Joan Smith: The difference between write and wrong

Sending messages in a hurry is not malicious

Share
Related Topics

I once emerged from an Underground station to find central London in the midst of a torrential storm. I sent a text to my publisher, telling him I'd be late for a meeting while I waited for the rain to stop, and received a perplexing reply. Was I ill? Should he come and get me? I stared at my mobile, wondering what on earth he was talking about, until I re-read my own message. Predictive texting had changed "rain" to "pain".

I'm sure something similar has happened to anyone who texts, dashes off emails on a smartphone or uses Twitter. I compose tweets on my iPhone, on a keyboard that's two inches by one, and I'd be astonished if I didn't make mistakes. Usually I catch them, but I'm also aware of the brain's ability to see what it expects, rather than what's actually there. When I read Ed Miliband's tweet about the death of the TV presenter Bob Holness, I registered the typing error – "Blackbusters" for "Blockbusters" – and thought no more about it. Sadly, I can't say the same for the people who rushed on to Twitter and composed lame jokes about it. In no time at all, Miliband's Twitter "gaffe" was being discussed as though it revealed something about his character or his ability to lead the Labour Party.

Did Harold Wilson ever make a mistake in a handwritten note? Margaret Thatcher? I don't know, largely because they lived in an age before social media, when their communications would have been scrutinised (if not actually typed) by someone else before being exposed to the world. I hope I'm not destroying cherished illusions here, but publishers employ copy-editors to correct errors by some of their most erudite and successful authors.

In the case of Twitter, there are compelling reasons to think twice before mocking someone's latest tweet. Not long after Miliband's "Blackbusters" error, a political blogger quoted a satirical response that appeared to come from Diane Abbott, whom Miliband had reprimanded a day earlier for a carelessly expressed opinion on Twitter. It suggested that shadow ministers were now "openly taking the piss out of the leader". Shortly after that, the blogger was on Twitter again, acknowledging that this "Abbott" tweet was a hoax. So, it seems, were recent tweets purporting to come from Rupert Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng.

In this unregulated world, it might be wise to think twice before using a single word or badly expressed phrase as evidence of anything. In Miliband's case, we don't even know for certain that he, rather than someone in his office, composed the tweet that caused this storm in a teacup. Someone is bound to say he should be in total command of everything that's going on in his office, but that would inevitably lead to accusations of control-freakery. That Ed Miliband, he's so worried about his image! He doesn't trust his staff to do anything!

Much has been written about the abuse of social media by assorted bullies, racists and misogynists. What's been less attended to is the way in which platforms such as Twitter encourage responses from an area of the brain that can't entirely be trusted. Instant communication is just that: a fast response that doesn't take into account factual accuracy, conflicting evidence and questions of authenticity.

There is a good side to Twitter, when conversations are conducted civilly and rationally, but sometimes it descends into the kind of name-calling you get at a children's party. Ed Miliband has nothing to be ashamed of in this trivial episode, which simply demonstrates the capacity of Twitter to turn over-eager users into twits.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Lily-Rose Depp is not 'all grown up' - she is a 15 year old girl who should not be modelling for an adult fashion magazine

Harriet Williamson
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence