Saturday, 28 September 2013

Speaking for those who already have a voice: why the Twitter Elite cannot speak for minorities.

I didn't intend to write a follow-up to this piece but #twittersilence strikes me as the biggest comedy to have emerged around this little subculture of journalists and media personalities, even though the tedium of wading through all of it delayed this piece by months. Rather than kick off another Linehan debate, I'd like to address a more interesting question the "silence", its backfiring and the way those responsible have reacted to the backfiring have raised: can these people ever really speak up for those of a different race, gender or sexuality as sincerely as they speak up for themselves?

To recap, Caitlin Moran tweeted this. During the "silence", many brought up this, this and this, and ridiculed the boycott. Linehan - who didn't himself observe it -  tweeted this and things escalated from there, resulting in this.

We could talk about the absurdity of the idea that not tweeting for 24 hours - commonly caused by headaches, sickness, power cuts, work demands, family visits, social engagements and not being on Twitter in the first place - could honestly count as a boycott, could honestly be seen as a stand against anything. We could talk about the hilarious idea that tweeting the word "#twittersilence" doesn't count as tweeting, making the whole affair a farce of a kind unseen since Alan Partridge's minute of silence for Lord Morgan of Glossop ("I'll have to speak periodically to show we're still broadcasting...This is Radio 4").
We could talk about how the boycott drew attention to the columnists and TV personalities leading it rather than the victims of rape threats in general, (many of whom pointed out that silence is the last thing they want to use against those who want to silence women) culminating in the ludicrous spectacle of what happened when Caitlin Moran came back, thanking TV's Robert Webb and TV's Dara O'Briain after they congratulated her, receiving a tweet from TV's Sue Perkins consisting of "xx" and replying with "darling, thank you xxx" a gracious martyr because she hadn't used a smartphone function for a single day.

We could talk about how feminist, disabled or transgender voices were blocked, insulted and shouted down because they were mean about a Times Columnist. One of the most striking instances here was a mysterious  Storify account set up by New Statesman Deputy Editor Helen Lewis, another boycotter. The Storify account consisted of an argument between Lewis and a tweeter about how the Statesman could allow the latter's side of the story to be told. Both Lewis, in the Storify, and Linehan, in his reactions to it, were bemused that someone asked on Twitter to pitch a New Statesman article about her dissatisfaction would say no and say Lewis should commission it rather than have her pitch it: "I''m not your field-nigger, Helen", she had said. Boycotter Owen Jones (see below this piece for a note on how I underestimated Jones) entered the debate at this point, unhappy with her use of the phrase "field-nigger" which he said he felt was still a legitimate criticism from a white man about a black woman because he was agreeing with a black friend who thought so too. This Storify was quickly deleted, apparently because Helen Lewis relented when people pointed out that this invited bullying of the tweeter (or because she was "sick of the grief" and victim rather than bully, as others put it.) The former point-of-view was not shared by Linehan, who had fallen upon it hungrily -  and was so irritated when it was deleted that he ended up tweeting a link to a duplicate by "Elevatorgate", a distinctly dodgy Tweeter who stalks women's Twitter accounts and sets up Storify accounts in order to provoke them. Even Linehan had to admit this was a mistake. I have a horrible suspicion that in response to this piece I'm going to get tweets from other white people arguing that it was indeed rather rude of the black lady not to pitch to the New Statesman deputy editor.

We could talk about Linehan (1), once a funny, smart and likeable man, now beside himself with rage that anyone could criticise Caitlin Moran, braying like an ape defending its leader, comforting himself by chortling at how angry he can make those with less power.  Once before Glinner's fetishisation of the block button and loathing of those he uses it on led to a bizarre fantasy about a school shooting.This violent impulse came up again this time. When belligerence  reduces someone to straight-faced versions of Lee and Herring's old "you can prove anything with facts" routine, is there much point left in arguing with them? (and presumably it would be similarly pedantic to bring up another boycotter, TV's Sarah Millican, making jokes about the hairiness of Susan Boyle on Mock the Week: the important thing is she's taking a stand against the bullying of women, by not using Twitter for one day.)

We could talk about that sort-of apology of Moran's, with its cowardly shunting between claiming to speak up for the abused and the excuse of just being a TV critic who's off to review Frank Skinner's new quiz show, and its Gervasian technique of apologising if anyone misunderstood: ("Well, look, this is just boring for most people, so - soz. Seriously. If you possible can, run away and feed the ducks in the park.") It didn't help that the same day Moran tweeted this to Zoe Williams and Deborah Orr (Yes, I know it's a joke. The Gervasian smirk shines through).

We could talk about how the pack-animal mentality means they just can't dissent from one another - when one of them clearly drops the ball, they never have the guts to admit it. The "silence" was unfortunately immediately preceded by these two tweets from boycotter India Knight. Moran, of course, had nothing to say about either of these absurdities. Similarly, Moran's 'apology' was severely undermined by Ben Goldacre linking to it with this. (2) Linehan (who earlier had described himself as "under siege from the Worst since I defended C.Moran") replied "Good man. Good woman". Moran replied to both of them with "thank you, both. so much xxxx" and then dropped out of this conversation, to leave others to debate (She also later defended her friend with this blatant lie, similar to India Knight's ludicrous claim about her own sneer at blogs.

We could talk about Murdoch, and his role in elevating the bilge Moran and Knight write, the only thing that distinguishes them from blogs, or indeed dust. After all, Knight was keen to remind us of this in those two tweets.

We could talk about the awesome stupidity, not to mention slur, of saying that disliking the work or tweets of a columnist makes you no better than those who send rape or death threats (according to Linehan it makes you a member of the "Twaliban") and that if you dislike a columnist who says rape and murder are bad, than you are on the side of rapists and murderers (not "on the side of the angels", as TV's Dara O'Briain put it to Moran). "Yay, good for you,"' tweeted Linehan. "Keep the focus on celebrities rather than the men threatening to rape them. You guys rule!" One tweeter pointed out that she found "rape *and* writers who say "spaz" and "tranny" a lot worrying." Linehan's reply was "Wow, so the two are equivalent? WOW." Hitler and Murdoch are not equivalent, and neither are Saddam Hussein and Louise Mensch. This hardly stops one despising the latter in each case.
This "either-you-are-with-Caitlin-or-you-are-with-those-who-threaten-her" stance is dangerous nonsense. Fox News presenters receive death threats, as does Tony Blair. In no way does this diminish one's contempt for those people, and this contempt does not indicate a lack of abhorrence of the threats. If you have the appalling experience of receiving death or rape threats the fact that you deserve sympathy does not mean you deserve immunity from criticism. You can find hideous racism, misogyny, homophobia and violent threats on any almost any lengthy YouTube comment thread. It proves nothing about the person they refer to. After boycotter Amanda Palmer's horrifically bad poem about the Boston bombings, her response on Twitter was:

Her husband Neil Gaiman's response was:

Another boycotter, The Guardian's Suzanne Moore, admitting that she should have apologised for her "Brazilian transsexuals" remark (which we'll come to later), said in her own defence "No one has apologised to me for saying that I should be decapitated", and in between tweeting guarded apologies, suggested "If anyone cares to Storify the abuse against me please do." Linehan has a similar technique: after any heated discussion, he picks a ludicrous trolling tweet, sent in by another tweeter, and retweets it with "this is the kind of thing I have to deal with" at the start, resulting in TV's Dara O'Briain, TV's Emma Kennedy and journalists like Deborah Orr offering sympathy and excoriating everyone who disagreed with him. A tweeter (3) put an excellent point to Orr:

Orr dismissed it with:

Many have pointed out the similarity with wanting to police Twitter on the grounds that there are rape and death threats on it to David Cameron's desire to impose "opt-in" filters on the Internet on the grounds that there's child pornography on it. Certainly, responding to any criticism of a person by pointing out that the same person has received threats and abuse is no more an argument than trying to put critics of Reagan's administration on a footing with John Hinkley.

We could talk about how insulting is the idea of Caitlin Moran and India Knight, after writing insular, apolitical dross for years, announcing that maybe rape threats are really bad, and how the aim of things like the #twittersilence campaign is to elevate these column-fillers into writers with minor political status. Moran, in her tweetlonger post, seemed bemused that so many should dislike her when there are rapists out there:

People who are approaching women, anonymously, on Twitter, and threatening them with rape and death are breaking the law. They are committing prosecutable acts. I find it a bit weird that a debate about this is being repeatedly derailed into conversations about what the Times TV critic said to a friend on Twitter in 2010.

Did we really need Caitlin Moran to tell us this? And did so many need to be rebuked by white cis-gendered journalists and TV personalities with thousands of followers eager to put the boot in to them, regardless of what minority the dissenters belonged to, and how much experience they might have had of death and rape threats?

The most preposterous defences of Moran came from Orr and Zoe Williams:

Think part of the Hate Caitlin mentality is: "We can't get near the people who really fuck up the world, so let's piss on her. She's handy."

my overriding impression [i]s of a hatred of female success, from exactly the ppl who claim to object the most that women aren't allowed to be successful. They hate her bc she disproves their point

 Sometimes conspiracy theories are more palatable than the idea that people might actually not like your friend's stuff.  It is remarkably insular - and clear from the "exactly the people" line that angry feminists are Williams's target: we're only a step away from Linehan's unashamed outburst about the "sanctimonious Left".

The very idea of disliking what Moran writes is being denied: the only thing that exists is people frightened of successful women (note also how the idea of Moran's "success" is taken by Williams as a given - she has a column and sells a lot of books, and that's that: very materialistic, very India Knight) an argument that never seemed impressive when used to defend Margaret Thatcher and Sarah Palin and doesn't seem so now.

A potentially valuable exchange with Helen Lewis was closed off and shifted back to the Status Quo. Another tweet - gratefully retweeted by Glinner - expressed lament for Grace Dent, Suzanne Moore and Helen Lewis protecting their tweets or leaving Twitter: "what a victory for feminism that is" (incidentally they were back on unlocked accounts within days). Is this what feminism is? Making sure these three white privileged middle-class journalists feel happy using a particular piece of technology?

Always prominent in the memory during these moments is Caitlin Moran's response when challenged during an argument about the lack of black women in the TV drama Girls when she was about to interview the show's writer Lena Dunham: "Nope. I literally couldn't give a shit aboutit [sic]", her language as dead as her empathy.  This equally irritable reaction came from Linehan, striking for its sense of territory. "Let Lena write hers" is heartfelt: the plaintive cry of a generation of white writers who want to enjoy their DVD boxsets in peace, and think it's up to the minorities to represent themselves rather than expecting them to pause Game of Thrones and do it for them. As she says, once they've done that, Moran will be only too happy to write a feature on them.

So far, we see what media personalities are good at doing on Twitter (standing up for each other) and what they're not so good at doing (standing up for minorities). What's been truly horrible about the #twittersilence farce, though, has been when the two things meet: when questions of racism, misogyny, transphobia and threats have been raised and are swept aside in order to defend white cis-gendered newspaper columnists.

During the debate about whether Twitter celebs could really take a stand against abuse, a tweeter who had just been called a "vile paki cis cunt" asked "So what you gonna do, Twitter?" and sent the same question to Linehan. He replied: "I know! Somehow blame Caitlin Moran!" and defended this with the astonishingly feeble "she spat the fact out at me in an accusing way," and "she "@" 'ed me in an accusatory and rude fashion because I defended Caitlin Moran". Well, she certainly did (again, I have a horrible suspicion white people will be telling me the black lady should have been more polite in telling the famous white media personality about the racist abuse she'd received) but if that's his idea of the point where a dialogue becomes impossible maybe Linehan would be better off sticking to thanking people for praising his sitcom.

For Graham Linehan and others, Moran seems to be what the #twittersilence was all about.  This has form. India Knight published this appalling column (available free only here) about depression within a week of the 20th World Mental Health Day. Caitlin Moran later complained that the mental health charity MindCharity was "trolling a broadsheet journalist".  Knight, Caitlin Moran, Lauren Laverne  TV's Clare Balding and Deborah Orr had all been more annoyed at the treatment a Times columnist had been getting over her article  than the effect the article might have had upon those with the condition, (this was the nadir) leading to  Knight thanking others for their sympathy tweets, and guardedly accepting an apology from a charity after threatening them. (4) The Coren business involved overlooking a tweet of vile misogynistic abuse ("go fuck yourself you barren old hag") because the person on the receiving end had been mean about the latest piece by a Times columnist (a Murdoch restaurant critic).  Here, there was a sense of  outrage that minorities were picking on Caitlin Moran.

Anyone offended by Moran's references on twitter to "benders" "trannies" "retards" and AIDS got short shrift. Excuses offered include the idea that Moran jokes about AIDS in order to confront her fear of death and disease (as Deborah Orr put it through the medium of sarcasm - something these professional writers relied on rather desperately throughout the row, but then who'd expect wit? - in a tweet to Moran and TV's Dara O' Briain) but the tweets themselves read like someone not so much making a conscious dark joke as not thinking about what she's saying. Another defence offered in her twitlonger post was:

I spent ten years on a message board that was pretty much 50/50 straight/gay, and included a gay man in a drag act, and we always used the word "Tranny" to mean "transvestite." I had never thought it meant anything else.

This tweeter put it best. As with the Owen Jones comment quoted earlier, the "this isn't just my opinion: I ran it past a member of that minority" defence has been invoked. It brings to mind Linehan's inadvertently hilarious reason why Giles Coren couldn't be a misogynist: "I'm sure his sister and wife will be surprised to hear that he HATES WOMEN."

Suzanne Moore, as mentioned, wrote a piece in The New Statesman back in January (a reprint of an older piece) arguing that the shape women are expected to have today is "that of a Brazilian transsexual."' She never really understood why so many on Twitter told her they found this offensive. When called out on it, she replied:


The attacks on the very physicality of a minority would have ended Moore's career if they had been racist or homophobic, but it seems this kind of visceral hatred is allowable if only transgender people are the targets. Moore's subsequent apologies were even less sincere than Moran's, repeating the bigotry from her tweets without the swearing:

She took the same line in her Guardian piece, which was not so much an apology as a lament that so many had misunderstood her: "I don't really care what people do with their bodies." ("I loved the piece X" tweeted Grace Dent) It's no more convincing than Jon Gaunt's denial that he had any problem with gay police officers - "I don't care what they do with their truncheons in their spare time" - and Garry Bushell's response to the suggestion he was homophobic "if you're gay, good, means more birds for the rest of us." Racist or homophobic remarks have long been coded in the form of  revealing snarls of denial - what you do in your private life is no business of mine; They're welcome to their mosques; I don't go to their country and intrude on their culture, so why should they intrude on mine? Here we see transphobia relies on the the same unconcealed contempt and physical revulsion. Only the jaded could think it a counter to allegations of bigotry, rather than a confirmation.

At the time, Linehan responded to criticisms of Moore with the clumsy piece of sarcasm "Do you think she might be *whispers* Hitler?"
and suggested a new logo for twitter: an image of Millie Tant, the spoof feminist from Viz. Ben Goldacre dismissed those objecting to Moore's remarks as "disproportionate single-issue screamers". Moran tweeted this. Stella Duffy defended Moore with this blogpost. After recommending Duffy's post, Owen Jones insisted Moore hadn't been talking about transexuals at all. Jon Ronson's contributions were telling: "[to Moore] I'm on your side. What did you do?" and "I haven't a transphobic bone in my body! Didn't even know the word existed until 30 secs ago"

This exchange took place between Moore and the virulently transphobic Julie Bindel. Can anyone honestly imagine Bindel's phrase "trans cabal" being tolerated by supposedly left-wing journalists if the word "trans" had been replaced by any other minority? "A cabal of blacks"? "A cabal of Jews"? Would that last tweet of Moore's have been forgotten if the word race or sexuality had been said instead of gender?

Things got worse when Julie Burchill leapt to her friend Moore's defence with a full-on anti-transgender article so atrocious - referring to "screaming mimis", "bed-wetters in bad wigs" and "dicks in chicks' clothing" - the Observer editor rightly apologised for having published the thing. Moore responded in The Guardian:

"That piece is barking" was Caitlin Moran's own single brief response to the matter (note how carefully it avoids any words that might suggest anger, disgust or censure: anything that might offend Julie) before discussing how "good" she was on Desert Island Discs a week later, and how amused she was that Burchill had blurbed herself on her own book (even tweeting a merry little picture of herself holding up the cover of Burchill's book to show us). Linehan's response was similarly cautious, offering agreement with those that said the Burchill piece was awful, but careful to stay away from the questions it raised about Suzanne Moore's attitude to transgender people. Deborah Orr published a piece lamenting that feminism should be used as a veil for transphobia, but carefully avoiding mentioning Moore by name.

There's a clear hierarchy here: those with hideous prejudices like Bindel and Burchill, those with a spiteful right-wing streak that takes over under pressure like Linehan and Moore, those who don't think about what they're saying like Moran and Knight, and those who should know better but can't tolerate criticism of their friends like Goldacre, Williams, Jones, Lewis and Orr. Some people have defended this cliquish tendency to me, pointing out that this is a case of people sticking up for their friends, but this seems to me the most middle-class, self-centred and trivial excuse imaginable: (5)social inconvenience taking precedence over principles.

This, I venture, is why so many have been contemptuous of the idea of #twittersilence. How can these pundits speak for them? If their attitude towards black characters in TV shows is: go and write and leave us to enjoy our all-white shows, if they respond to challenges with rage and profanity, if they fall back on sarcasm when asked thoughtful questions, if they reply with references to "the fucking lopping off of bits of your body" and "calm down dears", and if they roar "someone just sent me gold" when they think they've found ammunition in arguments about race,  how receptive does that make them towards problems of prejudice and bigotry, and how aware of their own privilege are they? What kind of attitude does it express when their response upon being called out on it - aside from calling you a troll - is to invite you to pitch an article and then storify with bemusement if you don't want to? And then go ooh, that's racist if a black person gets outspoken enough to say "I'm not your field-nigger" (I'm still struggling to make sense of that part of the proceedings, but I still don't see exactly why we should automatically assume anyone must want to pitch to the New Statesman: is it unheard of not to want to do so, like not using Twitter for 24 hours? Apparently it's "a-mazing".) It raises the question of whether people like Suzanne Moore, Helen Lewis, Owen Jones, Graham Linehan and Caitlin Moran can speak for you if you are not white, not cis-gendered and not one of their friends. Even the commitment to drawing attention to rape threats was compromised when TV's Robert Webb tweeted this to Moran and Lewis. Moran replied, Lewis said nothing. A tweeter raising the point that this hardly sat well with Moran's "apology" found herself talking only to Webb - who pointed out that Moran was probably "busy" before dropping out himself - just as Moore had been happy to answer tweets on her own controversy from TV's Frankie Boyle, but left the conversation rather than answer this dignified, pertinent and respectful point from someone who wasn't famous.

Yes, we could talk about all these things. And God, it's hard not to talk about this at the moment. I got a tiny taste of what it must feel like to be told not to make such a song-and-dance about things you find offensive because of your race, disability, gender or sexuality, after the quack from Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies/Illnesses barged his way into a conversation - (no-one had "@"-d him) - after searching his name (or being told about it by a friend, if you believe his story). He subsequently became another of the curious sources that Linehan fell upon, so desperate for ammunition against the uppity, that he could no longer choose the company he kept. After I'd said that I had Asperger's Syndrome and didn't appreciate the condition appearing on a programme as an "embarrassing illness", I instantly received these tweets from supporters of the good Doctor:

Do you not understand the purpose/concept of the show?
if you can't understand that I question your Intelligence
you're very dramatic
Oh please don't play that card. You just want to be outraged. I've got bipolar. (6) I don't jump down throats.
The way you are going on is dramatic. Get over yourself.
Wow, talk about dramatic, If you were that offended you could have changed channels."

But this is just the tiniest sliver of what people who are transgender, black or disabled - especially women -  had to face following the #twittersilence fallout, (compare the tone to these tweets by Goldacre on ableist language) and I'm sure have to face on a regular basis: people telling them not to be such drama queens, to get over themselves, not to play the racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic/transphobic "card", not to make such a big deal of it all, that of course tweets will seem offensive if you go trawling through them and start quoting them accurately.

All I can say is that if your response when asked about someone being called a "paki cunt" is to complain about the criticism a white newspaper columnist is getting, maybe you'd be better off sticking to conversations with that columnist, and if your response when a transwoman is murdered (7) is to legally threaten the news source for mentioning you within the same piece,  and then call them "cuntards" for not realising the threat was a "joke", maybe sticking up for threatened minorities should be higher on your priorities.

For the record, I don't personally think Moran aims to upset black people, transgender people or people with AIDS, and I don't think those "retard/tranny" tweets are evidence of bigotry. I think as her writing is essentially mindless, she doesn't think about its implications, or its nature as the work of a privileged white middle-class cis-gendered journalist, and isn't capable of thinking about it enough to offer a well-argued or thoughtful apology, just as she doesn't have enough grasp of language to see that "self-proclaimed pleasant people" is a phrase so problematic it borders on oxymoronic: no-one who proclaims themselves pleasant should be trusted.

She also clearly lacks the guts to speak out against those who do have unpleasant views about a minority, like Suzanne Moore. In her "apology" Moran offers her comments on Germaine Greer's transphobia (Greer's vile treatment of  Dr Rachael Padman has been disgracefully overlooked by the British media (8)) in her book How To be A Woman as an example of how she does abhor that prejudice (Helen Lewis also used it a few months back as a defence against the idea Moran has any trans prejudice, describing it as a "repudiation"). Moran doesn't offer much in the way of quotes, but this is what she actually said in the book (The bit I've underlined continues from where Lewis's quote trailed off):

In later years I would grow Greer-ish enough to disagree with Greer on things that she said: she went off sex in the eighties, opposed the election of a female lecturer at Newnham Ladies' College, got a bee in her bonnet about transgender male-to-females, and, most importantly, had a go at Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore's backcombed hair ("birds-nest hair and fuck-me-shoes") which saddened me: I love a bouff

Now, she couldn't have known what Moore would subsequently write about transsexuals. What is striking, though, is the way the issue of bigotry is swept aside to talk about haircuts, and people criticising her fellow columnists - there's nothing to suggest that that chilling use of "most importantly" is ironic. She would genuinely rather talk about hairstyles than Germaine Greer's victimisation of Rachael Padman, the transgender lecturer Moran doesn't bother to name, just as she genuinely thinks sorting out what clothes to wear and how one's pubic hair should be trimmed is a genuine manifesto for feminism.

As for the idea that saying someone has "a bee in her bonnet" about a minority when they campaign to prevent a member of that minority getting a job, that she's "nuts in her views" on that minority (9) and that someone who writes a hatepiece on a minority is "barking", it's an interesting new phenomenon: casual calling-out: disassociate yourself without offending the person or getting yourself dragged into the row. Remember Larry David's line from Curb Your Enthusiasm: "Hitler didn't care for Jews: he thought they were a bit much." Indeed, she doesn't mention in that twitlonger reference that Greer's praise is quoted on the book's blurb. Greer would probably resent being called a vicious bigot, but the suggestion she has a "bee in her bonnet" probably didn't spoil her lunch, especially as Moran fondly noted that it was "Greerish" of her to notice the bee in the first place.

Linehan's main objection is he wants to be left alone: he doesn't want to criticise his successful friend, he doesn't want her criticised by anyone else, he doesn't want to debate issues of gender, race, bigotry or the way the language of those who are white and privileged can impact on those who aren't, and the things that the perspective of the White middle-class cis-gendered person with a job in the media can miss - he just wants to be left alone to promote his West End shows and TV programmes, receive praise from those who liked them, and exchange pleasantries with those of similar media stature and press the RT button on important causes. "Let Lena write hers."

So let's cut to the solution...

Let them praise each other. Let them see their own timelines as crystal balls ("My timeline suggests this is now a thing"). Let Moran grow more incoherent ("Writing the fuck out of shit since 1992" says her twitter bio, "it fucks me off so much" was Zoe Williams's defence of her friend from criticism. Does India Knight really think I'm envious of these people?). Let Suzanne Moore sound more and more like Jan Moir (the previous master of the "I'm sorry you foolishly misunderstood me" apology. Let the world see how ludicrous the idea that these people could ever speak up for the disadvantaged is. Let their claims to be left-wing be reduced to pressing the retweet button on more important tweets and arguing with climate-change deniers (put on this earth to make them look good) every now and then. Let them degenerate.

Now, we know the Chieftains have no problem with praise. So anyone who isn't interested in saying anything else can join TwitterElite with them. And a moderated guestbook can be set up for anyone on LowTwitter (or "Cunt Fest", to use Deborah Orr's phrase) who wants to pass on a fan message. Otherwise, LowTwitter's relation to TwitterElite will be read-only, for those useful things the latter retweets and links to. We don't need to talk to them.

Moran wants Twitter to be "like Cheers." It would actually be more like the icy blackness of Evelyn Waugh's early novels, with their giggling, dancing, drunken callous fools, who don't care who they hurt. It would also resemble the world evoked in Chris Morris and Robert Katz's series of monologues for Morris's Blue Jam radio series, where journalists are encouraged to commit suicide because it would make great copy, playwrights hit people under the adoring gaze of sycophants, TV executives trepann themselves to get the cocaine straight into their brain and conceptual artists exhibit one another in cages.

And to return to the tweet we opened with, what do we mean by nice? Quiet? Gentle? Apolitical? Vacant? Materialistic? People who watch the TV programme or read the column or book you've produced? A bunch of people so vapid most of them are too nervous to say they don't like Julie Burchill? Is that nice? One of the most disgraceful cultural attempts in Britain to silence a dissenting female voice in recent years was the treatment by the media - and then the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition - of Hilary Mantel over her brilliant essay on the Royal Family and its treatment of women. Lauren Laverne's response - snapped up by the Daily Mail - was "I mean, I know she won that Booker and everything but if you can't say anything nice....". That's what #bepolite means: anti-intellectual, apolitical, barely literate ("that Booker and everything" - from a Culture Show presenter...) and gutless, a bromide to keep us all tweeting DIY comedy, promoting their products (this new piece by Grace Dent is good) and maintaining their image (this new thing is typical Stephen Fry, honestly that is such a Julie Burchill thing to do), abandoned whenever someone speaks out of turn, and the standard Linehan use of "Cunt" "Prick" "Twat" "fuck off" and "blocked for stupidity" kicks in. It's a beautiful little model of capitalism: some are selling a product, some are buying a product, no-one's questioning it.

Over on LowTwitter, we'll handle such problems as racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, which can be a pointless nusiance for TwitterElite. We won't devise anything as cackhanded as #twittersilence, because we know that not using a smartphone for a day is not a boycott.  TwitterElite can be left to matters like whether someone "spat the fact out at me in an accusing way."' On TwitterElite, Linehan won't have to worry about people using words like mansplaining to silence the voice of the white male: on Twitter Elite the white, the male, the famous and the wealthy won't be shouted down by uppity minorities. People with columns will be able to tweet things which even they themselves consider "a bit rancid" without the plebs calling them out on it. Any of the latter will quickly be told "how to talk to people", in Linehan's phrase. India Knight won't have to talk to people with 4 followers, bloggers or those without columns. Helen Lewis's rule on her blogpost that "too many subtweets make a subtwat. FACT" (again, note that the language is as barren as the view it expresses) will be obeyed, and she won't have to remind any more people to "take being blocked with dignity". Owen Jones won't have to worry about "macho people who dress up hatred and misanthropy as politics." Linehan won't have to keep repeating his "If you got half of what he/she got" argument. Responses like this will be seen as the norm, not embarrassing displays of temper-loss, but they'll hopefully have to be deployed less frequently. after all, it must be tiring having to call so many people thick, cunts,"cuntards" twats and pricks, telling them to fuck off, telling them how stupid they are, threatening Pink News and MindCharity, and then reminding people who criticise things their friends have said that the friends are not Hitler, bombers or rapists, or even on the top 10 .

On TwitterElite the voice of the unsilent majority will be heard. Zoe Williams and Owen Jones won't have to worry about this. Williams won't have to keep reminding people Moran "isn't middle class, surely you've got this?" On TwitterElite, they can speak up for those who already have an influential voice to their heart's content.  As Helen Lewis pointed out to Linehan (through irony), they've earned it. Until TwitterElite is set up - and it needn't be long, TV's Emma Kennedy is already setting up the barricades - what should be done about the... well, what do we call them? Blue ticks? People who literally couldn't give a shit? People with class? The enemies of the Twaliban, the Millie Tants, the ThinknotBots  and CuntFest? The Reason Patriarchal Plutocracy SHOULD fear the Left? The "B" Ark? Moran names many of them in the acknowledgement at the end of her book as the "women and honorary women of Twitter" but with all these uppity women answering back about racism and transphobia and sexism, perhaps that really won't do. If We're THE WORST, does that make them THE BEST? The important thing is, they're not Hitler.

Until then, we've got the unfollow button. Let's use it.

(feedback:   or the comments page on the earlier piece:

Update March 2015: Owen Jones spoke out against the New Statesman's disgraceful transphobia in this fine piece, and on twitter continued to defend trans women while receiving a barrage of bigotry from transphobes. I wish more people writing for mainstream publications would display this kind of integrity.

1): This, in particular, on feminists that irritate him, in reference to an episode of Father Ted, is too painful to discuss. If you have to destroy your legacy, Graham, do it, but please don't drag the immortal brilliance of Father Ted into it.
2): He later posted a follow-up in the comments sections of this blogpost which can hardly be called an apology, graciously acknowledging the blogger was not the "Worst" but otherwise reiterating his defence of Moran. The twitter Elite have made the  apology-that-isn't-an-apology an artform.
3): The same tweeter put these points - again intelligently and politely - to Glinner and his defenders, but again these fell on deaf ears. See also this entirely polite and reasonable attempt to raise an issue with Knight and Laverne, and the frosty (and only) response it got. 
4): It seems they'd tweeted "Today we ask #whatisstigma in response to @indiaknight and her distasteful article on depression being money spinning 'misery lit' Join us!" in a moment of unguardedness. Here's more repentence. Personally, I think they got it right first time.
5): Like a certain Doctor Who writer who took part in #twittersilence who decreed that people not in favour of a female Doctor Who - a view he pronounced "horrible" and opposed out of his commitment to "help [ing] other people" - were comparable to people who opposed gay marriage, but then instantly blocked me when I asked if that meant he would be criticising Steven Moffat if he actually chose a male Doctor, because Moffat is a friend of his. He took part in "a Sexism in Doctor Who" panel recently, but hasn't commented on Moffat's choice of a 12th male Doctor or Moffat's odd "time for the Queen to be played by a man" joke. As I said, social niceties over principles: something the same man took to near-parodic extremes here. ("I go on about 'Tories', but I really shouldn't, not in general, when I have friends on the right as well as on the left")
6:) This is the desperate, contemptuous "nice try pretending to be offended but I'm part of your club too" technique. It's employed by India Knight here and here, (countered by these excellent responses) to say nothing of the attempts by Zoe Williams to remind us  Caitlin Moran "doesn't come from a priviledged background."
7): One might have expected some humility from Moore about her "Brazilian transsexual" reference at that moment at least because the victim was shot dead in Brazil, and this tweet had been sent to her days earlier .
8) A piece in the Guardian on 25 June 1997 by Clare Longrigg called "A Sister with No Fellow Feeling" investigating the matter mysteriously vanished from its website. This unrepentant piece by Greer (which is paywalled,  so only freely available on this blog posted by someone who takes Greer's side and disgracefully calls Rachael Padman "he" throughout) -  reveals why: "I had no option but to resign my fellowship and train as a lawyer, so that I could afford to bring a suit against the Guardian, which took a year to cave in and pay up". Again, it appears this kind of thuggery and revisionism is allowed when transgender people are the  minority concerned (imagine if Martin Amis had done this to a Muslim teacher at the University of Manchester. would the Guardian have "caved in" so easily?)
9) A quote from How to be A Woman which Moran urges us to remind ourselves of in the Twitlonger piece.