Stephen Logan

Beware the Twitter Hate Mob

19th Nov 2010 Social Media, Facebook, Social Media, Social Media, Twitter 5 minutes to read

Twitter birdNews gets around pretty quickly these days. Whether it’s a private email, a blog posts or an ‘innocent’ tweet -trouble lurks around every corner for the clumsy communicator.

Last week saw one of the most extraordinary, emotive and all-encompassing social media campaigns so far. Jan Moir, Cooks Source and ‘that’ Marie Claire blogger must be thinking they’ve got off pretty lightly compared with Judge Jacqueline Davies.

What has Jacqueline Davies done? She upheld a court decision to fine Paul Chambers for posting a threatening tweet. What was this hate-filled, vitriolic and ultimately illegal message?

“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week to get your s*** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

To most this would be nothing more than a throwaway comment. It’s not a particularly clever or funny tweet, but it probably just represented Mr. Chambers’ frustrations in that moment – not his intention to carry out a terrorist atrocity in Doncaster.

Unfortunately for the accused, that self same tweet found its way into police hands and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not the most glorious day in the Crown Prosecution Service’s history, but, in the same regard, it is far from being the worst. As far as miscarriages of justice go, this is pretty small fry.

But that hasn’t prevented a huge outcry from the Twittering masses. Trending topics last week included:

#twitterjoketrial – the original hashtag
Hood Airport
Jacqueline Davies

All of these are related to the same story. There’s even celebrity and media backing, with Stephen Fry lending his support to Paul Chambers and offering to pay all charges.

It’s a Twitter monster!

But as I alluded to earlier, it’s not the first.

Jan Moir infamously incurred the wrath of the social sphere when she wrote a pretty incendiary piece on the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately. This resulted in a massive uproar and record number of complaints to the PCC [see: Jan Moir, Trafigura, Carter-Ruck and Reputation Management in the Twitter Age].

Marie Claire blogger Maura Kelly probably wishes she had never seen new sitcom Mike & Molly, let alone written a piece called “Should “Fatties” Get a Room? (Even on TV?)“. We’ve all written some regrettable posts, but this has to be right up there in the ‘ill-judged’ category.

Needless to say, her less than flattering portrayal of overweight people in the media which included beautiful phrasing like that shown below, didn’t go down too well:

“So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything.”

Ouch. This soon went viral and soon the comment form was swamped with angry (and a few supportive) messages. This prompted a hasty apology; but it was too late, the damage was done. The current comment count is up to 3,727. Although, to be fair, that is dwarfed by the number of links the page has generated – 4,005 to date. So at least Marie Claire’s SEO team will be happy.

Finally there’s Cooks Source. Now, in the old days if somebody sent you a letter claiming that you had plagiarised their work and you decided to reply with a rant about how poor their original piece was, you might well get away with it. Not today though.

In a rather foolhardy moment of madness, editor Judith Griggs decided she would launch into a full-on tirade against a blogger who they had borrowed a recipe from [see: Copyright Infringement and Me]. This included cringe-worthy moments such as:

“But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! ”

In a victory for the little guy, news soon got around of this unusually harsh rebuke from an editor who should know better. Other bloggers joined the fight and took it to the pages of Facebook and Twitter. This led to a semi-apology being posted on the Cooks Source website – although even that was clouded by cynicism and counter-claims.

There’s a somewhat unexpected footnote to this particular story though, as it appears Cooks Source has now been taken offline [see: Magazine That Plagarized Blogger’s Article to Fold | Mashable]. The baying social media crowd may well have claimed another victim. Albeit an unrepentant plagiariser.

Clearly people aren’t learning by their mistakes. On the same day as the ‘Twitter trial’ was taking place a Conservative councillor, Gareth Compton, was arrested for saying the following:

“Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”

I’m not entirely sure how that message was supposed to be perceived, particularly in light of poor old Paul Chambers being found guilty on the very same day.

So what’s the message in all of this? In short, watch what you say when you’re online. You might not end up in court, but you could stir up a whole lot of bad publicity. When something is put into the public domain, or sent to a blogger, it can get picked up extraordinarily easily.

This can create a Twitter storm of immense magnitude. Once it goes viral, there’s no place to hide.

Whilst some might question how effective a Twitter hate mob actually is – for instance Jan Moir is still writing and the readership for the Mail Online (for whom Moir writes) continues to grow – running that risk is probably not worth it. Don’t treat any complaints lightly. Never share your most controversial inner thoughts. And never ever send an abusive email to a customer, client or somebody you’ve lifted a bit of copy from.

The Twitter hate mob, justice league or whatever else you wish to call them will be on hand to ensure that even the smallest voice gets heard. They have no respect for reputation. If you put your foot in your mouth, your discredit can go viral.

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