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“Twitter” and “Teh Left”

In the wake of Leigh Sales’ most recent interview with the Opposition Leader, the Kabuki-like response began right on cue.

Prior to the interview, after Sales announced on Twitter that she would be speaking to Tony Abbott, the usual suspects began salivating over the prospect of an evisceration akin to his previous 730 effort, when he tried to blame BHP’s Olympic Dam postponement on the carbon price when the company had said everything but.

screen-shot-2013-04-25-at-11-51-35-pmThey were sending possible questions, encouraging general lines of query (which are truly excellent uses of social media), and proudly announcing that this – THIS – would be the day that Abbott would finally be brought down under the weight of his own evasiveness and mendacity. That latter one, not such a splendid use of modern media.

When Abbott turned up and brought his nominal A-game, that same group of Abbott haters on Twitter lost their collective marbles, going dead set bat guano crazy, and directing any amount of visceral opprobrium at Sales. Their fierce invective basically coalesced around a vague argument that because Abbott didn’t utterly embarrass himself, it was evidence that Sales hadn’t done her job properly.

The response, then, was just as predictable, and it fell into two categories: that “Twitter” is some malformed, flailing hivemind with a blatant progressive bias, willing to dump its much-heralded ‘principles’ when things don’t go their way, and that progressive voters are simply rage-filled hypocrites.

Our own Dragonista fell into the first camp, with what was one of the most thoughtful responses to the Twitter rage. While she was dead right that the kind of misogynist aggression that was levelled at Sales after the interview  was disgusting, and was coming from people who gleefully point out Abbott’s sexism at every possible opportunity, the extrapolation of that group to represent ‘Twitter’ was off point, and increasingly common.

Incidentally, the behaviour of @thegaffhook is indicative of the leaching of the political into the public realm. After the charming attack that Sales “should be able to tell us if Tony’s dick tastes salty after that interview”, he deleted and apologised for his ‘feral’ tweet, claiming it was being ‘taken out of context’. Bullshit. There was only one context. But Sales set her own attack dogs on him, and he used precisely the kind of cowardly response that his hated politicians would have.

But I digress.

The far stupider end of the response to the response to Sales’ interview came in the Sunday Age, when Fairfax’s Chris Johnson decided to lay this behaviour at the feet of TEH LEFT with this sterling effort.

Idiots tweeting now equals "Gutter tactics", apparently. Those geniuses on Twitter...

Idiots tweeting now equals “Gutter tactics”, apparently. Those geniuses on Twitter…

In short, his argument was that ‘the left’ was freaking out in the face of a near-certain electoral loss, and this was demonstrated by a few nuts on social media. Preston Towers offers a towering rebuttal over at his blog.

There is a common thread to much of this, and it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how we talk to each other in the 21st century.

Twitter is real life. Facebook is real life. There are millions of Australians on each, and they can now say the things they have always said, merely in a more public forum. There have always been stupid, aggressive, hypocritical political partisans, and they have been throwing their shoes at the TV since 1956, no doubt, and the wireless before that.

These attacks on ‘the left’ that the likes of Johnson attempt somehow contort themselves into treating ‘Twitter’ as some unitary, insane, ‘leftist’ mass; an unthinking collectivist Borg-like consciousness that is, at present, flailing away as their political ‘team’ is losing.

Bulldust. There are millions on Twitter. There are socialists, libertarians, Greens, ALP partisans, young Liberals (oh, the young Liberals), hateful sociopaths, you name it. Likewise, when Johnson asks rhetorically what ‘the left is up to’, he makes the same mistake of lumping an enormous group together under the banner of their least representative.

Possum over at Pollytics has written powerfully about the Unhinging that we’ve seen since the election of centre-left parties here and in the US, and it’s entirely possible that there is a similar effect underway among anti-Liberal voters that we will see unfurl on September 15.

But can we please stop universalising the actions of a small, crazy few? The temptation to attack elements of the Liberal base as representative is made easier when Tony Abbott makes appearances in front of Parliament house with abusive banners behind him. And also, by and large, the Coalition has sufficient wingnuts already (Barnaby Joyce and Cory Bernardi spring immediately to mind).

A couple of dickheads on Twitter being dickheads does not a political or social media movement make. Many people are worried about the coming election, for various reasons. Some people are excited. Most (the VAST majority) didn’t even watch the 730 interview and probably still don’t know it happened.

But, to quote those great thinkers who wrote the Simpsons, some people are just jerks.

About Ed Butler

Once, I wrote things for money. Now, I do not. So I have thoughts, and think them here.

8 comments on ““Twitter” and “Teh Left”

  1. Well said! I know I am sick to death of being lumped in a group. Because I don’t like Tony Abbott I must be an ALP person – I’m not! Because I am for Gay Marriage I must be a ‘lefty’, that is a very very wide range and again, I also have some conservative views so I am not sure of that either. We would never bother watching a sport if there was only 2 or 3 teams, we would demand at least 10 or more, so why the hell does the media (and in fact many on twitter itself) have to lump everyone in 2 generic groups?

    It is small minded and particularly in relation to Chris Johnson, bloody lazy journalism. Did he have a deadline & nothing to write about?

    No wonder so many in this country are getting dumber, between the over-abundance of reality TV which it’s manufactured drama, we are now seeing similar in a lot of journalism, innuendo, rumour & toss in the odd bit of drama to characterise a ‘real-life’ situation and you have a winner that will get you the views on the page that will make your employer happy with the online page view revenue. Lovely, shame there was no news or journalism there at all to warrant the cash earned on that particular piece :(

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  2. bmpermie
    April 29, 2013

    Good article. Just as a few idiots spoilt a peaceful demonstration by breaking a window and the media used this image to portray whole groups so the same is happening with Twitter.
    It seems that for many I follow the focus is on the MSM rather than the problems within the ALP and the Federal Party. Easier to find an outside enemy. And I would see myself as a ‘leftie’

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  3. Kev Martin (@kev_martin)
    April 29, 2013

    Nicely said. Viewing politics through a dichotomous lens is infantile at best (I can think of many far stronger terms that I feel apply). I’ve often thought it relates directly to people feeling a need to see EVERYTHING in terms of “Us” and “Them”. As long as that is the primary paradigm through which people relate to their world, there is little hope of a society with much momentum, let alone of a mature understanding of politics.

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  4. intuitivereason
    April 29, 2013

    My impression of what twitter does differently is that it puts informal, social conversation on the record. ‘Out of context’ are not the right words to use to explain this, but the difficulty is alluded to by them. There are two distinct overlaid contexts to twitter discussion that on occasion do not mix at all well. Managing the interplay of what is at once an informal, aggressive, social discussion with that same discussion also being very much ‘on the record’ is not simple. And this seems to be the case even for (especially for) those who have other public avenues to the ‘record’.

    As to the ‘wingnuts’ and their tarring of the tribe, while Ed’s point is valid, it also misses what is happening. Twitter misses the adults in the room, who keep their own tribe in line. There are going to be more ‘wingnuts’ because of this; if the tarring of the entire tribe is effective, we should see more ‘adults’ taking part, or at least trying too. Or alternatively, the whole thing being disowned.

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    • Ed Butler
      April 29, 2013

      Good points. I guess to elaborate on that argument, there has never really been a moderating influence on idiots in any forum. Twitter is just perfectly designed for identifying and highlighting idiocy. But social media, funnily enough, reflects society. Perhaps we just don’t like what we are seeing.

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      • intuitivereason
        April 29, 2013

        Beyond a certain point the only effective moderation of an person who cannot respect social norms is removal. The best (passive) moderating influence I’ve seen outside that is the use of real names rather than handles.

        The thoughts that get sprayed on twitter are thought elsewhere, but are less likely to be said, and even less likely to be committed to print. But the social norms of twitter lead to their expression in writing without the degree of self-censorship normally applied.

        So, yes, a good detector of those without the self-control required to self-censor in an environment that encourages laxity in that area. It may also mark out why politicians generally do not engage overly well in that environment – they cannot afford to let their level of self-censorship drop to the point at which they appear natural in that environment.

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  5. rgm
    April 29, 2013

    +1 for a Star Trek reference.

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  6. deknarf
    April 29, 2013

    Loved your juxtaposition of Liberals (oh, the young Liberals) and hateful sociopaths. Right on the money!!

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This entry was posted on April 29, 2013 by in Media.

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