Has Twitter got sh*tter?: Why has the Twitter world turned so nasty?

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

I love Twitter. Yes, it has prevented me from writing any more than 130 words of my novel (a sci-fi thriller about a super intelligent polar bear from the future. DO NOT STEAL MY IDEA).

Twitter's terribly posh Batman

It has also caused me to fall both down and up flights of stairs, miss my stop on the bus by about 14 miles and (most bizarrely) caused me to set fire to my elbow.

But nevertheless, I love it. I find it an interesting, eclectic, entertaining and generally warm community.

Which is why recent events in and around the world of Twitter have caused me some concern.

It seems that a sadistic, cruel and rather idiotic element has crept into Twitter and is making its decidedly ugly presence felt.

Perhaps I had always naively believed that if there was any wrongdoing or maliciousness on Twitter, its spiritual father and guardian, Stephen Fry would swoop down and vanquish those villains, like an incredibly posh Batman.

Alas, while Stephen is pretty much capable of most things, policing the hundreds of millions that make up the Twitter community is even beyond his remarkable powers.

The latest unpleasant incident has been the all-too-hasty (and to be honest, vindictive) naming of Lord McAlpine as being implicated in a child sex abuse scandal.

Prominent (and notoriously daft) figures such as Sally Bercow and George Monbiot weighed in, as did countless other Twitterers who may have had a lower public profile, but still possessed a considerable collective reach.

The allegations were, as we now know, unfounded (silly Newsnight). But the rumour had been unleashed and, as is the Twitter way, had spread remarkably quickly.

Lord McAlpine’s legal representatives are currently in the process of tracking down all those who falsely accused him via the site in order to sue the (I imagine now somewhat soiled) pants off them. His lawyer commented that this case is an example of just how nasty and damaging a ‘trial by Twitter’ can be.

Worryingly, the McAlpine incident is the latest in a string of incredibly unpleasant occurrences that have taken place on Twitter in recent months.

The awful people who released the name of the woman who was raped by the footballer Ched Evans. Career bell-end, Nick Griffin’s hateful publication of the address of a gay couple who had won a court battle against a bed and breakfast owner who had refused them entry based on their sexuality.

Death threats to celebrities, racist jokes, harassment. Things have gotten so bad recently that even Ashley Cole’s ‘bunch of twats’ Tweet barely registered the levels of outrage that his unique brand of buffoonery usually whips up.

Or are things actually that bad? Twitter, much like the BBC is pretty much loathed by certain newspapers. They claim it is dangerous, an unpoliced environment where the vulnerable are exposed and bigotry and vitriol can go unchecked.

I suspect that what it really comes down to is the fact that while people are getting their news, views and entertainment from Twitter they are less likely to buy a paper.

So, whenever a Twitter scandal erupts it inevitably makes an apoplectic, eye-bulging, snarling-like-an-angry-badger splash across the tabloids.

Clearly this is not to say that the incidents I mentioned above aren’t worthy of a grave and angry response. But the way Twitter-based indiscretions are reported makes it seem like this sort of behaviour is de rigueur.

Such things are ugly and they do occur, but the majority of Twitter use is good, honest, helpful, cheerful stuff.

What’s more, these press attacks can imply that Twitter is somehow enabling such atrocious behaviour. If that argument were valid then you could just as easily assert that a knife is the real perpetrator of a stabbing rather than the maniac/moron wielding it.

So while incidents like the McAlpine affair do disturb and depress me, I remain an advocate for the frankly wonderful impact Twitter has made on our world.

Of course I have to say that. Otherwise Stephen Fry will come round and (terribly politely) beat me to death.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. His elbow is now fine.

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