If you spend long enough on Twitter, sooner or later you see, get involved in or are in the centre of a “Twitter storm”. If you’re not that well known, it might not even be a storm… but if you’re as well known as Johann Hari – it goes international.
I was involved in a minor one a few years ago, when I off-handedly tweeted that I welcomed that right-wing demagogue Rush Limbaugh ended up in hospital. Immediately, Conservative Home and Iain Dale were furiously trying to whip up outrage against me. No one outside their circle took the bait and the pitchfork mob never came. I survived.
But it usually works like this: (group 1) there are some sensible people who make valid criticism. In the case of Johann Hari, there were some journalists and professors who thought it was unethical. Fair enough. (I thought what he did was wrong but the “scandal” had gotten out of hand by noon… it was still going strong at 6pm).
(group 2) Then there are other prominent tweeters who just like to get on the bandwagon and offer their opinion on the issue. The bandwagon starts to roll apace. (Group 3) Then there are people who really hate the person in question. Hari has a legion of haters out there who think he’s too much of a softy liberal. Their politics isn’t necessarily leftist, they’re just nihilists. They rage at anyone and pretty much everyone. Twitter is there for them to rage at, and if they can join a mob to rage with, all the better. They love the opportunity to point out how principled they are.
(group 4) Then there are the right-wingers. They usually want the bandwagon to gather pace before dipping their toes, partly because they’ve complained about lefty Twitter mobs in the past. But they don’t like missing opportunities to lay into political enemies. So when Harry Cole, Iain Dale and Toby Young start to become sanctimonious about journalistic ethics – it’s an unstoppable bandwagon with every man and his dog on it. I’m surprised YouGov didn’t do an instant poll.
The whole Hari hate-fest became an unedifying spectacle of immense proportion that took up most of the day. Before anyone accuses me of being biased – I’ve objected in the past when some tweeters were raging against a writer at the Daily Mail complaining how difficult life was for the middle class. That became really unedifying too.
I was accused of leading a Twitter mob against Rod Liddle too, but that was just Catherine Bennett complaining that I’d blogged about his racist crap a few times on Libcon. (I stupidly used the line “I’m part of the mob and I’m proud of it” at the end of that article – not again).
We all make mistakes and sooner or later I’ll say something stupid on Twitter too. This will not doubt be used by people who hate me (I also have legions, possibly even more than Johann has because I’ve been blogging for six years) to whip up a Twitter storm. Today brought me a step closer to deleting my Twitter account. Some things are not worth the hassle.
All I’m saying is this. If you’re one of those people who gleefully participated with your pitchfork today – just hope it never happens to you.
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