Last Friday, the writer and comedian, Emma Kennedy, published a blog post highlighting a spat she’d had with a (now blocked) follower over whether young writers should do work for free, which evolved into a heated exchange via email.
As far as I can see, and as Emma signs off in her blog post, they both acted a little like arseholes during their conversation; interesting that Jon seems unable to admit this though. It’s fascinating to see how the briefest of comments, which is all tweets are, can lead to a place of unwarranted and extreme hostility. As Jon points out, I don’t think the two of them have wildly differing opinions on this matter, it’s more that Emma approaches it from an idealist’s point of view and Jon from that of a pragmatist.
Of course, there is also the perennial problem of entirely text-based conversations which are very much open to misinterpretation, especially when the parties concerned only know each other through this line of communication. Intonation can make a world of difference to how a comment is understood, something which text struggles to convey beyond a bit of capitalisation and some well-used italics.
Stepping away from the particulars of this Twitter spat, which I think stemmed as much from crossed wires as it did from genuine confrontation, it amazes me how freely abusive people are to each other, especially to celebrities on Twitter. What for many is a great way of having immediate and direct contact with their favourite actor/author/singer/whatever, to others seems to be an excuse for them to be needlessly rude and offensive to the particular bee in their bonnet.
Part of the reason for this is surely that given the ability to be little more than an invented, anonymous Internet persona they feel protected from any kind of repercussion. Merely mentioning someone in a tweet is a very different thing to @-mentioning them, i.e. the person concerned will see your negative tweet about them whether they follow you or not – unless they’ve blocked you of course. It’s the Twitter equivalent of screaming abuse in someone’s face, which unless it’s Friday night, you’ve had one too many shandies and someone has shown you up on the dance floor by doing a more faithful re-enactment of the “Single Ladies” dance routine, then there’s just no need.
I’m probably about to sound like a tremendous snob with what I’m about to say (quelle surprise), but there we go: I think a lot of this abuse comes from people with a total lack of breeding. I don’t mean that as a class observation, since arseholes comes in all shapes and sizes, and from all sectors of society. Just because you grew up on a council estate doesn’t mean you’re the scum of the Earth (even if Jeremy Kyle would seem to tell you otherwise), similarly, just because you went to a fee-paying school (like myself) doesn’t mean you’re part of the chosen elite who are better than everybody else – there were plenty of dickheads at my school, let me assure you.
Of course, it’s human nature to be judgmental. Part of this undoubtedly derives from the evolutionary necessity of having the skill to differentiate between a potential friend or foe. Unfortunately, what once started out as “this guy looks like he may kill me and my kin” has become “this bitch can’t dress for shit and gets right on my tits” or the like. Now I’m no Richard Dawkins, but this isn’t particularly a desirable development for the human species, is it? It’s something we could all do with less of in our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those annoyingly perma-happy idiots who won’t criticise a soul lest it harshes someone’s mellow; I just think there’s a time and place. I was brought up to have good manners and an understanding of the importance of etiquette. Don’t send direct messages of abuse to people that irk you. Do it behind their back like a lady, duh.
It’s incredibly easy to vent your spleen, unleashing a torrent of vitriol at your chosen target. We can all do it – it’s not big, clever or funny. Withering mockery IS funny however, which is not what I’m talking about, I mean the raw, unfiltered shittiness that certain people seem to relish. This unreasonable hostility is rife in every corner of the Internet and comes in many colours, the most frequent being casual forms of racism, homophobia and misogyny. In many ways the casual usage makes it more shocking, though perhaps this is ultimately revealing about the limited vocabulary and intellect of the user.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called a “fag” while playing games online, which, while technically true, doesn’t really have any bearing on how I play computer games. I mean we all play in hot pants, chair-dancing to Cher, right?
In all seriousness though, if you have nothing better to do with your time than to sit on the Internet sending unfettered abuse at other people, even if they are a celebrity (think how you’d feel) then may I suggest you do us all a favour and go chase cars on the motorway instead?