Friday, 1 April 2011

On being rude on Twitter (and Johann Hari)

I have written here several times about the lack of basic courtesy that is often Twitter's hallmark.

I have been guilty many times. I have so enjoyed making fun of Danny (Beaker) Alexander and Nick (#noddingclegg) Clegg. I am afraid I have let my spite go to extremes when the nonsense of Govian education policy bites us once again. So because I don't know these people personally, I have been rude.

Trouble is, once you meet people here, or at least talk to them in thoughts bigger than 140 characters, I find it harder to be merely rude at their expense. It's that basic courtesy thing. Also just because you disagree on politics doesn't mean you won't share a love for John Martyn, Western Cape Pinotage or Anne Tyler.

So I have talked at length with some politicians, bloggers and educationists whose views on the Tory road to the future I violently disagree with. Isn't it better to state your view, correct theirs where you can but continue the conversation?

I love finding the slightly acidic quote or picture that backs up my gut feelings and gets others looking and commenting too.

As an ex teacher, but someone who has worked within education all my life, I prefer the staffroom discussion to the playground brawl.

I also feel we all need to be aware of criticism and adapt our own comments and views when someone takes the trouble to point out mistakes, or misinterpretations. Sometimes we keep quiet.

Yesterday lots of people were tweeting about something Churchill is supposed to have said re. the Arts. You know the one - "What then are we fighting for?" Trouble is I used that a long time ago and many people came back and told me that this was one of those myths we all like to pass on. Didn't jump up and correct yesterday because the underlying thought resonated, Tory Arts cuts are counter-productive.

Bit like the myth that I still repeat even though people tell me it is apocryphal. The one about the Tory Cabinet minister forced to travel on London Underground for the very first time? The story goes that he asked his secretary to book him into the Dining Car. Works, because we all feel that the cabinet millionaires just aren't aware of what ordinary people experience. And no, it wasn't Boris Johnson.

So, I want to listen, be amused, be engaged and occasionally be corrected. And like almost everyone else on Twitter, I want to be loved too.

Johann Hari wrote his Indy column today about how Ed Miliband needs to be better understood, to be clearer in the way he speaks.

I objected to one line, which I think was supposed to be a casual throwaway joke about isiXhosa, one of the languages of South Africa.

"In interviews,(Ed M).... will casually back up his points by referring to "the IFS", or "the OBR" – which may as well be in Xhosha click language for all it means to most people"

isiXhosa speakers hate the way those who can't reproduce the intricate sounds of their language make fun of it. He can't even be bothered to spell correctly the language of 8 million people in South Africa, 18% of the population. (Xhosa not Xhosha) Using this for his "funny" wasn't and I objected to it in the comments and on Twitter. He promptly blocked me, blocking any debate or discussion.

In South Africa the plethora of official languages in that multi-cultural society, is often the subject of the satirists.

Pieter-Dirk Uys has been satirising African politics, society and language since and during the days of apartheid. I sat in one of his performances and although my Afrikaans is limited his jokes still made me laugh and often made me cry. He told one story of problems caused by having to use all 11 official languages on signs. "Imagine someone approaching a gate and seeing all the official versions of "Beware of the Dog". By the time they had read to the bottom, the Zulu speaker would have been bitten!"

Made me laugh as this was in the context of a man who had lived through the changes, loved his country and continued to humourously criticise all he felt was still wrong.

If Twitter can add value to our perception of the world and society we need to engage in the debate and still see the humanity in the people we criticise.

I feel sorely let down by Johann Hari in that endeavour. Quite a few have responded to me by DM or in open tweets. Several comment on this growing trend. "one of those cause journalists whose main cause is his career". By "blocking he is as bad as some of those he criticises. Criticism obv OK as long as it isn't of him!"

Well yes. My thoughts too.

Johann Hari Independent Article

Pieter-Dirk Uys

all 11 official languages


  1. nice article i like the way of your writing :)

    essay papers

  2. "I objected to one line, which I think was supposed to be a casual throwaway joke about isiXhosa, one of the languages of South Africa." followed by a mini-treatise expounding your knowledge on the subject seems to me a to be driven by intellectual snobbery and a subdued personal dislike of johann hari when really someone of your capabilities should be discussing what the article is proposing. Struggling to write about something that day? deep down you have to admit to yourself thats its very pedantic and hints at a little desperation. However this minor scratch on your intellectual armour will not stop me reading you (wink, wink).


me (sort of...)

me (sort of...)