Tag Archives: twitter

The Power of Images

Every so often, for one reason or another, someone suggests that the flood of shocking images we see may damage our ability to feel empathy. It’s an argument which is particularly popular in relation to images of fictional violence when explanations and excuses for violent actions are being sought but there’s also the question of whether the images presented to us by news media just desensitise us, making us care less rather than making us violent.

After cameras and film cameras were first invented they were often used for war photography, bringing the reality of war into the fashionable salons. War artists can produce extremely powerful images but photography is more immediate and a more trusted way of capturing the imagery of war, although it would be naive to ignore the use of photography for propaganda. Of course we know that photos can be faked but on the whole photos, and later films, are their own monument which keep history alive. There’s no hiding from reality and pretending that these aren’t real people. Without films of concentration camps could we really even believe that people did that to other people? They turn numbers of dead so high that we can barely comprehend them into real people. There’s front line footage which does the same, turning millions of military deaths into millions of dead people.

So much has changed since the early days of photography. I always think of the Viet Nam photo of a group of people running from a napalm attack, with a naked child in the foreground as some kind of turning point where photo journalism got rawer and politically more honest. I decided not to include the photo here but if it doesn’t immediately spring to l mind, you can see it on Wikipedia. And then eventually, after years of tv footage and the switch to colour photos in print, came digital and the availability of images and films streamed online. And then came another event too huge for our minds to process it as real. On September 11, I got back from court to find an email from another trainee with a link. I clicked on it and thought “so what? Another disaster film. Why does she think I’d be interested?” Even once I realised what I was seeing, my mind couldn’t wrap itself around it. Yet later, when the decision was made to publish a photo of an person falling through the air, the horror was humanised. I’ll never forget that photo. For a lot of people it’s the symbol of the human suffering that took place in the Twin Towers. It was a heartwrenching illustration of people who had had all hope stolen from them and realised the only control they had left over their lives lay in the power to decide the manner and timing of their own death. It’s strange. The photo is indelibly etched into my memory so I was surprised to come across an article called The Most Famous 9-11 Photograph No-one Has Seen. Initially, I thought the photo had crossed a line too. Now I see it differently. Now it’s not disrespectful. I see the pathos and think it’s right that we have an image which brings home the real loss that day. On 9/11 this year Twitter was full of businesses tweeting 9/11 themed special offers so I’d say we’ve never needed The Falling Man more. The article is an interesting one and makes another interesting point. 9/11 was only 12 years ago but people didn’t have camera phones and there was no Twitter. Fast forward to last year’s Sandy storm and suddenly instagram and Twitter were full of photos of empty shelves in shops and people taking selfies in darkened homes. If you give people cameras they won’t always record the profound for posterity. Still, images and videos taken by private individuals can add to our understanding of events and even have evidentiary value. An example which springs to mind is the death of Ian Tomlinson in London. They can also confuse things and result in the spread of misinformation, as we saw after the Boston bombing.

The most powerful images of war, terrorist attacks and accidents are the ones which show us a human face. The same could be said of natural disasters. Show a trail of devastation and it’s not quite comprehensible, not quite real. Show the people caught up in it and that changes. People are programmed to relate best to individual stories. We feel more empathy for identifiable people than we do for numbers. I’m sure there are other sources for this but Dan Ariely discussed it in Upside of Irrationality and pointed out that charities show individuals who have been or can be helped by them in their advertising because they know that statistics and generalisations don’t engage people who see the adverts. This clip’s a short discussion of the theory.

The grind of horror seems to keep growing, image after image. Stills and video footage of man made and natural disasters taken with mobiles day after day. It sometimes seems like there are no limits any more. A few years back a local paper here had to apologise after publishing a photo (taken with a camera phone) of a dismembered body at Stevenage train station after someone died on the tracks. Have we become immune? Have images lost the power to shock? There has been more than enough horror to go round recently and that’s what got me thinking about all of this. It got me thinking about how images are delivered to us and whether the medium we see them on affects our response.

In August someone I follow suggested following Patrick Kingsley for his coverage of what was happening in Egypt. It was a general suggestion – he didn’t say it to me specifically. I did what he suggested. I looked at Patrick Kingsley’s profile page. Then I opened the photos. Then I sat with tears rolling down my face. I could only stand to look at a few photos before I had to stop. In a strange way, I’m glad images still have the power to shock me that much but a few days later the Syrian chemical attack was on the tv news. Children were writhing, dying and zipped into body bags on screen. I didn’t feel nothing. I felt pity, anger but I didn’t have the same visceral response. Go back in time to another image from Syria: I think it was just before Christmas, after Sandyhook, when many people were tweeting about both things. Simon Ricketts shared a photo on Twitter of a girl in a hospital. Her head was bandaged, at least one of each of her arms and legs was too – the arm was in a cast. There was blood – deep grazes? And she was grinning. I can’t remember what he said in the tweet. I think it was a dig (although probably mildly put because he’s a nice tweeter) comparing her joy, and bravery, to someone else but it’d take forever to find it again. That photo, another Syrian child, hit me hard, hard enough to mention it again now months later. Is there a difference in how images affect me based on the way I receive them? Photos on Twitter are potentially more graphic than tv but not by much these days. An alternative explanation occurred to me. TV is a place of horrors. Even newspaper front pages contain expected horror but a mobile phone? A mobile phone is so much more than a place to look at news. It contains our personal photos and allows us into others’. It holds our families, friends, lovers and pets. It holds scenes of beauty that we snapped in an instant. Through apps like Twitter, Facebook and instagram we share each other’s moments. To some extent, at some internal level, I think a mobile is a “safe” place. It’s like having a photo album with us all the time. Maybe this makes what we see on them more personal somehow. And if it does, I’d have to say that’s a good thing.

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A basking shark

Yesterday morning David Cameron was spotted giddily whirling in the garden of no. 10. What had made the PM so happy? The opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of the success of others on Twitter of course. We all know how that makes the perfect start to his day.

image

Because I’m open to the criticism of being just as biased as Cameron, here’s Jaguar Land Rover’s press release, which makes no mention of confidence in the UK economy (it cites the support of the Government as one of its stakeholders but that’s not the same thing). Not surprisingly it focuses on crediting itself with its own success. It’s confident in itself: its products and r&d. My own interpretation of its repeated assertion of its commitment to the UK is that it remains wary of public criticism in the UK, following the sale out of UK ownership.

It would make very little sense to argue that the Government’s economic policies have led to Land Rover’s growth or that its growth signals confidence in the UK economy. What matters is the number of buyers of Land Rovers and they’re not here in the UK. The biggest market for Land Rovers now is China. The instant I saw Cameron’s tweet I thought “I’ll bet sales in China have gone up” so I checked. Growth in sales in China reflects the confidence of the people buying them in China. Land Rover is also looking at other emerging markets and has said it’s constrained by limited production. If Cameron can demonstrate a dramatic rise in UK sales, I’ll acknowledge that those buyers are sufficiently confident in the UK economy to splurge on new cars. That may even be true – generally UK new car sales were better than elsewhere in Europe last year – but that’s not what Cameron either contended or proved in his tweet. Until he does, I’ll stick with the belief that China can be proud of its consumer confidence in the sector of luxury goods (mind you, I’m hardly about to suggest everyone in China benefits from the same buoyancy that generates sales of Land Rovers) and that Land Rover has a decent business plan.

Someone on Twitter complained that I shouldn’t be questioning a British success story, saying more jobs are good for the UK, so what’s my problem? I do think Land Rover’s current growth and future plans are a good thing for the areas where they operate. If an independent news organisation had stated that Land Rover was expanding and stuck to the release or gone down the line of the second link above, I wouldn’t have commented at all but a tweet from David Cameron is different, despite the tweeter’s claim that Cameron made a “dispassionate observation”. He’s not a news broadcaster (not that many of them don’t have political axes to grind on both sides) and his account exists to promote his Government, his party and himself. There will be people who support him who trust what he says and take it as objective gospel. There will be people like me who mistrust him and go looking for information which contradicts him. For that matter, I mistrust politicians from all parties and find it difficult to understand the kind of unswerving, unquestioning loyalty some people give them. Then there will be people (potentially a lot of them) who aren’t quite sure what they make of him but have been trained to trust what they’re told (I didn’t look elsewhere but I noticed his tweet was used as a quote without further elucidation by Sky News by lunchtime). That bothers me because the fact is that Land Rover hadn’t said they have confidence in the UK economy or credited the UK economy with their expansion. I’d be equally annoyed if Ed Milliband was our prime minister and tweeted the same thing because it’s disingenuous. It’s propaganda.

I’m also tired of Cameron’s basking in reflected glory, whether in relation to business, sports or anything else. I’m tired of the implication that as captain of HMS Britannia he’s actively involved in every success. My very first post on this blog was a rant on his early tweets and it’s all become so ridiculous that I almost expect him to take credit for the royal baby on his first birthday next July (what a fun constitutional crisis that would be). In the case of the Land Rover tweet, I believe the primary goal was to make some political hay because there wasn’t a particularly positive response Osborne’s underwhelming growth figures. It feels like part of his shell game: shift blame or take credit, whatever works.

Something about Cameron’s tweets hadn’t occurred to me before his cringe inducing Little Britain speech though. Sorry, his cringe inducing Small Island speech. What if he genuinely believes his job involves sticking a plaster, some BB-cream or polyfilla (take your pick) over the flaws, not as party leader but as Prime Minister? This is the man who dreamed up happiness surveys (recently axed by budget cuts at the ONS if I remember rightly). The cynical stance is there is no way his party can win an election without some good news and it’s his job to create it. That’s his party leader hat and I don’t doubt the truth of it but what if he’s also genuinely elated at every British success? The hyperbolic nature of the Small Island speech just makes me wonder. As laughable as it was in some ways he did seem sincere. Maybe he’s also sincere when he bangs on about Wimbledon, the Ashes etc. If that’s the case, we’d better hope for more British success stories. Imagine if the poor man was reduced to tweeting. “little Johnny in Ealing took the class hamster home for half term and didn’t kill it. Well done! We’re for hardworking boys like Johnny”.

Still, the fact remains that he is a party leader and there is often the potential for political capital in basking in reflected glory. This is particularly true when it comes to anything connected in even the loosest possible way with the economy. Regardless of whether good news pleases him, it seems painfully naive to suggest Cameron is an impartial disseminator of good news any more than any other politician, regardless of party, would be and I believe it’s people’s right to fact check and/or challenge statements by politicians of any stripe.

Anonymity gives people a voice

There’s been a lot of talk about anonymous social media accounts being used for all the wrong reasons in the UK* recently. It’s easy to overlook all the people who choose anonymity without malice. I don’t tweet anonymously so I can troll people, let alone send abusive or threatening tweets. In fact, I actively avoid getting into rows on Twitter. I challenge the lies, hypocrisy, stupidity and facileness of David Cameron and George Osborne directly from time to time but that’s about it. I criticise policies, parties, people, media outlets and companies but don’t directly attack people.

I blog and tweet anonymously because I market legal services through the internet under my real name. I’m not ashamed of anything I say on Twitter or here – I’m just being myself – but if a prospective client googles me, what are they going to think about my being left of Labour? I don’t do much good in this world but I try and I can only try if I can, yes fine if you want to put it that way, hide behind a mask. In theory my political opinions shouldn’t matter to clients but the reality is rather different once they’re actually out there. Don’t ask, don’t tell is safer. What would the prospective client think about the dirty jokes, sweariness, occasional giggly drunk tweets or early morning pre-coffee tweets? Or the posts here on chronic pain? Would it make them uncomfortable dealing with me? Would I want to deal with the potential for being pitied if all the other stuff hadn’t already put them off? Anonymity allows me to be outspoken, honest and even a bit vulnerable. Without the ability to do that I would feel I have to stop saying a huge portion of what I say here and on Twitter. I wouldn’t feel free to be me anymore. My Twitter account would become a less sweary, less funny version of Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe (or a more funny, more sweary version of TV Burp). I may well stop using Twitter completely because what would be the point?

I can think of loads of great people on Twitter who don’t tweet under their real names. They inform me and others and add so much to my enjoyment of Twitter. Among other things, like me, they also tweet politically and tweet dirty jokes. Some of their late night drunk tweets are a welcome break from bad news with my morning coffee (you know who you are). I don’t know their reasons for tweeting anonymously (except in the case of parody accounts where it’s obvious) but I guess they’re similar to mine because they’re good people. They’re not out to cause misery to others. They want to be among like minded people. They want to say things they feel need to be said and which the mainstream media doesn’t say. They want to laugh too.

People may also be more willing to share their experiences on hashtags dedicated to gathering stories of racism, sexism, ablism, homophobia etc if their accounts are anonymous. Those hashtags can be a real eye opener for people who haven’t experienced whatever they’re about. If they change perspectives, the stories can change the lives of the people sharing them for the better too.

I’ve never used and have no intention of ever using ask.fm but isn’t one of the ideas behind it to ask questions users would be embarrassed to ask face to face? Surely David Cameron wouldn’t need to call for a boycott if anonymity was removed because kids would stop asking questions they’re embarrassed to have their name put to. Is that a positive outcome for those users? It could be in some cases, I suppose. I don’t really know enough about it to say but at least I’ve got the sense to admit it, unlike our fearless leader who, as one site put it
“sent his mouth ahead as an advance party, allowing his intellect and reasoning to arrive at their leisure.”

Following the vicious barrage of tweets she received, Stella Creasey MP said:
“Fifty per cent of stalking cases involve both on and offline harassment – with many perpetrators using the anonymity of the web to pursue their prey”
It’s a fair point but it also ignores another potential reason for using social media anonymously: it actually provides people with a measure of protection against online attacks shifting into the real world (not complete protection, as Old Holborn discovered when his offensive trolling backfired with all the fury of a box of semtex, but enough to make it difficult for the attacker). When you think about how serious some of the threats to high profile women who get taken seriously by the media and police have been, is it any wonder some people would rather not put information out there which could draw Twitter abusers to their home or office with barely any effort at all?

I agree that it’s important to deal with the problem of threatening and abusive tweets and cyber bullying on a range of sites but, even if enforcing a ban on anonymity wouldn’t throw up technical and organisational problems, I don’t believe it could possibly be a proportionate response to the problem.
If I could only tweet under my real name I would indirectly lose the ability to say what I believe through the law of unintended consequences. A lot of good people I know through Twitter (and ones I don’t know yet) would too. As ever the test of convictions is whether you apply them universally and there are also people on Twitter whose politics I despise but who also have the right to free speech, provided they aren’t breaking laws against inciting hatred and violence. Some of them may tweet anonymously due to a combination of fear of a backlash from other users and fear for their jobs.

A lot of people participated in the Twitter Silence recently. A lot of people say that online abuse, threats and bullying silence the people they’re aimed at. If anonymity was to be banned on Twitter voices of dissent and people who are just connected with other people without ever causing harm to anyone would be silenced by default and an important part of Twitter really would go silent, not for a day but for good.

* I’m aware of steps to supress use of social media in other countries of course but the reasons are different and the arguments against it are already being widely made. That said, anything the UK Government does or says to restrict the use of social media and the internet leaves a tiny crack for a government in a repressive country to stick a jimmy in with the argument “the UK has its values and social order. It takes steps to protect them. We are also taking steps to protect our country’s values and social order. The UK Government should support us in this.”

Benefits Britain

I got quite upset watching Benefits Britain last night and reading the comments about it on Twitter. So many people on Twitter were calling Karen a lazy scrounger. Nobody could stand her. Nor could I but that doesn’t mean I think she’s faking. There was a lot of sympathy for Melvyn and Craig but I saw none for Karen outside the WOW circle. I have chronic pain and even I had precious little sympathy for her because she was so whiny and I just didn’t like her (I appreciate she has several conditions but I’m going to focus on chronic pain here for obvious reasons). I felt let down by Channel 4’s choice of person to represent invisible disabilities. It seems people saw Karen as ignoble and obnoxious. She wasn’t bearing the conditions she has with “quiet dignity”. There’s no law saying people with disabilities have to be likeable though. It’s not a condition of entitlement to benefits either. It’s like the convention that people diagnosed with cancer suddenly become angels on the day they’re diagnosed. Two words: Lance Armstrong. It often seems like the public wants disabled people it can admire and pity in equal measure. People want heroes overcoming all odds, like Paralympians. They want Tiny Tim. But, when all’s said and done, disabled people are just people: good, bad, indifferent, imperfect people.

Karen was criticised for her answers during the work assessment, particularly for saying it hurt to lift a potato. Only Karen knows the truth of what hurts and how much. Not Twitter, not me. Watching Karen, I understood where her responses could be coming from. It’s hard to answer questions in an assessment when you have chronic pain. Many people with chronic pain can perform a lot of different actions once, on the day, but if they do it without giving feedback that it hurts or that they couldn’t do it repeatedly they run the risk the assessor will note that they’re always capable of doing it when the reality is that they might have a flare up tomorrow from doing it once and might cause a long term deterioration in their condition if they tried to do it regularly.

I believe Karen’s report that the pain increased when she picked up the potato – she pointed to the outside of her arm when she said it and I get increased pain from even lightweight lifting there too, although it’s a small and fleeting increase. If I thought her response was excessive at all, it was because the rules of the game say it’s unwise to remark on an increase in pain for such a minor action, assuming her increase in pain was relatively small. Doing so runs the risk that the assessor (whether a pure medical assessment or DWP one) will say you’re exaggerating and/or affected by psychosocial issues. Exaggeration is what viewers tweeting negatively apparently thought. Karen didn’t say it hurt a lot, just that it hurt, but that was enough to generate a lot of negative tweets.

I don’t know what happened to Karen before she was diagnosed with the conditions she has. Maybe it was a smooth ride from initial appointment to diagnosis. Maybe it was a pitched battle. I suspect that at some point it was a pitched battle because I’ve seen the frustration she exhibited over not being believed before. People suffering from chronic pain have to walk a path through the healthcare system but it sometimes seems like an invisible path. Say too little and you don’t really need help. Say too much and a diagnosis of depression is as likely as tests to find a physical cause for the pain. I’ve never had that happen to me but I spent over three years under one particular GP who seemed to think that I was too fragile a flower for the legal profession, that the pain was all in my head and induced by stress, while throughout that time a disc causing debilitating pain was growing ever more (as the surgeon later put it) rotten and my muscles were being put under strain, forced to compensate, in ways I haven’t recovered from yet and may not ever. I can see judgements being made by doctors on an person who comes off as abrasively as Karen and I can see her becoming more and more abrasive as a result.

If she’s defensive, even allowing for the possibility she might always have been unlikeable, it may be because she’s been made to feel like a liar so many times that she can’t help it. I don’t have to like her to understand it because I’ve been through the “I can’t fucking win” feeling. In one mind boggling case, an insurer’s assessment concluded that the surgeon who diagnosed a degenerative disc was just a trigger happy scalpel jockey who enjoyed cutting people up way too much for his diagnosis to be trusted. I paraphrase, but only barely. The surgeon was absolutely livid.

If Karen has been on benefits for some time, this could also be relevant to how she answers. When I made my first Incapacity Benefit claim I rang for guidance on completing the form because some of my symptoms fluctuate. The questions were similar to what Karen was asked, with multiple choice answers. I was quite clearly told, “tell us how it is on your worst days, not how it is today.” I don’t know what the DWP currently says but that’s the rule a long term recipient of Incapacity Benefit would be used to.

Among the tweets were some saying Karen was physically capable of doing a desk job involving typing if it wasn’t for her fake nails. I’m not going to get into how she spends her money but being in pain all the time can drag you down and it’s not controversial to say,  “find pleasure in the small things.” It’s a topic you might find on chronic pain forums and my pain clinic says to find things which make you happy. The small things can take many forms. Mine include star gazing, watching the wildlife and my cats but there’s another one that makes me think maybe this is why Karen has such cheerful nails. I mentioned in my last post I usually pick clothes to wear which reflect or enhance my own happiness. I started doing that after surgery, with a dazzling and mood lightening array of different coloured vests and pj bottoms.  Rather than carping at Karen, could we consider the possibility that she deserves one thing in her daily life that takes her mind off the pain in the moment she looks at her brightly painted nails?

One of the factors taken into consideration when determining if a person’s pain is “all in their head” or exacerbated by psychosocial issues is their appearance. Someone who makes no effort could have it held against them by an assessor (even the underwear you wear gets judged. Plain cotton is the best way to go. That’s not just personal opinion: I’ve read academic papers on the subject…on psychosocial issues, not undies generally!). In a medical context, bright multi-coloured fingernails could suggest someone who is not just making an effort but who has a sunnier nature than the stress of a medical appointment might display. When it comes to work assessments, this is another no-win situation though. Make too little effort and the same negative conclusions could be drawn. Make too great an effort and, just like the viewers who tweeted on this, the assessor could take it as a sign you’re less impaired than you’ve said in your forms.

Speaking of appearance, the “potato incident” suggested something about her appearance to me. Styling my hair hurts a lot in that part of the arm and in my shoulder. I used to hate my curls and only learned to love them after I realised by blow drying I was putting myself through unnecessary strain. Now I only blow dry my fringe (which, again, I love now but only had put in last summer after my hair temporarily thinned after a large number of steroid injections were administered in one go). It hurts even to do that. Often even lifting my arms to put my hair in a ponytail hurts. I think about Karen’s cornrows and wonder if she’d always have chosen them, whether she’s happier with them than if she was still able to tame her own (probably much tighter) curls (if she did before), whether she’s come to terms with losing a measure of control over her own appearance.

Back to the question of her ability to do a sedentary typing job. A reminder in case anyone reading this is new. I do work. I work part time. It hurts like hell every single working day. It hurt like hell to write this on my mobile even though I wrote it in chunks. I didn’t catch which part(s) of Karen’s back are affected because I missed the start of the programme, although that one little mention of pain in her arm that provoked so much fury suggests to me that typing could be out of the question. The chronic nature of her pain is also relevant. Doctors now know that, regardless of what the underlying cause of chronic pain is, pain begets pain. I’ve been told several times that by living in a daily “pattern of pain” where I peak and trough throughout each day of my normal working life instead of having the more normal non-pattern of good days and bad days (flare ups), I’m risking making my body’s ability to process pain worse as well as risking joints and muscles. That’s what Twitter (and the Daily Mail, of course) could be demanding Karen should do. But then, I didn’t see Channel 4 explain to viewers what strain different types of work would put on someone like Karen by modern medical standards or how chronic pain itself affects her body. Did I miss it? Channel 4 got the “money shot” of her refusing to do the work experience they were offering. In the context of the show, I thought she made the wrong choice. It’s one day. She’d probably have a flare up afterwards but it’d settle down again. That’s not to say she’s fit to work in the real world, just that I wish she’d stopped to think about the image she was putting out there.

Channel 4, you let us down. You hurt me. It’s your fault if people with invisible disabilities felt like Twitter was rounding on us during and after your programme. It’s your fault for not acknowledging prejudices and ensuring you had three people with similar personalities. It’s your fault for casting a wicked witch for dramatic effect. You know what, Channel 4? I hate you a little for that. I really do. There is one thing Channel 4 could do now to help the people it hurt by broadcasting this. Presumably it verified Karen’s medical conditions before making the show and verified their impact on her. It would be the sensible thing to have done. If it did, it should make a statement to that effect on the news and both before and after next week’s programme.

Notes:
For more on perceptions of people with invisible disabilities, I’d (not very humbly) recommend Looking Good: Invisible Disabilities where I picked out quotes from a study on the subject.

The programme mentioned rates of employment of disabled people in 1949 and today. The high rate of employment in 1949 wouldn’t have included Karen. For a detailed review of disability discrimination in the jobs market today I would (even less humbly) recommend How many elephants can you get in the DWP where I reported on the avalanche of evidence I found on the scale of disability discrimination and the fact that the Government isn’t doing enough to change things.

Keeping in touch

Someone told me to keep in touch. I thought I knew what that meant but then I thought again. I’m in touch with hundreds of people each day through Twitter. I tweet whatever random thoughts pop into my head at any given moment. Like this blog, the tweets can be serious, ranty or juvenile. They’re often sarcastic or facetious. I tweet and often one or more of my followers (or their followers etc) will respond in one way or another. Of course, I read other people’s tweets so I’m in touch with them that way too and I reply to some. One of the wonderful things about Twitter is when someone follows you for something like a political tweet and then you discover the various other common interests you have later. We share things like links to information and songs too and share thoughts and experiences by linking to blogs.

Within my wider Twitter bubble there are quite a lot of people I talk the toot with regularly (I hate the word banter and re-read Robert Rankin’s Brentford trilogy recently, ok? One of these days I’ll probably end up using #talkingthetoot instead of #forcryingoutloudIwasbeingsarcastic). Just talking crap to pass the time. By the way, it’s reassuring to discover I’m not the only lawyer who snickers like a kid at finding the typo “tits” for “its” in a law report or who finds it hilarious that someone registered the trademark “booty call” (yeah – I searched the IPO myself to turn up that little nugget).

I also tweet @ people like George Osborne and David Cameron sometimes, often taking the piss out of their tweets (see To David Cameron: a note on Twitter for my rant on Cameron’s use of Twitter by the way) but I somehow doubt they think I’m keeping in touch. Mind you, they might because they sure as hell don’t seem to understand how out of touch they are.

Many people on Twitter use it for political commentary and activism. Anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter knows I’m an unapologetic leftie. Often it seems like only the right has a voice (is there anyone left in my Twitter bubble who doesn’t know Nigel Farage has been on Question Time 14 times since 2009?) and Twitter is reassuring in that it shows that the left may not be popular with the media but there are a lot of us out there. When faced with things like the utterly absurd alternate Queen’s Speech Private Members Bill or GCHQ’s mass surveillance or the smear tactics used against Stephen Lawrence’s family, it makes the world slightly brighter to see other people on Twitter raging against them, to see that people care.

Sometimes I’m put in touch with people I’d rather not know exist. I find myself reading some abhorrent stuff retweeted into my timeline, most often from racists and rape apologists – my usually untweeted opinions of which are a. deny it all you like but yes, you are racist b. if you’re a rape apologist, the statistically astronomical number of rapes committed makes me believe you’re probably also a rapist. The purpose of those retweets is to name and shame. I resist the temptation to start yelling at the original tweeter but some ugly things get said on Twitter and some of the reactions can be nearly as ugly. I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve had tweets from UKIP supporters and Thatcherites in response to some of my tweets but they’ve always been pretty polite. Other people aren’t so lucky. That’s the unpleasant side of keeping in touch.

Twitter addiction also affects the way I want to use other electronic forms of communication. I know I’m not the only one (because Twitter told me so) who sometimes wishes I could just favourite emails, especially business ones, just to say “yeah. I’ve read it and it’s all good but I don’t have anything to say in reply”. I also want to put gestures in texts but if I put *shrugs* or something like that in a text to a non Twitter user, they won’t get that it’s just the emotional code we squeeze into our 140 characters on Twitter. It’d just seem weird.

The common theme is how easy it is to keep in touch with other people and how much we know about each other. We give a hell of a lot of ourselves in our tweets. The person who asked me to keep in touch has no idea that I’ve twice gone to put a second sock over the first one over the past few months. Twitter does (this thoroughly blonde fact alone is a good enough reason to keep my Twitter account anonymous) . He doesn’t know what music I’m listening to. Twitter does. He doesn’t know how filthy my sense of humour can get. The little corner of Twitter that lives in Kentish Town and Tufnell Park does. Come to think of it, anyone who uses the #bbcqt can probably figure that one out too. He doesn’t know my proudest moment this year was getting a compliment from the Bill Hicks Twitter account (run by his brother) for The Day Justice Died. Twitter does because I retweeted that compliment with utter joy – a compliment from a dead stand up comic I revere. Hell yeah I had to tell Twitter that. Come to think of it, he doesn’t know that my second proudest moment this year was my policy contribution of “hunt Tories with badgers” being selected for Mark Thomas’ second People’s Manifesto by my fellow audience members in Stevenage. Yeah. You’ve guessed it. I’d tweeted it before we even got out of the building. (Update 8/7/13: that more entertaining moment was supplanted when my post on the impact of inflation on foodbank usage got quoted in the Guardian, even if the quote did come from the soundbite paragraph at the end. Every so often posts can strike a chord and spread. When the serious ones do, it’s a good feeling to know I’m contributing something to the debate on important issues that matter to me.)

So much random information, so many thoughts and opinions and conversations and emotions (although the second rule of Twitter after never steal a joke is never tweet something which requires the response “u ok hun” and the third rule in my bubble is don’t abuse the English language by saying “u ok hun”, it’s ok to openly mention the really painful things like death, sickness, divorce and unemployment and my Twitter bubble is a compassionate place for the people going through those things), all being thrown into a well for people, many of whom don’t even know each others’ real names. I mean, come on. There are people out there who tweet photos of every single meal they eat (this becomes newsworthy if the meal is #sausagenews thanks to the more than a little bonkers @kentishtowncats who’ve sucked me into their vortex of weird). Twitter’s so easy and people I do know in real life can and do check in to see what rubbish I’m spouting on about at any given moment. A year ago I wasn’t on Twitter but I drank the Kool Aid and now I’ve forgotten how people who aren’t addicted to social media keep in touch out there in real life. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that you don’t share all the random stuff that pops into your head but where’s the line between that and saying nothing at all these days? What’s important enough to share? When? Maybe we should just give everyone a Twitter account just so I don’t have to think about this stuff.

Seriously, Nadine?

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Nadine Dorries complains about…well…what, really? “Lower life”. Another term for scum? Uncomfortably close to “plebs”? For someone so keen to distance herself from the “posh boys” and who is in the very same tweet criticising how others express themselves, it’s a downright strange choice of language. What baffles me is how a woman who went on a ridiculous reality tv show hoping to push her personal political agenda feels she has the right to judge anyone as “lower life” much less people using a medium which only allows them 140 characters to express themselves. She said she wanted people to get to know her through an unstuffy medium. Does she only feel that way about tv, a medium which is a one way street? I can’t take her complaint even slightly seriously for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I have no respect for her. You can dismiss that as lefty grumbling but the thing is that it’s really not a party political thing. If she’d been in a different party, on a different crusade, I would still have no respect for her. It’s her behaviour, not her opinions, that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Dorries isn’t the only MP I would say this of but she does feminism no favours as a public figure. She is the only one about whom I would say, she’s an absolute joke. Parliament is sadly lacking in gravitas these days but when an MP chooses to go on national tv and eat animal genitals because the public wants her to, I believe she loses all dignity and all right to ask anyone else to take her seriously.

Furthermore, the public disdain in which she holds her party leader reeks of grandstanding. From the perspective of someone who loathes this Government, I do enjoy watching Cameron and his cabinet squirm but I get plenty of opportunities to do so without needing the waspish Dorries to stab him in the back. It’s just the kind of move which lends credence to the idea that women are a bit too shrewish, not dignified enough to be credible in politics. And, based on her performance in interviews and on panel shows, she doesn’t strike me as a well informed intellectual powerhouse. Just that blonde one who gets squawky, gets up Cameron’s nose and will eat anything if it means being in the spotlight.

Moving on from Dorries’ own behaviour, it’s rather stunning to see a complaint from a Tory MP which appears to be suggesting others have poor debating skills on Twitter. We’ve watched her party quoting the Old Testament in their opposition to equal marriage. We’ve watched them guffaw as they make cuts which literally put lives at risk. We’ve watched MPs demand enormous pay rises while cutting (in real terms – do I really need to say it?) benefits to the poorest. We’ve watched MPs on both sides incoherently jearing at one another, trading insults and spiteful barbs as our country has fallen to its knees. We’ve watched policy announcements made without communication between PM and ministers, seen policies having to be urgently revised or revoked because either they hadn’t been internally agreed or hadn’t been sufficiently thought through before being made public, tainting everything that follows.

You bet your ass the Left is angry. We’ve got every right to be. Even the Right has cause to wonder if the Government is asleep at the wheel. Twitter gives everyone a voice (seriously has Nadine read the things the Right say on Twitter about things like equal marriage?). We all have a twitter bubble.  Mine’s full of funny compassionate political cat lovers. They are often ranty and sweary. They’re passionate in their contempt for the Coalition and they fear for the future. We have a voice and we have each other and that makes an enormous difference and makes me confident that we have a future. Sometimes, depending on exactly what’s going on in the world, they are absolutely apoplectic with rage because they care. Who is Dorries, a woman apparently so passionate in her beliefs she was willing to eat anything some tatty tv show told her to, to criticise them for that?

Of course. I shouldn’t be baffled. Her tweet ticks a lot of the boxes I’ve come to expect. It guaranteed her attention and guaranteed that attention would be largely negative. Poor persecuted Nadine. If she doesn’t want to hear what people think about her, maybe she could try a little less grandstanding, approach her job with dignity and with a little humility. Afterall, she wouldn’t want to lose her safe Bedfordshire seat. If the Selection Committee has any sense she will and she’ll be able to do and say anything she wants in 2015.

To David Cameron, a note on Twitter

Dear David

I am not a supporter of you, your party or your coalition government but I hope you will consider that my advice, while hardly altruistic, serves your interests as well as mine. It’s a simple idea and, I believe, an uncontroversial one: stop using Twitter. It demeans the office you hold to tweet in the way you do. Some politicians tweet their own views on a range of issues. Those who do so successfully do so through their choice of issues to tweet about and through the language and tone they use to deliver their message. The thing is, David, that most of your tweets are pointless to the point of causing offence. You are neither a minor celebrity nor a member of the royal family. You are a prime minister presiding over a truly dreadful period of British history. I’m not writing to debate your policies and their success and support, or the lack thereof. I’m writing to tell you that I take tweets of you popping in on businesses, hospitals and troops and switching on Christmas lights as an insult. I want a leader (even if I didn’t vote for his party), an individual with gravitas, not a puffed up popinjay. I don’t want to read a tweet suggesting that one visit to one hospital ward is any kind of reasonable measure of your policies on the NHS.

The rumour is that you don’t tweet yourself so telling you not to waste your own time may be futile. Instead, I am asking you not to insult the public’s intelligence or the level of fear, difficulty and sheer bloody outrage the public feels when faced with a triple dip. People fear for their jobs (if they still have them), they are making tough decisions on a daily basis while trying to juggle rising prices of food, transport, energy, insurance etc. Some are on frozen wages. Some are still under pay cuts. Many are struggling to cope with increased workloads as their businesses (or, indeed public sector departments) have shrunk. Those without jobs are doubtless terribly concerned at present, particularly the disabled. Many are affected by floods and those lucky ones who aren’t have still felt the blow of a year of tempestuous weather.

In addition to outrage at government policies among many, there is more universal outrage at scandal after scandal among our so-called betters. The financial services sector, print & tv media, tax avoiding corporations, energy & rail companies holding customers ransom: all have left people feeling let down.

It insults all of us when you tweet your happy little snaps of you doing things like participating in a run. You say you’re in this with us. Many don’t believe you but if you ever want to stand a chance of convincing us that you’re not fiddling while Britain drowns, whether through arrogance or ignorance, do yourself a favour. Do me and others like me a favour. Accept that you have reached too many tweets and stop.