I always advise younger journalists never to use irony or make jokes on social media, so when I was effectively sacked for alluding to an edible fruit of the palm family, I should have known better. And of course I did know better. I deleted my three-word tweet within minutes. But screenshots live for ever. There are no second thoughts on Twitter, no clarifications allowed. No second chances either. It is judge and jury and will take away your career, reputation and livelihood at the click of a mouse, if pusillanimous employers allow it to.
I’d been in countless Twitter storms in the past over Scottish nationalism, hate crime, gender. It’s what Twitter does. So when the editor of the Scottish Herald, for which I had been a columnist for more than 20 years, rang to tell me I was suspended, I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. The order had come from ‘upstairs’. I was out.
What for? Had I libelled someone? Nope. Broken the law? Nah. Had I been accused of groping? Of course not. I hadn’t even offended Twitter’s notoriously woke algorithms. I had used a word that is ‘not acceptable’ and the Daily Mail (shock horror) had asked for a comment. I pointed out that publications including the Guardian and Newsweek had recently published articles about how black Tories had been abused as ‘coconuts’ (brown on the outside, white on the inside) by the left. My tweet – ‘a coconut cabinet?’ – was an allusion to this, an ironic response to another tweet by someone who had said the presence of black ministers in the Conservative cabinet does not make it truly ‘diverse’.
When the Labour MP Rupa Huq said Kwasi Kwarteng was ‘superficially black’, she meant it.