It is good to be a pioneer and start a healthy debate. I did just that with my Journalism.co.uk article on the ‘smart and not so smart mob’ all of two weeks ago.
That short opinion piece focused on the row over Jan Moir and her Daily Mail article on the death of Stephen Gately and the subsequent mass complaints (over 22,000) to the Press Complaints Commission.
It hit a nerve. A raw nerve in the case of Suw Charman Anderson who accused me of just ‘not getting the point’ of swift internet social movements. The piece was categorised ‘Fuckwittery’. No bias there then. The followers on her blog echoed her sentiments.
But then others joined in: Stephen Glover in his weekly column on the media in the Independent on October 25 talked of hate in the blogosphere and whether it was a good or bad thing. His view was the latter. His conclusion? ‘The Jan Moir case would seem to show the internet, which is supposed by many to enhance pluralism and democracy, being used by some outraged members of a lobby to challenge the traditional right of free speech’.
Fellow hack Joanne Geary weighed in three days later with an intelligent and measured piece in her blog about her disquiet on online protests. Her piece was thoughtful and thought-provoking and has elicited some very sympathetic responses and comments. No wonder Roy Greenslade describes her as ‘that most enterprising of newspaper bloggers’. Read that debate. It is measured and rational and open.
More nationals were not far behind, Jon Henley in the Guardian with ‘The power of Tweets’ (October 31) about the new mob from which the paper had reaped much benefit in the Trafigura case; a Stephen Armstrong piece in the Sunday Times, ‘An online mob. On the internet retribution is swift’ (November 1). The great Nick Cohen joined the discussion in the Observer. The debate was and is out there.
But will the Twitterati ultimately eat themselves? At the weekend, the best known of them all, Stephen Fry, announced he was quitting Twitter after being insulted by a fellow Twitterer, then got on a plane to Los Angeles.
As he was airbound, the cyber-storm (he has close to a million followers on Twitter) erupted over his head pleading with him to rescind. The crowd cried for him to come back to Twitterland. He did from LAX.
Let the online debate continue.
John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He is a former BBC, ITV and Channel Four producer. He is the incoming chair of the Institute of Communication Ethics.