Friday, 16 October 2009


I've recently began using my twitter account again. Not because of any desperate urge to micro-blog again - since I'm already doing altogether more macro-blogging than my brain can handle - but, shamefully, because my workplace has set up an account. Not wanting to be outpaced by a non-sentient entity, then, I've gone back to the beast, though probably only for a limited time.

When Twitter does make it into the news at the moment, it's usually because of its use as a real-time conduit for news, comment and reaction (as though there aren't innumerable other routes for such things), and usually in the context of the media's surprise at the scale of the response. Often these things are self-inflated "issues", where the web gets itself all het up about a particular event or issue, and the feedback loop of up-to-the-minute social networking means that lots of people talk about it at once, which makes it look like a big deal to more mainstream media.

In any case, it was interesting to see such a storm build up today over Jan Moir's article for the Daily Mail about the recent death of Stephen Gately. The article is at best pointless, offering as it does nothing to back up its own badly-framed conjecture. Even by rumour-mongoring standards, the piece seems weak, since any points made are vague and rambling, without any concrete central argument. Essentially she seems to be saying "So, that Gately was pretty young to have died. Suspicious that, innit. Gay too, I hear. That must have had something to do with it."

The article went up about 10am or so, and the first twitter posts I saw appeared shortly afterwards. As the news spreads, with people quoting each other and linking again and again to the article, the bigger guns pick it up. These celebrity twitterers are doing nothing more than repeating the same reactions and link as those before them, but with hundreds of thousands of followers, the message suddenly explodes, and with more and more people reading the article, reaction turns into action from all sides. Spoofs and responses are posted, and the newspaper itself is forced to try to respond (in this case by editing at least the headline of the offending article - a futile reaction online).

After this, more direct action comes to the forefront, with suggestions of official complaints followed by some going further, prompting calls for restraint.

Finally, an official reaction from the author of the article. Though she tries to address some of the issues raised about her initial piece, she ignores others. Though in her original article, she says that only the other two men in the flat will know what went on, she has no hesitation to make suggestions in her follow up piece about what she believes happened. Ultimately, she can't hide the fact that she was writing for a national newspaper and simply spouting vague and meaningless supposition for which there was no evidential support. And the people who read her article were rightly annoyed about it.

For her to suggest that there was "clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign" against her shows both a fairly egotistical view of her own importance, and also a fundamental misunderstanding of how news travels on the internet. There was no conscious organisation or orchestration because there did not have to be - the internet community self-organised without any leadership, as it does whenever there is enough movement in one direction. To see conspiricies and personal attacks in this sort of response is like suggesting that an avalanche is an organised attack by some sort of rogue group of snowflakes.

Final thoughts.

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