Tag Archives: Twitter

Impartiality is useless in the face of bad faith

Two interesting news stories have caught my attention today. The first concerns a BBC finding that the opening to its flagship Newsnight programme broadcast yesterday had breached its impartiality guidelines. The second relates US President Donald Trump’s response to Twitter’s decision to flag one of his Tweets about postal vote fraud with a fact checking warning.

Both stories raise fundamental questions about the role of the news media and social media platforms in promoting robust dialogue and debate, and holding powerful interests to account. Trump is entitled to a view about the potential for fraud in the postal ballot process, but he cannot expect (and is certainly not entitled) to assume that news outlets or social media platforms will broadcast that opinion uncritically and without challenge. What that criticism and challenge comes, he must be prepared to support his opinion with facts of his own. Threatening to close down platforms that dare to hold him to account is a very small step from despotism.

Similarly, a public service news organisation must have the courage to hold powerful figures in the UK to account; and to accurately represent the mood of the country that it serves. It has become a cliche, but the old story of the job of a journalist when confronted with two people arguing that it is simultaneously raining cats and dogs, and that so sunny that the road is melting still holds true. In that situation, the reporter does not relate both sides equally ‘for balance’ – she goes outside and finds out the facts for herself.

I would go further and say that the obsession with balance – with artificially seeking to give both sides of a story when there really is only one – is destroying the credibility of previously esteemed news outlets, including the BBC. The failure to point out the absurdity of a situation or to clearly and explicitly call out lies or misinformation where it is clear that they are being told or peddled, does a grave disservice to the audience and – furthermore – is incredibly insulting to that audience’s intelligence.

Artificial balance makes mugs of the audience

When we have administrations on both sides of the Atlantic systematically manipulating the media, dealing in half-truths and misrepresentations, and failing in their fundamental duty of honesty and transparency to the people they were elected to serve, then the gloves need to come off and news organisations and social media platforms need to say it how it is – without fear or favour.

In this context, impartiality is a weakness that unscrupulous people will ruthlessly expoit.

Making lockdown a little more bearable one Tweet at a time

Twitter often gets a bad press – and often its deserved. From automated Twitter-bots churning out propaganda or targeting views and opinions contrary to those of the their paymasters; to orchestrated pile-ons against individuals or organisations in an attempt to harass them from the platform; to malicious reporting of Tweets that are alleged to be offensive or otherwise contrary to the usage rules in order to seek to close down fair comment and wider debate. It’s by no means a perfect platform, and not everybody who uses Twitter does so in good faith.

However, there are also lots of really good things that receive wider coverage because of the ease with which they can be shared through Twitter. This has been particularly the case during the coronavirus lock-down period. From laugh-out-loud funny, to quirky; from silly to simply inspired, there has been some great content shared during the past month, and tonight’s post celebrates some of the Tweets and content that have tickled my fancy.

First up is this video of Louise Crawford, a Waitrose employee in Bracknell who was tasked with entertaining shoppers queueing to go into the store while strict controls are in place on numbers of shoppers who can be inside at any one time. She’s got a great voice.

Sticking with the musical theme, but a million miles from Louise’s live rendition of Son of a Preacher Man, is this Tweet of a video featuring a back garden recreation of Freddie Mercury’s now legendary performance with Queen at Live Aid. I’m not sure who the guy on the extension roof is, but the laughter of the people in the garden recording his antics tells you all you need to know about the joy that he brought to them!

There have also been absolute zingers from celebrities commenting on breaking new stories over the past month. Home Secretary Priti Patel came in for much ribbing (a lot of which was vile and abusive) when her presentation of the daily government coronavirus update on live television was marked by a calamitous stumble when attempting to state how many diagnostic tests had been undertaken in the UK up to that day. Romesh Ranganathan (a UK comedian) took a much gentler and self-deprecatory tone when he tweeted :

Some of the Tweets from healthcare staff working on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis have elicited huge admiration and not a little emotion. Max Allin is a doctor in Western Australia who was supposed to be getting married to his co-healthcare worker fiancé on 11th April. Instead, this is where they spent the day.

Not directly related to the crisis at all, but always good value for a chuckle, Moose Allain wins the prize for my favourite Twitter joke of the lockdown period to date.

And finally for now, there’s this anthem for all teachers facing up to the challenge of delivering their classes on-line for the remainder of this academic year. A genuine cry from the heart that says all that needs to be said on the matter!

Social media pros and cons

I happened upon this story on the BBC news website today. It’s a really interesting case study in the benefits and perils of social media. Twitter in particular has a tendency to be incredibly supportive/funny/informative/challenging, and negative/insulting/abusive/ vindictive – all at the same time. It tends not to be a platform that encourages nuance and subtlety – the requirement for brevity (even after the increase in the character limit to 280) often leads to the sacrifice of balance on the altar of impact. But it can also be a brilliant introduction to wider discussions, either through the use of threads of tweets, or the inclusion of links to other websites or blogs where more complex arguments are developed in greater detail. This is the approach that is deployed by some of my favourite users of Twitter, including @davidallengreen and @BarristerSecret.

The former has been a consistently reliable and balanced commentator on the legal and political processes surrounding Brexit, and the unavoidable legalities that EU Treaties and the Article 50 requirements place on the UK government and the EU. He has consistently (and without bias or favour) pointed out the inaccuracies and impossibilities of positions put forward by Leavers, Remainers and (occasionally) even the EU itself. His predictions of the complexity of the withdrawal process and the dangers of thinking that it would either speedy or straightforward have been consistently proved right.

@BarristerSecret is a practising barrister who works extensively in the criminal justice arena and who highlights the absurdity of cuts to the courts and wider criminal justice system, and the appalling impact that austerity has had on justice for both victims and those accused of committing crimes. In addition, Tweets from the Secret Barrister are an essential go-to whenever the popular press picks up on an apparently lenient sentence or some other alleged calumny by either a judge or lawyer in a criminal case. The patient explanation of sentencing guidelines and their application in cases that attract tabloid fury, provide an invaluable insight into the constraints within which judges work, and the (often) unintended consequences of poorly conceived, politically motivated guidance.

Twitter can also be spectacularly entertaining. This beauty comes from Brian Bilston, my favourite pop poet, and coincides with the launch of the latest series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. It seems a suitable way to sign off today’s post!