Last week, Twitter revealed the name of the footballer who has been trying to keep his private life private. It seems the tweeting tide of human voices can not be silenced. The adulterous footballer’s name is out and the married actor who slept with a prostitute is soon to follow. By the time you read this you may already know his name.
First MySpace, then Facebook, and then Twitter promised a revolution in communication that would free us. But from what? From tyranny, from lies, even from ourselves. With Twitter – how I love the banality of the name, a present from pigeons of all things – men and women can speak at last, continent to continent, with no middleman, no censorship, no boundaries. Big business will be held to account. Empires will fall. With this revolution, the greatest invention since Johannes Gutenberg founded type 600 years ago – the people will be heard. That’s the idea.
So what has social networking given us? At first, a mere slurry of tedium. “I’m on the bus,” “I’m eating pizza,” “I’m in Wimbledon now, still on the bus but no longer eating pizza.” That is the inoffensive bit: a first-person monologue so you can hear what I don’t have to say. This is why we’ve never been invaded by aliens – they read out tweets and they don’t want to come here. It is also why I rarely tweet. I am astonished and ashamed by the banality. I am not so narcissistic as to want to control and amuse virtual strangers. One real friend is good enough, if I can see her eyes.
And then, the rage. When the internet grew, I learnt how much unspoken rage there is in the world because finally it was spoken, in 140-character barks. Pre-Twitter, only a maniac would write anonymous hate mail. Now it is normal and socially acceptable. It’s a medium designed for serial killers – solitude, but with a capacity to hurt. Tweeters like to downplay this – it’s part of the game, it’s no big deal, you softie, praise the revolution – but for a long time the rage was all I could hear. It stunned me, the casual cruelty of the Twitterstorm and the self-righteousness from people with stupid online names. “I hate you”, says SexBambi3, “kill yourself”. What can I say back, except “Hey SexBambi3, why don’t you kill yourself? We don’t know each other, but let’s do mutual suicide!”
“Pre-Twitter, only a maniac would write anonymous hate mail. Now it is normal and socially acceptable”
Have you witnessed a Twitterstorm? It’s entertainment with the audience tweeting about their essential goodness compared to the evil one. No matter the person’s fault – Jan Moir’s homophobia, Kenneth Tong taunting anorexics – was as casual as the murderous response. The pixelated axe must fall on the pixelated head. I can’t help supporting the transgressor. They remind me of prisoners heading to virtual gallows, scapegoats for inexpressible fury. There are many cases of schoolchildren killing themselves after online bullying and sometimes the bullies come back to laugh at the memorial page.
It might be because I write in the Old Media, but tweeters hurl rage at me drooling, and I read it, blinking. I’m stupid, worthless. (That was last week). I slept with the owner of Newcastle Football Club on a desk, he – or someone pretending to be him – tweeted. (That was last year). Other hacks get worse. Last week Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote about being raped and in came the internet response. “I don’t believe you Suzanne. Prove it!” But that is the price we pay for this revolution. Tweeters say you must listen when I say I hate you. Except an internet presence is never a ghost of a real one, and you don’t really hate me. Perhaps that is the saddest thing. It’s anti-communication. Synthetic emotion. What a laugh.
And, as ever, snobbery rules. Wherever humans gather, they form elites, and Twitter has one too, led by Stephen Fry. I tweet him, will he tweet back? Will the actor? The politician? Or can I merely watch them talk to each other about the Eurovision Song Contest, pretending to be ‘friends’ when they’re actually befriending each other’s celebrity? In this, Twitter’s main function is for the cool kids to exclude others. And so, as the Revolution rolls on, it’s brought us what? The name of a footballer who had sex with a reality-star. That’s a poor deal, reader, but it teaches us software changes; people stay the same.
Picture credit: Rex Features