Please Twitter, continue to go forth and be trivial

Continue to stream sound and fury signifying nothing.

Twitter imageThere is a problem with the title of this piece of course. That it assumes there is a single if multi-headed multi-hearted multi-limbed multi – you get the picture – beast wandering about called Twitter. Who has a jealous rival in Facebook and an old now near-reclusive one called MySpace. Except non of these organisations – and did I forget Google Plus but that’s just the problem with Google Plus – everyone forgets about Google Plus – are not sinister shadowy corporations recruiting us against our will to partake in their services. We check in of our own will and we can check back out just as sharpish. Most of us so far at least have chosen to stay.

Most it seems taking pot-shots at Twitter and Facebook and the like – I am going to stick with the catch-all term ‘the like’ here as frankly there are an awful lot of social media sites and perhaps by using this term it might persuade you that I am familiar with each and everyone of them when I am in fact familiar with just a few more than the four already mentioned – are those without Twitter followers, without Facebook friends. But granted there are those who entered, tentatively tweeted and suspiciously begrudgingly updated their statuses, decided it was not for them, made their excuses and left. Their disinterest is understood. So is their disdain. What rankles though is the superior attitude – that because it was not for them it should not be for anyone.

I am reflecting on this following a recent article in the New York Times online by one of their correspondents Timothy Egan on their Opinionator Blog. It was called Please Stop Sharing – and I responded with a comment. This comment was published as one of the Top Picks. I know lights should be hidden firmly beneath bushels yet here I am with scant regard for bushels shining said light of mine before your eyes which are now too busy blinking for me to see whether any disapproval in them.

New York Times Top Pick CommentAs an aside and a nod to humility you will note that said comment saw two words ‘the Telephone’ fused together as one idiotic term. Damn New York Times not allowing me to endlessly edit my own comments after they have been published!

Okay that is not actually the reason for this blog piece – well perhaps a little! – rather to respond further to the assertion of this piece that new social media is obsessed with the trivial and peopled by those who being called a moron would be a compliment too.

Timothy Egan’s piece is quite long but certainly not as long as many pieces you will read in the New York Times. The unwritten old-media law is that with more words comes more weight, more gravitas, more authority. And Twitter with its 140 character limit must then by definition be light, frothy and insubstantial.

But there is no correlation with being wordy and being articulate? Of being verbose and being profound?

That it s always necessary to be profound when it is almost never necessary to be profound.

Twitter is an obvious antidote to verbosity. You have to be succinct – though as an aside that does not stop some Twitterers from scattering their thoughts on a subject across multiple tweets – get a blog already! – and with its strict character limit is an encouragement to clarity as much as to triviality.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker - a tweeter before Twitter?

It is an encouragement too to the aphorism and the epigram – I am sure Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker would have been avid tweeters – though perhaps the opportunity to endlessly expound might have tired even their inexhaustible wit.

But even here there is the suggestion that Tweets must all be smart and significant. As if we should never make throwaway or meaningless remarks. Because that is the other undercurrent of pieces like this that writers of the old media live lives of continual high significance uttering spell-binding observations of the human condition in between their tea and toast, cruising the cultural Zeitgeist the rest of their waking hours before their palpitating head hits their pillow weary under the weight of so much existential exercise.

As if triviality and inconsequence were invented along with social media sites themselves. We – I am using the royal we here and I apologise if I have presumed against you and you yourself are one of those worthy hallow souls of the old apparently anti-social media but then I guess I am just a bit surprised to find you here reading this blog of mine – have always had a tendency for the trivial and the throwaway, of noting and commenting on small things as well as monumental things, and Twitter allows it a greater community, to share without restraint. And this will take on all shapes and forms – views that we don’t always hear or like intrude upon our protected worlds – where some would rather live in a world where their views are as echoes of everyone else’s.

But even then, at any time we can retreat and unfollow those whose insanities and inanities don’t match our own insanities and inanities. We can end up indeed in just the same circumspect carefully chosen company as in the non-digital domain. If that’s what we really want.

My response to the New York Times was nothing like this though – indeed the verboseness of this response would have been more fitting in a letter to that august journal in the days before the first spam Email had been sent (a second after the first Email had been sent)…whereas my actual response was succinct, not Tweeting succinct, but as good as.

What is also notable about it is that despite the Top Pick status accorded it, it has not elicited even one response – I would like to think the readers of the NYT were dumbstruck by my own revelatory brilliance and unsettling wit but alas more likely it was met with universal indifference as they stifled a yawn before quickly skipping onto the next – ahem! – non Top Pick comment.

And perhaps ironically, though it has had the recommendation of the Editors of the column it has had no recommendation from its readers. Pah! Perhaps the old asocial media high-bred hacks know better than their Hoi-polloi readers afterall!

Today on Twitter – Hugh Grant and the Leveson Inquiry

Twitter Leveson search resultsThe Old Media in the New Media Spotlight. Is there still enough in this Hacking Scandal for us to be Hacked Off about?

I decided to do an experiment. If I had access to the web but only through the Twitter lens how much of the world outside my walls could I know about? Is everything worth knowing – and indeed everything not worth knowing – available on Twitter?  If it is not tweeted about did it not happen?

I could very easily get overwhelmed by a tidal-wave of global tweets so decided to focus on a trending item in my own country, the UK.

Trending fifth was the Leveson Inquiry. Or it was when I commenced this piece – as of this pargraph it is now third – such are the ever-moving trends on Twitter. And the number one trendng item is British actor Hugh Grant who is currently testifying before the inquiry.

The Leveson Inquiry itself has its own website – in its words set up to provide the latest information on the Inquiry, including details of hearings and evidence, to the public and interested parties. The Inquiry itself was set up to investigate the culture, practices and ethics of the press with further detail on its remit given on this page.

The Leveson Inquiry photoI did a quick look on Google News by way of comparison of old media with new media Twitter in its reporting of this Inquiry (or Enquiry but let’s just settle on Inquiry!). It was certainly being prominently reported with for example the BBC running with the headline Hacked Dowlers Thought Milly was Alive.

The Inquiry could also be followed live with The Telegraph just one media outlet showing a feed of it.

And the Leveson Inquiry is not just a British news media story, it has global involvement and interest too. Added spice would be how news organisations most directly implicated in the hacking scandal would report it as against those with so far at least cleaner hands. In the USA The Wall Street Journal a News International title reported on the parent’s of Milly Dowler’s testimony. This particular item was also reported in Australia by The Australian.

But back to my experiment and Twitter – just how much would I be able to find out about the Inquiry’s progress today by reading Tweets alone? And by ‘Tweets alone’ I mean by reading their content not any links that will inevitably be attached to some them to other web-pages and news stories – linking indeed to the traditional media. These I would not follow as in my experiment the web is out of bounds to me bar Twitter and so the links would all lead to Pages Not Found!

Leveson Inquiry

Hugh Grant giving testimony

The very fact that this Inquiry was trending was already instructional to me as though I was aware of this inquiry taking place I was not aware of when it was due to take place. It was Twitter then that brought this fact to my attention.

One item temporarily out-trending the Leveson Inquiry was ‘Mungo’ – the only Mungo I could think of was 1970’s English rock group Mungo Jerry – but it turns out that Mungo is one of Hugh Grant’s middle names! – so yet another trending Leveson Inquiry item.

Another aspect of the Twitter attention of this issue was the sheer volume of Tweets it was generating – in just the fifteen minutes it has taken me to type up to this paragraph another 300 tweets using the Leveson Hash Tag (#Leveson) have appeared – I clearly am not going to be able to keep up!

Though most of those tweeting were individuals – both celebrities and mere mortals such as myself – news organisations were tweeting updates too, such as BBC News and Channel 4 News.

Simon Tomlin News Alliance TwitterOne such organisational Tweet was from yesterday from a self-proclaimed News Alliance who commented that ‘All newspapers have a financial and political agenda behind the scenes and they are not in the least concerned about #Leveson pseudo-inquiry’. It was not clear to me whether they thought such an inquiry should be taking place at all or that it should but did not have enough teeth. Clicking on to their Twitter account it became clear it was the latter with this following Tweet better summarising their position “Hugh Grant has proved the #Leveson ‘Inquiry’ will be a celebrity self-pity party for the most part. Let’s hear some real media corruption’…the account is also linked to a Simon Tomlin so then not quite sure if an alliance or just a one-man band. These anyway were pre-inquiry tweets from November 13. Back to today November  21 and the responses to the inquiry in progress.

Twitter Ben FentonThe first Tweet I came upon that struck me most forcibly, succinctly got to the heart of the matter of the corrupt relationship between the largely London-based media and the (Metropolitan) police. It was from Ben Fenton and read ‘One girlfriend was mugged. We called the police. It was the photographers who came round first. #hughgrant tells #leveson‘. Ben Fenton it transpires is old media from the Financial Times if quick to point out tweeting in his own capacity not theirs!

Unsurprisingly when an item like this gets shared it is not done so by a lone tweeter rather many others will tweet either verbaitim or with some small variation – others tweeting this included Paul Waugh, the Editor of Politics Home.

Twitter Ravi SomaiyaClearly there is no love lost between Hugh Grant and the British media – the Tabloid press in particular – with this tweet from Ravi Somaiya neatly summing up Grant’s contempt for them – “In the absence of information, they’ll make it up,” says Grant of British tabloids. It transpired that Ravi Somaiya too is old media being a journalist for the New York Times London bureau. I suppose one should not be surprised that journalists of the old media make use of the new media sites like Twitter and perhaps are their most prolific tweeters.

Hugh Grant’s involvement  in this inquiry relates to exploring how much privacy celebrities should have. Another aspect of this inquiry and much more political dynamite is the relationship between the British Government, its political parties and the press – and who has the real power in our country the British Parliament or News International – the Prime Minister or the Editor of the Sun or The Daily Mail?

One such tweet expressing some disinterest in the celebrity side of things came from Siobhan O’Neill – ‘Not sure why this guy is questioning Grant over his choice of statement to the press about his baby. Relevant how?’ Another from Dickson Edwards drily observing that the inquiry is turning into a posher version of Jeremy Kyle! This was retweeted a number of times.

Hugh Grant reserved most of his ire for one newspaper in particular – The Daily Mail – one of its columnist’s Amanda Platell sitting just a few feet away from him. The drama!

Twitter Index on CensorshipAnother organisation following this inquiry is the Index On Censorship who Tweeted ‘Grant and publicist on phone discussing press statement: “not ideal circumstances. I was dressed as a cannibal at the time.” Enough said!

Clearly not everyone watching the inquiry was enthralled to it with this tweet from Ivor Sawbottom (oh dear!) commenting that it was like watching paint dry. In contrast a tweet from Kirsten Han, a Singaporean blogger, considered it  anything but boring – ‘I just wanted a peek at the #Leveson inquiry and see what Hugh #Grant is saying – it has now been 45 minutes and I’m still watching’.

Joel Gunter Journalist UK TwitterA reminder of how interconnected modern media is was demonstrated in this Tweet from Joel M Gunter – ‘Attention from Hugh Grant’s #Levesonappearance has apparently crashed his Paul McMullan piece on the@newstatesman site’. Joel Gunter is a senior reporter at media news site Journalism UK – and I assure you I was not seeking out Journo tweets – they though were clearly seeking me out.

There was much observation that Hugh Grant was getting irked with the judge prompting this tweet from Sam Knight ‘New drinking game: Drink every time Hugh Grant rolls his eyes’. He did not say what we should drink but we can assume not tea.

Twitter Tom WatsonThere seems to be a Twitter consensus too that Hugh Grant is being given a hard time – harder than for example the Murdoch’s Rupert and James were given at the UK Parliamentary Inquiries when facing forensic questions from the Labour MP Tom Watson — I see this as a positive sign though and that Leveson is going to treat all those appearing before him with thorough scrutiny.

ITN London tweeted this Hugh Grant quote ‘My publicists throw their hands up over Britain, they say it’s uncontrollable!’ This was retweeted by Royal Forum Moron – I love some of the aliases used!

Twitter will also pick up on anything no matter how tangental and one curious trend was #Womanontheleft – clearly someone to the left of Hugh Grant on screen was attracting attention among the twitterati! Later all was revealed by a Twitter photograph of a lawyer as much interested it seems in the look of Hugh Grant as the words coming out of his mouth!

Graham Linehan Twitter AccountCelebrities were tweeting too including The IT Crowd and Father Ted creator Graham Linehan ‘I assumed it was, Mister Grant, that’s why I wasn’t going to read it out. Yeah, right!’ – this being an example of a Tweet that only makes sense if you were watching the inquiry whilst watching Twitter too!

And at 15.55 I decided to log off from Twitter with the inquiry and Hugh Grant still in full flow for if I were to report everything of note that was Tweeted this blog post would go on to ten thousand words and beyond. It just going to show how much can be said from so little. And this also based on the Leveson hash-tag had I used #HughGrant I would have generated further tweets still.

Clearly not all events will be as widely tweeted as the Leveson Inquiry. This was an event being broadcast  around the globe afterall. But it does show what a democratic window on the world Twitter is. Let us hope that it never becomes poisoned with political cronyism and other old-media misdemeanours.

Just Another Shocking News International Revelation – Time for Rupert Murdoch to close The Sun and The Sunday Times?

News International TitlesAnother second passes another appalling News International scandal. Just how many more hacking allegations are there to come? And what else has been hacked – Email and other Computer related accounts? And what other scandalous practices are there out there in Tabloid Land that remain yet to be uncovered?

Last week Rupert Murdoch did the right thing in winding up The News of the World – first there was the phone hacking of murdered Milly Dowler’s mobile phone then the phones of the bereaved relatives of the 7/7 victims then those of the widows and other bereaved relatives of British soldiers. Surely there were no lower depths to plumb?

And then the violations of the ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown by The Sun and The Sunday Times of among other confidential details his bank and son’s medical records. Again Rupert Murdoch should do the right thing and wind up these newspapers.

This would leave us with just one National Murdoch owned title, The Times. They would have to learn the lessons – that is if they themselves are not already tainted.

All mainstream parties are now remarkably and impressively supporting a House of Commons Motion presented by Labour Leader Ed Milliband for Rupert Murdoch not to proceed with the bid for BSkyB as not ‘in the public interest’ – that is quite a turnaround for Murdoch – in that context from hero to zero.

This so far has been a partisan post unavoidably as notably no politician victim of this hacking has been a Conservative – and because all three titles are of the right. However I am quite sure from what I understand that these practices are quite widespread in other publishing homes and not just the conservative ones such as Express Newspapers (Northern and Shell) and Daily Mail and General Trust but also Trinity Mirror plc.

The whole industry could collapse under the weight of its own depravity.

We could end up with a situation where only the Financial Times and The Morning Star are left in circulation!

This would be no loss – most readers would migrate online if they are not online readers already. Online media is much more plural – not just the online presence of the printed-titles themselves, but many flavours of political magazines, the radio and television media, the blogosphere and yet other sources of news and opinion. And not just confined to the UK too but a world wide perspective.

Daily printed newspapers are increasingly ever more irrelevant and it is an irrelevance of their own making. The invidious presence of monopolistic press barons and unashamed partisanship and the damaging effect this has on UK Parliament and the general body UK politic could finally be laid to rest.

Lay this body down.