Parliamentary sketch – Armchair tweeting in a parallel universe

Posted on: 29th November 2012

Twitter is on trial.  To twitter is to publish.  Defamation laws apply.  Some seem to believe they may defame anyone they choose, and to their heart’s content.

Now thousands are waking up to reality, and to the Law.  With tweeting freedom (and its power and influence) comes responsibility!  It may seem harmless when concocted from the comfort of homely armchairs or handheld devices, but what if it comes bouncing back on you?

Lord McAlpine is now entitled to seek redress from the 10,000 tweeters and re-tweeters who fuelled false rumours that he was a child rapist.  I’m sure his lawyers will allow many to settle out of as well as in Court.

What if someone else had been saying about them what they were gleefully saying about others?  Jaws plummet, as pennies drop…

It’s a clever and (even for someone as IT challenged as I) accessible medium; though, I have to admit, I still need help on the very few occasions that I try using it!  Apparently MPs don’t actually exist unless they have an account on virtually every social media going. So I have them and I’m sorry to say they mostly sit there in a semi-comatose state waiting for the day when I’m finally dragged kicking and screaming out of the quill pen and parchment era for which I believe I was best suited.

Ok, so I may be a fossil from an ancient epoch, perpetually flattened (due solely to my own incompetence) on the information superhighway.  But from a vantage point of the real world it seems to me that social networking is creating a parallel universe.  One where the flames of vendettas, conspiracy theories and personal enmities are fed synthetic oxygen.

One newspaper commentator “fears” that the social network “has provided rocket fuel for sadism”; that it gives “a soap box to every crank, inadequate and bully” (not that you could say such things about newspaper commentators of course!).

This part of the superhighway is similar to the actual highway in this respect.  It’s like road rage.  It seems that many more of us lose personal inhibitions and become demonic forms of ourselves when we get behind the keyboard of a computer than when we get behind the wheel of a car.  It seems to become all the more intoxicating when the authors of this stuff are worse for wear, or it’s late at night, but particularly when anonymity is assured and an alter ego can find a voice!

Of course, in those idyllic pre-internet days all politicians still came in for a fair bit of unvarnished criticism.  But now vitriol can be served up on an industrial scale, and it often is.  Most politicians tolerate (or, in my case, nurture) their very own pet set of regular detractors.  And you anticipate that political opponents will shamelessly exploit the opportunities too.  But in its present form this ‘network’ creates a swamp through which the majority of sane and well adjusted folk must traverse before advancing onto the sunlit uplands of rational discussion.

So watch out!  After McAlpine, the Coalition Government will probably go ahead with its new Defamation Act. Twitter, Facebook, etc, will be forced to identify anonymous users or face litigation themselves.  Defamers will no longer be allowed to hide behind their disguises.  How refreshing will that be?

Andrew George

27th November 2012