Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Fry debacle

I've started writing about what's been going on today on Twitter from all kinds of angles. And several paragraphs or just sentences into each effort, I've decided that it's the wrong tack.

I've decided that until I've had a chance to sleep on it, I need to say fairly little.

I will say this though. Comments on this blog have always been "moderated" (i.e. Blogger sends them to me for approval before they appear). It's not something I've just instituted because of the kerfuffle. This has mainly been to stop spam and certain individuals being abusive. I have always accepted all valid comments made on my blog whether I agree with them or not. (Why wouldn't I?)

That said, I am refusing to accept "anonymous" comments. Regardless of whether you want to be positive or negative, I expect you to be open to a conversation. Your email address will not appear in public if you so choose, but should I need to clarify a point, I want to be able to contact you privately. I have no intention of being a defenceless punchbag.

In the meantime, here are some links to other blogs or online stories I've seen, with a word or two of comment where I think it's needed:

Stephen Fry, depression and the rage of the Twitter mob

Regarding why I included the @ symbol bringing the conversation to Stephen Fry's attention (see comments section), it was simply force of habit. Specifically, two habits: when I see Twitter usernames, I immediately prefix them with @ as they otherwise seem "wrong" to me. Secondly, I feel it's fair that if I'm talking about someone, they have a right to know about it. I'm really not a fan of talking about people behind their backs.

I appended "sorry Stephen" on the phenomenally tiny chance that Mr Fry himself would see my tweet. I have replied to hundreds of his tweets or otherwise addressed tweets to him in the past with positive comments or attempts at humour, and have never been acknowledged. Ditto his own blog/website on which I have left many positive comments in the past. Why should I assume that this time would be any different? The "Sorry Stephen" was also addressed to those who disagree with me, to make it reasonably clear that I mean him no ill-will.

I have potentially much more to say on the subject.

Stephen Fry & @brumplum in the playground

To maintain the playground metaphor and the spirit of the final paragraph, "sir, sir, I've already said sorry, twice. I'm waiting for Fry Minor to say sorry now".

More seriously, though, Stephen Fry does not need to apologise to me for anything. On the infinitesimal chance that he, or someone who has his ear, sees this, I want to reiterate that I am truly sorry for any offence caused. I would, however, appreciate some sign of life from him because until then the loss of Britain's Greatest Tweeter will all be my fault. Unlike his theatrical experience several years ago, no individual was blamed, in public or in private, for breaking his spirit. In this case, the cause of his escape has a name, and that name is @brumplum. One of his last tweets indicated that he was about to travel to the USA so I fear I will be Twitter's flogging horse for a while. So be it, but please, Stephen, do come back.

Stephen Fry, Twitter and the Fifth Estate

I'm so glad he brought up Stephen Fry's recent blog, which was, to an extent, about the fact that it's very easy to say stuff in the heat of the moment which one lives to regret. And so Stephen Fry should, perhaps, be mindful of the fact that I also regret elements of what I said and how I said it. An earlier draft of this very blog entry included reams of self-justification, but I'll let it drop for now.

For the record, I would like Mr Barry and others to reflect on this: if Mr Fry, after thirty years in the public eye, has difficulty adapting to his current position as a visible leader of people and maker of causes, then what about me, who after decades of obscurity, have been thrust into the international limelight for saying something no more objectionable than I have said before, and had said to me countless times too, the only difference being that I said it to and about someone famous.

Oh, and for the record, my own history includes the loss of three relatives of my father's in the same Auschwitz concentration camp in which Stephen Fry lost several of his. Catholic Poles rather than Jews, and two of them were condemned for having saved Jewish families - the third just for being related to the first two. So Stephen's "we know which side of the border Auschwitz was" has particular resonance with me. Even so, I don't hold it against him, and has not reduced the esteem in which I hold him as an entertainer, educator and all round Jolly Good Egg. (And said as much on his blog. )

The Times Online (as representative for the purposes of this blog of the traditional media)
Stephen Fry in a flutter at horrid tweeters on Twitter

OK, this is where things get seriously scary. For a major newspaper to pick up a spat between users of an ultimately insignificant glorified chatroom is absolutely mind-boggling. To make a national (and international) story of it is beyond silliness. I really would have thought that there were far more important things in news generally, and the tech sector in particular, to talk about?

To quote one of the comments under that story? W.T.F?

People threaten to leave websites and/or chatrooms every day of the week, several times over. I know of at least three (popular) Tweeters who've voiced uncertainly about their future presence on the site in the last week, and nobody's batted as much as an eyelid.

What's so different about this case?

To end this blog on a positive note. I would like to voice my sincere gratitude to everyone I know and don't know on Twitter who has said anything in my defence today, whether it was in public or in private. I have deliberately kept away from Twitter not because I can't take the vitriol, but simply because I've not had the time. It also means I've not had the time to see the wonderful messages of support, so I can just thank you all en groupe.

I hate to single anyone out, but just because they supported me on the phone throughout the day while I wasn't online, very, very special thanks to @stigblog, @stigsbf and @squawkbox for being real, genuine friends. It's people like them who make Twitter worthwhile.