It’s been a while since I’ve been personally attacked for something I’ve written. No, I’ve not missed it, so please, don’t feel obliged to do so in response to this piece.
But if you do, in the comments box below, I can’t really say I haven’t asked for it here, can I?
Criticism of creative works, whether they are writings, cartoons, comedy, music, or any creative endeavour, comes with the package. If you’re not prepared to be criticised for your opinions and works, then don’t offer them to the world. There will always be those who agree with what you’ve created (no matter how good or bad the work) and always be those who dislike “it”, whatever “it” is.
I’ve written previously about the personal and misogynistic attacks Laurie Penny has faced over some of her pieces, and I’ve been sickened at those and other attacks at friends whose sole offence seems to be to provoke a reaction of “we don’t like you.”
However, notwithstanding my earlier comment that all creators invite criticism (good and bad) of their works, there’s a current unpleasant practice on Twitter that I think is worthy of comment.
Now if you write a column, or a blog, there is usually an opportunity at the venue of publication to comment upon that piece of writing. The very fact that opportunity exists invites people to do so. And, while the advice of “never read the comments” is always given, it’s a fact that precious few creators have the ability and willpower not to at least glance at them.
“Never read the comments” is perhaps the best advice for the Internet, apart from Wil Wheaton’s advice of “Don’t be a dick.” Sadly, it’s equally ignored by many.
But, if I can use an analogy, many people complain about a television programme offending them. The usual response is “don’t watch it then”, and it’s a fair response at that. Despite the oft-quoted counter of “I didn’t ask for this to be in my living room’, I’m sorry, but you did precisely that, by selecting that television programme to watch.
In the same way, if you go looking for criticism of your work, in some (but not all) ways, you forfeit the moral right to complain at what’s been written about the work. You don’t, however, ever forfeit the right to complain about personal attacks.
However – back to the tv example for a moment – so far, at least, my television has never switched channel mid-way through an episode of House MD to show, say, Keith Olbermann attacking me in full “rampaging bull elephant on heat” mode.
Neither, to take another example, has my internet browser suddenly alerted me with a pop up window showing me details of an Internet commenter ripping me, or something I’ve written, apart.
And then we have Twitter. Twitter is almost unique (Facebook has tags, but they’re somewhat different) in that anyone on Twitter, anyone at all, can attach an ‘@’ to your Twitter ID in a tweet and it will be brought to your attention. You can’t avoid it. It’s the way Twitter works.
So, let’s say Joe Oik from Cityville, Nebraska doesn’t like something I’ve written.
Fair enough, it happens.
He tweets the following:
Just read the latest column by Lee Barnett. God, the guy’s a dick. He should give up foisting this crap on the world. He’s fucking useless.
Fair enough, it’s unpleasant, and I would – I’d imagine – disagree with the broad sentiments of his views. And yes, if I or friends saw it, I or they might respond. We’d be idiots to, but hey, we’re entitled to be idiots just as much as anyone else online.
But I am, and they are, unlikely to see the tweet unless I or they undertake a vanity search on Twitter, or on Google, since Google have started showing tweets in their search results.
Contrast that with the following tweet:
Just read the latest column by @budgie. God, the guy’s a dick. He should give up foisting this crap on the world. He’s fucking useless.
Now, I’m going to see that tweet. I’m definitely going to see that tweet.
It’s going to be notified to me next time I go on Twitter. Depending upon how I access Twitter, I might even get a little icon lighting up highlighting the fact that someone has mentioned me. And, since I’m like everyone else, I’m kind of curious when someone mentions me.
So I’ll read the tweet.
Make no mistake, this doesn’t fall within “don’t read the comments.” This is the actual “I didn’t want this in my living room” as opposed to the falsity of that being applied to television.
Of course I’m going to read it. Because that was what was intended by the tweeter when he or she wrote it.
I was trying to think of any “innocent” reasons for including someone’s Twitter name, suitably @’d, in a nasty, criticising, tweet, and, with a couple of friends, I think I’ve identified two:
(1) the tweeter is new to Twitter, and doesn’t realise that every ‘@’ is notified to the subject.
(2) the tweeter is a fucking idiot.
(1) is possible. It is. People new to any form of communication make errors in etiquette, format, etc. Just think of how many people over the years have had to be told that writing in capitals denotes shouting. Or just who has has to be informed that “LOL” doesn’t mean “Lots of Love”.
So, (1) is possible. But I think it’s difficult to argue ignorance or naïveté when you’ve got 500+ tweets under your belt.
And (2) is more than possible. Paraphrasing the words of an old Labour MP when accused of being a stupid cunt, there are lot of stupid cunts around and they deserve some representation. And there are even more online.
But I’d venture to suggest that of all the offending tweets with which this piece is concerned, i.e. nasty tweets with an ‘@’ in them, maybe, maybe, 1% fall into this ‘innocent’ category.
Now, there are various ways of dealing with these tweets once they’re in your view, in your view I repeat through no effort of your own, in your view because they’ve been put there quite deliberately by someone whose only motive is to offend or, if you’re both cynical and forgiving, to bolster follower count by offending someone.
There’s what I call The Cathartic Response: Retweet the offending tweet without comment. Get it out of your system and just slap it out there for the world to see. It can’t ‘hurt’ you any more and it has the side-effect of letting your followers and fans know that someone’s been nasty to you. Who knows? Someone may… remonstrate with the tweeter and let them know that their’s is a minority view.
(I’m reminded of the tale of George Bernard Shaw, upon taking his bows at a first night to thunderous applause, and detecting one person booing. GBS is reputed to have responded “Personally, sir, I agree, but what are we two against the multitudes?” I don’t believe it. I think Shaw probably told him to fuck off.)
Then there’s the “I’ll show him” Response, where the creator point blank tells his followers to take on the tweeter. Though I have little sympathy for the tweeter, this is just plain stupid.
As is the Hit Back Just As Nastily Response, as exemplified by Giles Coren yesterday. Yes, it’s tempting, but it ends up with neither ‘side’ smelling of roses. I suspect that Coren’s tweet will become the new example of “tweet in haste, repent in leisure.”
The only sensible thing to do is… to do nothing. And that’s about as likely as no-one ever reading the comments on the Internet.
So you’re left with the not very sensible things to do.
Which is also unsatisfactory.
I don’t know the solution – I really don’t.
But here’s an idea. It’s novel, I know, and terribly old fashioned, but then in many ways, I’m a terribly old-fashioned bloke.
How about… just not doing it, people of Twitter? How about having the common courtesy not to ‘@’ someone if you’re taking a pop at them? How about just thinking a moment before hitting that “Send” button?
How about… just behaving like you’re not a dick?