Hell, it’s been tough, but I think I’ve pulled through. I went out this morning to buy some cigarettes and there were plenty of people about, doing stuff — so the world has not changed beyond recognition these last couple of days. Everyone else seems to have made it. I hope you made it OK, too, without the need for counselling. Here we all are, huddled together, clutching at each other for warmth in the post-apocalyptic gloom. But we’re still standing. We managed to survive Caitlin Moran’s 24-hour boycott of Twitter.
Moran is a journalist who decided to boycott Twitter because, incredible though it might seem, people keep saying nasty things on this conduit for the vapid, histrionic and self-obsessed. She is of course part of the not-terribly-bright bourgeois metro left, where an annoyance that contrivances such as Twitter and Facebook allow people other than themselves to express opinions, sometimes rather strongly worded, has taken hold. Caitlin’s little petulant foot-stamp was an attempt to punish the rest of Twitter’s users, by depriving them of the delights of Caitlin, and perhaps also send a message to its management about how people like Caitlin — and many, many others from the same neck of the woods, the well-fed London liberal absolutist left neck of the woods — won’t stand for stuff which they describe as hateful being said to them. It really is appalling, etc.
Properly hateful stuff undoubtedly has been said. Several high-profile women, including the rather admirable Labour MP Stella Creasy, have been threatened with rape via one or another internet conduit. Television’s famous Mary Beard had her appearance mocked after making an idiot of herself on the BBC’s Question Time programme. Someone has now apparently threatened to blow her up with a bomb and the police are investigating. Another bomb threat was posted to Grace Dent, a journalist from what remains of the Independent. Threatening to bomb or rape people is, of course, foul, as well as being against the law. I hope the people who made these threats are punished.
And if that was where it ended, then I would be in happy accord with Beard and Dent and Moran and the others in their condemnations, even if I were to add the rider: well, yes, that’s Twitter — there are some really mad people out there, and they all are allowed a voice. But it’s not quite so simple as that because, underneath, what most of them are really complaining about is that the benighted hoi polloi are allowed to comment adversely and express their annoyance at the largely fatuous beliefs which attend to this gilded circus of well-heeled bien pensant bores. The great unwashed keep demanding to have their say.
And they believe, these bores, that they are being victimised as a consequence of their race or their gender, because their entire worldview is comprised of a Manichean split between victim and oppressor, and they are always the oppressed. So Mary Beard believes she was vilified because she is a woman, and the Huffington Post columnist Mehdi Hasan believes he is being victimised because he is an Asian Muslim and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, another Indy scribbler, believes she is being victimised because she is an Asian woman. But none of this is really true, in the main. People say horrible things to them all because they dislike them for what they believe in, pretty much.
Not many people, either. Most just contest their points of view, sometimes forcibly. But others lapse into personal abuse, often picking upon the most immediately identifiable features of their adversary, while a tiny minority of online sociopaths issue the vilest of threats. Hell, I cannot remember a single month in the past ten years when I haven’t been threatened, while being abused for my hideous appearance is an almost hourly occurrence — and I don’t go on Twitter: like Caitlin, I’ve imposed a boycott on the thing, except mine is a lifetime in duration.
But I do not think the threats are really the main cause of this disaffection with social media within this tiny and terribly pleased-with-itself elite. Look at another of them, Charlie Brooker, who is giving up his regular Guardian column at least partly because he doesn’t like the contributions from readers posted beneath his usually entertaining observations. It is all right for Charlie to stick the boot in; OK for him to call people a ‘cunt’ when they disagree with his views (it was me, as I remember, who was the cunt). And it’s perfectly OK for Caitlin to tell Aids jokes, bandy about the words ‘spazz’ and ‘tranny’ and ‘mong’, but she’s not happy when the nastiness is directed back at her.
They have terribly thin skins, these people, skins as delicate as the surface tension of water. And when you investigate the pathology of this hair-trigger sensitivity, you find that it is simply that they do not like their worldview being challenged; those who do challenge it are, by definition, ‘hateful’. You may remember a survey from a year or so back in which it was revealed that liberals are far more likely to ‘defriend’ someone on Facebook if that person is so rash, so misguided, so hateful, as to disagree with the politically orthodox point of view, i.e. their point of view. This anger at social-media sites is rather an anger at the world for daring to think differently from them, an eventuality they had not hitherto contemplated.