used to enjoy Twitter as an intellectual game. Writing a funny one liner in 140 characters or less was an enjoyable routine for a year or so. It was akin to doing the daily Sudoku but with a generally funnier outcome. Then the celebrities took over. Twitter was suddenly full of every hacking newspaper columnist, unfunny comedian, and chirpy radio DJ filling the timelines with their awfully privileged banter.

With the arrival of the celebrities, Twitter lost its largely formless state. Before it hit the mainstream, Twitter was like a page of blank paper sprinkled with iron filings. There was still a sense of equality across the Twittersphere. Quality tweeting could attract an audience. After the celebrities landed with their marketing people, PR consultants, and professional social media teams, the situation was magnetised and every individual aligned themselves towards these powerful points of attraction. Twitter was suddenly another version of the real world. There were those people with power and those without and the popularity of the former had nothing to do with the quality of their tweets. Katie Price (aka Jordan) demonstrated that and still does. Her Twitter account is hugely popular, currently approaching two million followers, all waiting for her gems of wisdom such as ‘Yummie full fat milk and cornflakes 3 bowls can't be normal lol but lasts me till lunch time’ (© 2013 Katie Price).

I understand the attraction of celebrity and I guess I’m as susceptible to it as anybody, even if I like to think the people I admire have more about them than plasticised glands and ghost writers. That’s why I also understand the frustration and urge to write something biting towards celebrities I dislike. I would occasionally launch a sharp taunt towards a celebrity such as Peter Andre. Was I trolling? I never saw it that way and if my barbs were sharp they were never needlessly cruel. Yet I can see (and saw) how some unstable characters out there lacked the wits to engage in humorous taunting and took things to an extreme. For some people, violence, threats and intimidation are the only way they can express themselves. I’ve been victim to that plenty of times myself. Comments coming to me through this blog have often been foul, spiteful, and distressing but after a while I guess you become somewhat immune to them.

You might guess, then, that the current furore over Twitter doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Before Twitter got rid of the ability to watch the public Twitter timeline, I’d often sit and gaze the world’s tweets in real time. It’s no wonder they disabled that function because it didn’t take long before you would see how truly bestial we are as a species. I don’t even mean that small percentage of people who are, for want of a better word, ‘bad’. I mean huge segments of our population who demonstrated how illiteracy and stupidity prevail. I began using Twitter believing it a novel way to confine language, encourage pithy expression. I grew to realise that it’s actually the perfect way of expressing our piggish grunts, our infantile nature, our utter slavery to branding, marketing, and celebrity. Reading Twitter’s public timeline was like being trapped inside the mind of one enormous planet-sized imbecile.

Certain self-satisfied middle class commentators now want to censor Twitter because they don’t agree with what Twitter allows people to say. They are suddenly shocked about the world and our human nature which they, as columinists, are supposed to understand better than the rest of us. The debate has quite prominently been about threats of rape, which is understandable. The threats were clearly distressing for the victims. Yet these rape threats have channelled the nature of the debate into a familiar and not so helpful territory. Over at The Guardian, it’s turned into the familiar feminist bell ringing as the usual cowled figures wander the streets crying ‘bring out your misogynists’. The arguments sound tired and familiar. There’s barely an acknowledgement that men find these comments as offensive as women and that women are sometimes as guilty of posting ill-considered and sometimes offensive tweets themselves. (As an aside: the offensive comments left for me on this blog were mainly from women who wished me dead in a variety of unpleasant but imaginative ways. Hard lesson learned: never make jokes about Daniel Radcliffe.)

And that’s the point I wanted to make in my slightly rambling way. This debate shouldn’t be about gender. It’s about who we are as individuals and what we become in that silent inner world we inhabit when we’re sitting at our keyboards and are annoyed by something we read. Twitter is a pure expression of humanity at its very worst. It is the world’s inner monologue in written form: a shameful indictment of what we can be and what we’ve become.



  1. [...] Twitter, that thing I have never joined, has become too much like real life to provide any escape from [...]

  2. [...] I am most certainly not trying to defend those who made such threats nor hurled such abuse. But I do want to point out that I don’t think it’s Twitter, nor even just being online, that makes people act in such a manner. Rather, I think that there’s some minority of the population that is always like that. Twitter just allows the rest of us to see it. A cartoonist of my acquaintance says it best I think: [...]

  3. That's the best thing I have read on the subject. Twitter made me resent people, it made me feel like a window licking failure. High profile people I admire, understandably did not want to follow me. Before Twitter it never bothered me that the author of book I loved did not invite me over for a chat, or that I could not make a comedian laugh. its in ones face on Twitter. Anyway i have closed my account and feel more like myself once more

  4. Well, thank you Sam. That's high praise and really appreciated.

    I know exactly what you mean about learning to resent people. 'Window licking failure' is a beautiful phrase and perfectly sums up how I used to feel. Twitter manifests so many of the low level grudges we naturally carry with us that it's unsurprising when it all turns ugly and feral. When I first started to blog and then tweet as Richard Madeley (@richardmadeley) it was fun and playful and people understood the game. But then it all soured when Twitter became corporate and the real celebrities took over. I worked hard to be witty and people said I was funny until they realised I wasn’t really him. And that revealed something about people that made me even more jaded and cynical than I was before.

    I’m glad you’ve escaped. It’s like escaping from the Scientologists or the Moonies. And isn’t it nice to write something without that damn character counting down? Twitter’s restrictive nature would have stopped me long ago and it wouldn’t have allowed me to say another thank you for your comment. It really cheered me up after a very difficult day and I hope you keep enjoying my blog.