Remember the weird ginger kid at school (probably called Trevor) who used to walk round with his books in a briefcase? If that wasn’t you then the chances are you would have been one of the kids who quite rightly hurled abuse at the fiery haired suitcase carrying outcast. Look at him, walking around on his own – the big weirdo. What are you carrying round in your briefcase, Trev? Your sense of SHAME? To those already getting angry at this admittedly provocative opening paragraph please read this link thoroughly. The days of the schoolyard may be long gone but the pack mentality still prevails – especially on Twitter. We’ve all seen cases where Twitterers have been quick to get behind a cause with however is there a point at which a well meaning groundswell of opposition could simply be considered bullying?
A fine example is that of professional poo prodder, Gillian McKeith. The recent case where Mrs McKeith apparently libelled Dr Ben Goldacre has been well documented, especially so on the ever excellent and increasingly important Jack of Kent blog (do read it if you aren’t familiar with the story). The fallout from this little episode was significant with Twitterers chipping in to expose the many hypocrisies and glaring flaws in the Tweets coming from the @GillianMcKeith account. It wasn’t long before the many mocking Tweets caused Gillian McKeith to become a trending topic. The saying goes that “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt” but I’d argue that in this case she deserved to get exposed. There could never be a voice loud enough to adequately describe what she has done to tarnish the public perception of Science on television. Her nutritional advice is widely regarded as laughable (and potentially damaging) by the scientific community and will do well to only fuel the ignorance of those who wouldn’t think to question what they watch on television. Misinformation such as that propagated by Mrs Mckeith deserves this sort of exposure, especially when it relates to public health. It’s only a shame that it was her reputation that was tarnished and not the millions of pounds she has earned as a result of profiting from the ‘advice’ she dishes out.
We strive to keep our little blog free of any sort of politics, however it’s difficult to avoid when discussing the well documented case of Jan Moir’s ill advised and understandably perceived as anti-gay article on the unfortunate death of Boyzone singer, Stephen Gately. The backlash against this on Twitter was immense with Moir becoming a trending topic in minutes. The groundswell of support against this article was so great that advertisers on the Daily Mail’s website were persuaded to remove the adverts in what can only be seen as a damning indictment of the Mail’s editorial policy. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and in my view the response from this particular piece of journalism was entirely appropriate. If anything it was the bully who was receiving their comeuppance.
More recently and perhaps more trivially is the case of cheeky chappy Keith Chegwin being taken to task by a number of notable comedians on Twitter for seemingly Tweeting out their jokes without credit. The response to this little drama was not so clear cut with Twitterers divided between sticking up for who they felt was a lovable old personality and those who felt he was stealing material. In an artistic debate (if it can indeed be described as that) there will never be a clear cut bias to one side and I think this was reflected in the replies from the Twitter community. Much though I sided with those who accused Chegwin of stealing, in a way it was comforting to see that Twitter wasn’t a ‘mob’ that would automatically jump on the side of who was the most angry.
In it’s relatively short lifespan, Twitter has been a key influence and tool of illumination for many events: Trafigura, the Iran elections, #ILoveTheNHS, the British election and #CleggsFault, Raoul Moat to name a few. It has even been powerful enough to propel what in the past may have been considered lesser stories to become national news (you may remember we covered the controversy over Paperchase). To date I think the moral compass of Twitter has been entirely justified, however i think that it’s only a matter of time before someone is unjustly accused of something.
With the ease at which information spreads over Twitter it stands to reason that misinformation could spread equally fast. All it takes is a lack of basic fact checking and unquestioning acceptance of a general consensus for falsehoods to prevail. Luckily, there are many Twitterers and diligent bloggers who’s attention to detail will ensure that no fact goes unexamined.