Tuesday 25 October 2016

Kim Bielenberg: From "whipping girls" to "bigoted vomits" - is it time for the Twitter ranters to calm down?

Published 14/01/2013 | 14:01

PUBLIC figures are giving up social media in droves, declaring that they are unable to take the abuse any more.

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At this rate, one wonders whether any celebrities or politicians will be left on Twitter by the end of the week.

A feminist columnist Suzanne Moore, a Church of Ireland Bishop Paul Colton, and a Labour senator Jimmy Harte are just the latest to abandon Twitter, because they are fed up with all the brickbats.

Back in the innocent days of 2010, Ryan Tubridy, an early Twitter adopter, used to praise the microblogging site, because of the mostly affable nature of exchanges with his followers.

But he was among the first Irish public figures to give Twitter up in 2011, as criticisms directed at him became more shrill.

Of course, public figures have always been the target of abuse.

Former TD Dan Boyle mentioned on Frontline that the most vicious bile directed at him came over the telephone. And yet, nobody is calling for regulation of landlines.

This week’s controversy over the columnist Suzanne Moore showed how quickly matters can get out of hand on social media.

She found herself a target of Twitter criticisms after making a throwaway comment in an article suggesting women were hardest hit in the recession. She said women were expected to take on the body shape of “a Brazilian transsexual”.

The transgender community fumed on social media, but it took a professional controversialist from old media, newspaper columnist Julie Burchill, to really fan the flames when she leapt to Moore’s defence.

In an article in The Observer, she described Moore’s critics as “bedwetters in bad wigs’’, “shemales”, and “screaming mimis”.

Twitter was naturally convulsed by this immoderate rant. Transgender folk have complained of being turned into “whipping girls” and the insults have been flowing thick and fast ever since.

As Stuart Houghton put it, “Julie Burchill has poured oil to calm troubled waters. Then drowned some seabirds in the oil. Then set fire to the oil.”

Even a Liberal Democrat minister, Lynne Feeatherstone, weighed into the row on Twitter, suggesting that Burchill’s column was “disgusting’’ and a “bigoted vomit”.

Conservative commentators have relished this scrap between feminists and transsexuals, treating the whole spectacle as an enjoyable catfight.

Damian Thompson of the Tory Telegraph delighted in the idea of Guardian readers (who tend to be left wing) “fainting of political correctness like Victorian ladies swooning at uncovered piano legs”.

I am tempted to tell everybody to calm down, but that would probably make them more angry.

Follow @KimBielenberg

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