Saturday 13 November 2010

A little bird tweeting

I am naught but a little bird tweeting. I am not a journalist, I am a geek. A geek in love with words, yes, but nevertheless a geek. A woman who loves to describe, shape, evoke, revoke, aspire, inspire, play and provoke, but a geek, first and foremost.

Geeks don't like it when things are not 'fair'. I don't mean not fair in a tantrum rattle throwing way, I mean a basic human right violated, criminal getting away with it kind of not fair. Something done wrong, which could easily be righted, a thing unprovoked and unwarranted, undone.

On Thursday, a man called Paul Chambers lost his appeal against his conviction earlier this summer, under some random nuisance call legislation, for posting a tweet joking about Robin Hood airport being closed. No matter that the tweet was a written communication, no matter that it was a joke and everyone knowing the man who read his stream would have know this without needing to be told, no matter that he is one man writing in public what a thousand will have said in private - the conviction stands and he is saddled with a total £2000 bill as well.

Also on Thursday, a Birmingham Councillor posted a tweet inciting the stoning of a Muslim columnist for the Evening Standard and The Independant, also on Twitter. Gareth Compton apologised, used in his defense the comment:
Twitter is a forum for glib comment of the moment. It was a glib comment. Who could possibly think it was serious?
 If the Judge in the appeal for Paul Chambers cast doubt on his defense that he was not keeping up with news and current affairs, then one assumes this is also the defense Gareth Compton is using. So tell me, do tell me please, how it is possible that Gareth Compton is not being charged with anything for a 'glib comment' on Twitter which was tantamount to inciting murder in text, while a young man has been punished for life for doing exactly the same thing - except I think we can all agree that perhaps his comment was more obviously a joke, given the context?

Ah, but here we come to the crux of the matter. Context. Both these tweets are taken out of context, and as such contain no history, no attached framework which explains the context within which they were said. And lo! because legislation has not kept apace with technology developments, we now have a situation where we are using 80 year old legislation to prosecute 21st century commentary. Which, therefore, does not require context, but only allows a comment to be judged on what it is - a comment out of time.

So we come to this morning. Ah yes, I hear you cry, but you're biased. Well actually, I'm not. I've never spoken to the lady in question, until this morning I did not follow her, and though we know many people in common because this is the nature of Twitter, we did not know each other at all. I now follow her, and she now follows me. But this is inconsequential, as I have not read her stream at all.

The lady I am talking about, of course, is one Sarah Baskerville, aka Baskers, which is her tag on Twitter. The Daily Mail, this morning, saw fit to print a character assasination of someone, by name, in Quentin Letts column. It is worth noting the number of comments on the piece linked above. It appears The Daily Mails abhoration of freedom of speech extends to its readership, who are not permitted to express displeasure at the contents of the articles they are reading.

Baskers is a civil servant. She writes a wonderful blog. In it, she comes across as a rather intelligent, bright young woman, in a job which she admits she could try harder at but also admits is not glamourous or particularly frontline. So instead of descending into a spiral of self pity and demotivation, she has looked outside of her little silo and has decided to push the transparency agenda as hard as she can, involving herself voluntarily, and giving her time freely, to attend unconferences and bar camps and to talk to the geeks who are trying to do cool and funky things with data, in order to bridge a gap, a gap of understanding, of comprehension, of workflow and of civic mystery.

In other words, last time I looked, a shining role model of what Big Society is. Is it not? Is this how we reward the people who work for us not only 9-5 in front of a desk, but also out in the wild, telling people the good, but also occasionally the bad, and in the process gaining audience and credibility in their honesty? Is this the thanks we will give to a generation of men and women who see the right and shout about it, but also see the wrong and shout about that too - and then get off their asses and go and try and do something about it? Do we want sheep who will do nothing but what's instructed, never to think for themselves, never to innovate or find the edges?

Can I suggest to the Daily Mail that the roi on Baskers is not only monetary? That she is a link between the past and the future? That her way of doing things - honestly and openly - is the future that generation y are bringing en masse whether you like it or not?

Except no, I cannot. Because the comment thread is closed. And here we come to the root of the cause of all this noise. The fear. The fear that social networking, social media is untrackable, untraceable, rippling and evolving. Out of control? Perhaps in only the sense that everything is out of control, in its evolution. Could we have predicted the expanding capabilities of the computer chip 10 years ago? Should we have stamped on that development because we had no idea of where it would end? As a species, are we going to stamp on all things which we cannot predict, because we do not wish to see where the unsigned path will lead? Why is freedom of speech free only verbally, why is it becoming clear that freedom of speech textually is going to be a gnarly issue, attempts made to constrict and punish? Why has Twitter suddenly become the focus of so much attention? Is it because it is easier to read bursts of 140 and find the thoughtlessly posted comments, than it is to wade through every blog in existence? But reading only one 140 burst only gives a moment, not the context.

So here's the thing. I am going to ask very many people to tell me the good things about Twitter. The positive things. The life changing things and the little things which make peoples day. If social media is telling a story, well come tell me yours, because if you believe the media this week, Twitter is only negative, and I don't believe that for a second.

So, in the spirit of militant optimism, this is the line. I am drawing it. Time to fight back in black and white, to tell the story of networking, of entrepreneurs, of love and laughter, of connections and friendships for life, of lobbying and engaging with constituents, of doing business and telling people they've got jobs, of memes and hash tags, of all the things Twitter which has brought us, of all the conversations in sight and out. All things can be used and abused. Alcohol causes utter chaos every Friday and Saturday night. But in the interests of balance, I think it's time to pour a glass of wine, just the one, and to savour every drop, sensibly.

ETA: A story of the Gaza convoy hostages via my friend @annelidworm who used social media with others to bring the plight of his friend to the attention of the traditional media. Incidentally, I've met him once, but spoken to him, on and off, for well over 15 years - using social media. 


  1. flippin nora, I wouldn't know where to start,you have said all I would say in your post above.
    Twitter is like any other means of communication, great in the right hands/mouth.
    Can be awful in the wrong hands too. Baskers is a great tweeter. You are too. You are nice in real life. Never met Sarah but I am sure we will meet one day. Twitter is shrinking our shiny world.

  2. I actually get to meet people in real life because of Twitter!
    I didn't before.

  3. Twitter has opened a door for me on new knowledge, new ideas, new points of view and more to the point meeting new fantastic people. One of them I am pleased to say is Sarah herself. Sarah is a "what you see is what you get person" no airs and graces just a true honest person. I am proud to be able to declare "I am a friend of @baskers." I was once told this comment which is very true.... Facebook is who you went to school with, Twitter is who you wished you had. School would have been a damn better place if Sarah had been there with me!

  4. Twitter is terrifying because it circumvents "old media". It's uncensored, incredibly fast, easily digestible, easy to join in in amplifying a signal and takes no prisoners. Big corps of all stripes are scared silly as entities because they can no longer control their message or image (I know I always come back to this but it's the case I know best: Nestle's royal screw-ups are a great illustration of how money doesn't control message any more). Blogs they can take down, with the right lawyers; prior to these cases Twitter's been too fast to get hold of - the slippery eel of instant, global communication.

    This has been Twitter's greatness. But as more people begin to use it, more message can be bought (again, look at Nestle and Kraft's involvement with American "mommy bloggers" for how endorsements on Twitter can be bought). So again, we're back to truth vs greed in communications. I don't know if there's a solution. But the more systems like Twitter there are, the more opportunity there is for the Truth to be Out There, as it were.

  5. There are 64 comments on Lett's colum,n, mostly not in support and, when I last looked, comments didn't appear to be closed. However, I haven't got past the text entry screen, so I can't say for sure.

    I would add that I personally don't tweet, blog or comment about by employment or employer. I don't consider it wise, conducive to a positive working environment and it's also something where conflicts of interests are difficult to avoid. It is all to easy to equate one's personal interests with those of society at as a whole. For instance, it is difficult to imagine many NHS managers looking in a disinterested manner at alternative models for public health provision when, arguably, several western European countries have developed better ones.

    Frankly, anything you deliberately put in a public forum is public domain. If you don't want it commented on, then simply don't put it there. Now this is a million miles from saying that just because something is in the public domain that the law should take an interest. It shouldn't except in the most extreme cases. The Paul Chambers one is ludicrous. Judge Davies, along with the CPS has done much to damage the credibility of the law. There has also been a whole raft of legislation in recent years which threatens that.

    So by all means have a go at what you perceive as unfair criticism or treatment, or abuse of power. But freedom of speech also means being able to deal with the consequences. Freedom of speech is a doubl-edged sword.

  6. Hi Steve,
    I think you're probably new here. This post, taken out of context, probably does seem a little naive.
    However, I am well aware of the double edged sword, not only of freedom of speech, but also of the freedom of social media, as part of my job is to be aware of the uses of both by the EDL and IDL. I agree with neither group. Yet I understand that they have the right to state their case as much as I and any other person does. This does not mean that I have to agree with what is being said.
    I do not agree with a national newspaper concerning themselves with someones life and only selectively choosing which sections of her life they focus on. Last time I looked, Sarah Baskerville is not a celebrity, is not in the public eye, and therefore all your justifications that she must endure this intrusion are nothing but charred bits of paper in the wind.
    Intrusion and privacy are human rights. Celebrities may be widely perceived to have waived that right. Sarah Baskerville does not, simply because she tweets and blogs. Otherwise, one assumes you would be fine with papparazzi camped outside your door for no other reason than that you wrote this comment, and I believe I would be right in assuming you are not.

    Finally, at the time I wrote this post, at midnight last night, comments were closed. Quite how I was to know that this state was temporary, I do not know, therefore I make no apologies for calling it as I saw it, when I looked.

    Context. Isn't it a complicated thing?

  7. Some newspapers turn off commenting overnight when there isn't anyone around to moderate comments. It's a legal thing to protect them from libel suits.

  8. We don't know yet if Gareth C. is going to be charged....if he is, he needs the same level of support that Chambers got (and hopefully a more sensible outcome...

  9. I associate twitter with only extremely positive experiences & it could evolve to be like the modern Library of Alexandria...

  10. I am one of many people on Twitter who has the disease Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (an infectious disease of the central nervous system). Most of us are bed-bound or house-bound and Twitter provides our only connection to the outside world/other people. Even lying down, you can tweet from your phone/iPod/iPad. It's a lifeline. So there's a positive thing! #mecfs is our hashtag.

  11. Twitter helps me keep in touch on a moment by moment basis with my best friend, who lives in a different continent.
    It has joined me up with other feminists too, in a growing movement of change and information sharing.
    It also keeps me company while I feed my little baby to sleep :)

  12. Great post.

    My Twitter stream charts my recent descent into mental illness following the end of a relationship. It is as times purgative but also often flippant and humerous.

    Twitter has allowed me to contact others in a similar position and has been invaluable in directing me toward information and advice.

    Most importantly, it's fun and there is always someone there to chat to/at. I take my tweeting responsibility very seriously and checking TweetDeck is one of the first things I do in the morning.


  13. Twitter has helped me with a proper legal defence in an unfair dismissal case. Without the people I have met there I would not know my employee rights, have thought "I can't take on 'the big man' as a little woman and not be able to stand up for myself.

    I'm posting anon because I'm only just about to settle the employment issue (defriending my bosses boss on facebook sent her into a rage where she accused me of writing something I did not & on her hearsay they fired me after a very long service!) employers and everyone else should get used to the fact social media is here and twitter uses irony and wit in 140 characters or less.


  14. Twitter has led me to meet so many people; people like myself and people leading very different lives, but all of whom I love to interact with.
    This is so far removed from a former self who loved nothing more than to get away from human contact altogether.
    Networking doesn't even cover it. The support I get, the information; I've been able to change my views on so many things, develop my character, be involved in worthwhile campaigns, communicate my own research.

    I don't know what I would do without it; were it to be pulled from under my feet I would certainly feel like I was teetering at the edge of a cliff.

    The internet as a whole, to which Twitter is a kind of gateway or filter, allows us to step back from the mainstream media and the rubbish it churns out, the views that the general population pick up consciously or otherwise because of it.

    I feel better-informed, appreciated as an individual (and my Twitter/blog 'brand') and I love the people I meet through it - indeed, I've met more people "from the internet" in the last year than I have in the 12 previous years I've been online.

    Paul's case is sickening and I just hope that people will realise the evolution of the media is speeding ahead and not (vainly?) attempt to stop it.

  15. Except no, I cannot. Because the comment thread is closed

    It's open now and there are 68 comments, many of them voicing opposing views. I don't think it's unreasonable for a newspaper to close comments over the weekend and open them when the mods return.

  16. Great Post!
    Facebook virtualises the often held view that schooldays were the best day. We try to freeze that sense of feeling big in small world. Twitter flows by us with the intensity and diversity of the real (urban) world. It's open, diverse, potentially both scary and collaborative. FB saves us growing up by letting us hang on to our youth by favouriting that identity. Twitter is us at 24 Tweets a second; fred

  17. I feel more connected and informed with Twitter. I get different points of view and can give my point of view. I find it to be an open and fun place. I love how I can connect with people I never would on Facebook because I would never friend them or they me because we never knew each other. I also love being able to be an ocean away and connecting with people as a soccer match is going on. Twitter opens my world.

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