Simon Kelner: Tweeting isn't always wise, unless you're Stephen Fry

Kelner's view


I assume we're all in favour of openness, accountability and free exchange of information, but do you ever secretly long for a time when we didn't know quite so much about people's lives, whether they be public figures or not?

This was, of course, the days before Twitter, an age when people kept their feelings to themselves, or at least didn't have such easy access to a medium on which they could express their every thought. I have said previously that I regard Twitter as the most powerful new medium of my lifetime, and that we're only now just grappling with its possibilities as a frighteningly efficient means of disseminating news and opinions, as well as its use as a publicity tool.

Stephen Fry, for instance, has an astounding 4.4 million followers. Just imagine what that means for the efficacy in getting across any message he chooses.

If he wanted to stand for parliament, or be chosen as the people's head of state, he'd have quite a start. No need to do a round of tiresome interviews when the new box set of QI comes out, he can recline on his sofa in his dressing gown (I don't know why, but this mental image just surfaced) and a few key strokes on his iPhone will suffice.

But it is the very convenience and simplicity of Twitter that gets people into trouble, and we have seen an outstanding example of this during the past few days with the disintegration of the marriage of Ben Goldsmith and Kate Rothschild, above.

As scions of two of Britain's most notoriously rich families, it stands to reason that even this most private of catastrophes would attract public attention and comment. And in the past, various PR flunkies would have tried to put their client's side of the story. Now, however, there's no need for the dark arts to be employed: the principals spill every emotion within the confines of 140 characters.

So he calls her "appalling" and says she should pay more consideration to the children, and she seemed to suggest her husband had in the past been cheating on her. So far, so undignified.

Then wiser counsel prevailed, and the couple issued a joint declaration that they would tweet no more. But when you're feeling angry, grief-stricken, betrayed or misunderstood, the temptation to have one more hit of the narcotic that is Twitter may be too powerful to resist.

So when, in a newspaper article, Janet Street-Porter took the couple to task for "letting it all hang out", Mrs Goldsmith was back, angrily punching those keys. I wish I didn't know as much as I do about the Goldsmiths' marital problems, but I do think a very powerful point about the appeal of Twitter as an unmediated court of opinion emerged from this sad affair.

Mrs Goldsmith tweeted that she wanted to avoid her opinions being "twisted and magimixed by the press". She added: "Twitter is the only recourse for most." Alternatively, she could have a word with Stephen Fry: much more effective that way.

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