Rihanna and Piers Morgan highlight the perils of debate on Twitter

140 characters is not enough for a reasoned argument

Share

For those of us who take an active interest in domestic and international affairs, who keep informed through the medium of newspapers, who listen to Radio 4 and watch "Newsnight", the world seems like a quite reasonable place. Ideas are put forward, opinions are exchanged, a debate is conducted, and we are left to make our minds up. It's how things are conducted in a mature democracy with responsible media.

What we sometimes forget is that, outside of this cloistered environment, the world is a rather unfriendly place, where ideas are stamped on and people with opinions are crushed. Of course, anyone who thinks that Twitter is the medium for intelligent, reasonable debate needs their head examined. However, the truth is that this is where a vast amount of public discourse is conducted these days. It's not across a desk with Kirsty Wark, it's over 140 characters with anyone from Vladivostok to Vancouver who has access to a screen.

Here, complex ideas are reduced to hashtags, and at any minute you can hear the howling mob banging on your door. The corrosive effect of this - which has already seeped into the more traditional means of exchange - is that people become frightened of saying what they think. Take the pop singer Rhianna. She has 36 million followers on Twitter, and the other day they were party to a tweet that simply read "#FreePalestine".

Anyone who has seen the images of bodies being carried out of the rubble in Gaza might find this an innocuous, if trite, sentiment. On posting, Rhianna was inundated with aggressive responses, asking whether she supported Hamas. The tweet was posted at 9.14am, and by 9.22  the tweet was deleted, but not before it was retweeted almost 7,000 times. Clearly, Rhianna didn't have the time to explain her nuanced view that, no, she doesn't support the murderous policies of Hamas, but feels the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination while not repudiating the right of Israel to exist within stable, internationally-recognised borders. Instead, she replaced the original tweet with an anodyne musing: Let's pray for peace etc, etc, blah, blah.

And then there's Piers Morgan who had the brass neck to go a step further than Rhianna by posting "#FreePalestineAndIsrael". The arch controversialist was at it again, provoking the Twitter millions with a fair-minded opinion. The response was not slow in coming. He was called an "idiot" (patently untrue), "Zionist scum" (he's an Irish Catholic) and a "fat, ugly, ignorant c***" (make your own mind up). Piers likes nothing more than a verbal scrap, so he wasn't cowed by the offensive reaction. But, clever and articulate though he is, he discovered that Twitter is no place for a grown-up debate. Instead, he resorted to platitude - we need a Nelson Mandela figure, he suggested - and distasteful nonsense - a reference to his row with Jeremy Clarkson made it sound as if this was on the same scale as Israel-Palestine. Top marks to Piers for taking the argument head-on, but even he was surprised by the barrage of abuse. And this, I'm afraid, is what's happening in the real, virtual world, all the time you're listening to the calm, reasonable tones of James Naughtie.

Read next:
Why we should allow assisted dying
Marvel Comics have made Thor a woman, thank Odin
Men fake orgasm too? Show offs

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Wilbur, the pig who thinks he's a dog (Dom Joly)  

My hilarious pet pig Wilbur is more popular than I am — so I'll let him bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Amazon's new 'payment by the page' policy will just result in longer but likely worse literature

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'