Rihanna and Piers Morgan highlight the perils of debate on Twitter

140 characters is not enough for a reasoned argument


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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power