Mark Steel in The Independent
The scientists who invented the internet believed they were creating the means for humanity to reach a heightened level of co-operation never considered possible. People from remote corners of the globe could communicate, bringing an understanding of the spectrum of human experience within instant reach of us all.
And that’s how it’s worked out, with discourse such as “Why you not pis off Trottsky scum!” – “Shutt you mouth and join Tories Blairite yak droppings”, advancing the discussion about the Labour party on Twitter and website forums, to enlighten us all.
This process hasn’t just taken place in politics. On sporting forums, someone may advance the premise “Man U rule Arsnal go and do 1 Wenger lik my ars”, and you find yourself considering the points made all day, often reading it many times, to find something new in the sub-text you hadn’t noticed before.
On YouTube, when a local band uploads a song, it will be followed by a series of comments. The first will say “awesome guys” from a friend, then comes 80 more such as “I’d rather eat my own liver with gravy made from the green stuff in Olympic pool than lissen to that dog sick”.
There’s probably a gardening forum, in which someone writes “I’d say now is about the right time of year to plant your begonias.” Then someone replies “That shows what u know about gardning u compost face donky breath bet cant even tell rose from venis flytrap knobhead nippelface hope u trellis falls down kils runner beens lol I tell u what its write time of year to plant tree up you arse”.
I expect the Buddhist Meditation community has its own website, on which followers can share their experiences of finding inner peace, in which a convert may suggest “I learned to love through the mindfulness of breathing, and find my sense of place has found a new calm”
And the first reply will be “my temple beet yous anyday u chant nothing but shite its om not um any Buddhist know that our meditashin only way to troo peace we tear your robe up eesy hope u reinkarnate as wosp”.
Twitter, especially, offers a marvellous service to people who take everything literally. For example, on the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, it was suggested by the government that we remember the occasion by turning off our lights in the evening. So I mentioned on Twitter “I’ve done my bit to commemorate the soldiers, I turned off my headlights as I was driving up the M23.”
Back came a torrent of abuse that I still haven’t finished sifting through, so it’s lovely to know people care.
There is probably no combination of words you can put on Twitter that someone won’t go berserk about. You could write “What a lovely sunset over Dorset this evening”, and someone will reply “not so lovely if you suffer from Sunset Aversion Depressive Dusk Syndrome actually. Think before you insult SADDS victims please Mark”.
The advanced student of Twitter anger won’t even need a real comment, they can reply with fury to nothing. I noticed someone firing a series of fuming comments about me for “mocking the mentally ill”. Eventually she acknowledged she’d mixed me up with someone else entirely, then without missing a beat carried on being furious about something else that probably hadn’t happened.
This is how the internet has honed our debating skills, as no longer are we bound to the tyranny of having to make sure we’re talking about the right person. We can scream “Why should we take any notice of Clare Balding’s opinions on the Olympics when she ruined Zimbabwe.”
After a couple of weeks we might accept we’ve mixed her up with Robert Mugabe but the original point is still valid.
This is why sometimes, it’s a relief to see one of those petitions that says “Please sign to stop new park bench being built as this will destroy one of Lewisham’s most colourful cluster of dandelions.”
The wonder of the internet, it was suggested, would be to take power from the old media and allow everyone an outlet for their views. We would all, in effect, own a newspaper.
But this week The Times newspaper published a story that Billy Bragg, at the Edinburgh Festival, denounced Jeremy Corbyn for “not reaching out to the wider electorate”, having previously supported him.
This was an imaginative effort, as what Billy said was he still backed Corbyn, and “hoped he would reach out to the wider electorate.”
This is a new and exciting way of reporting news. If Mo Farah’s coach says “I hope Mo starts strongly in the 5000 metres final”, they can report that as “Coach turns on Farah…the previously supportive trainer insisted Mo hasn’t been starting strongly enough, leading some athletes to wonder whether the trainer may decide to replace him with Owen Smith.”
One lesson of this is the worrying revelation that newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch may sometimes distort the facts in some way.
But the reaction to the story on social media was that many Labour members opposed to Corbyn were triumphant, while Corbyn supporters denounced Bragg, and were especially angry that he’d “given an interview to The Times” which he hadn’t.
The genius of this is it means people were angry about Billy Bragg, because someone they trust had spoken to a paper which they believe makes up stories, having read this in the paper they believe makes up stories.
Somehow the internet has made the old papers even more powerful than before.
Soon we’ll need clinics, where the addicted angry people can be weaned off the internet, wandering through gardens occasionally calling the rockery “scum” and writing “#traitor” in the mud about one of the fish until they’re cured.