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.


  1. I would wholeheartedly agree with you. It's amazing how these people have such double standards. Fry can make his auschwitz comment and call Jan Moir "a repulsive nobody", but if you say the word "boring" bloody hell the world is ending. Ignore them. They're all just doing it in the hope he thanks them.

    P.S. Alan Davies is a grumpy cock, and Virgin Media were probably in the right

  2. I think the big difference about this case (to answer your final question), is that people can misconstrue comments online - whether they be in an email, blog, or a tweet. I think personally you caught Stephen on a bad day. Bipolar is the most unpredictable condition to have - dare I say you just got very unlucky.

  3. Hi, I thought your original comment was a little unkind, but the response has been well over the top. On the bright side, I saw quite a few people who agree with me there - not everyone chose to overreact.

    David Jackmanson

  4. Hi,

    I have a relapsing depressive illness and can totally understand how Mr Fry may have taken offence where none was intended - it's something I do frequently during my low times.

    However, I think that comments such as the one which apparently was the final straw in this case, would be taken in a completely different way at any other time. It was clearly written with affection, however 'insulting' it may seem on the surface.

    I therefore hope 'brumplum' won't be vilified as a result of all this. We all say or write things we later regret - to err is human, is it not? Speaking of which, whilst I don't claim to know how Stephen Fry thinks, I wouldn't be at all surprised if in due course he regrets his goodbye tweet. Such is the way of the Internet! I hope he will decide to continue tweeting, whenever he's ready. In the meantime, let's all try to keep the whole thing in persepctive. :o)

  5. Much support coming to you from me in Australia, I too love Stephen and I think this is such an awful thing to have happened to you and I know he would agree. Chin up mate.

  6. You said something slightly hurtful about a national institution and "copied him in" as it were, this was you only mistake. You explain yourself above and that's an end to it as far as I am concerned.

    What is shocking about this is the ferocity of the reaction to you. I've read through the tweets you have waiting for you and, among many supportive messages, there are many very abusive ones. I note that other celebrities have now got in on the act.

    The mob mentality of Twitter has been honed on the likes of Moir, Griffin and Trafigura. Now an innocent is a victim, as is always the case with mob rule.

    Twitter is getting more like a school playground all the time. Where the celebrities with the most followers are in charge and able to bully who they like. I didn't mind about Moir and Griffin as I thought they deserved it, but I was always uneasy that something like what you're experiencing now might happen.

    I hope this incident will make many twitters (especially powerful celebrities pause for thought in future and consider who they are setting their followers on.

  7. To @brumplum imma let you finish but @thefuckingqueen is the best British twitterer out there!

    Plus what you said you should not apologise for, Twitter is all about opinion you voiced yours, someone didn't like it so screw them!

  8. I've been following the story throughout the day on Twitter, and I was amazed at how some people reacted to the comment. The comments I read were far worse than your comment, which was clearly not intended to offend. Keep your head up high, you did nothing wrong. Having an opinion is not a crime. It is what micro-blogging is all about.

    The story has no place in the media. If anything, it made the whole situation worse. Irresponsible journalism at its finest.

  9. Richard,

    I hope I didn't sound too harsh on you in my post. My argument was less about your innocuous comment than about how Twitter is evolving as a highly public communications tool and the issues it is presenting for high-profile players like Fry.

    I fully accept your point how difficult this must be for you and would be happy to discuss any other issues you might have with my contribution.

  10. Actually, at first, I thought there was some huge big blow-out between you guys, and I'll admit that I did blame you. Not that it really matters, to be honest, from some faceless member of Joe Public. But I will say this, after reading up on the so-called 'incident'... you just got unlucky. Twitter has been an amazing tool for social change (e.g. Iran Protests), media campaigns (e.g. Carter-Ruck, Jan Moir...) and such like. Nothing like this can just be all good with no negative effects. Negative effects include saying things without thinking, and just, in your case, expressing an opinion which struck a chord with a mentally ill gentleman. I know it's hard right now with the tide of hate, but don't take it to heart. The same people who are having a pop at you are the same people who flooded the PCC with complaints about Jan Moir without reading that infamous article just because Mr Fry said so (as opposed to the people who actually read it and made an informed decision as to whether to make a complaint, and perhaps discovered that they could complain rather than quietly moan about it). These hysterical people will soon leave you alone to jump on the next hysteria-fuelled bandwagon. This isn't your fault - as I said, you just got unlucky. Stephen Fry has bipolar disorder... I have a friend with the same affliction and there are days when she won't even talk or do anything because she just can't. Depression is a horrible thing -- it makes you do crazy things which seem rational to you. I just hope that this whole thing blows over soon; that Stephen Fry gets well soon; and that this whole thing doesn't put *you* off your tweeting experience. We're not all members of mindless herds, you know, but sometimes, I'll admit, it can be fun (like the Carter Ruck thing, and bringing down the PCC website in a single day).

  11. This Frying episode is just unbelievable. Unfollowed the self pitying type and followed you instead. Oh, and the curly haired goon is getting right up my creek! - MikeB

  12. Richard,

    I am relatively new to Twitter, having only been on it for four months or so, but in that time I have come to realise how it seems to bring out the worst in some people. I saw an tweet exchange between some people I had been following and I remember describing it in a tweet to another as 'ugly bullying'. I'm afraid, Twitter does appear to be rife with this sort of behaviour and, quite frankly, it is deplorable. Now, I'm not going to say that what you said in your tweets about and to Stephen Fry should be classified as such; in fact, when I read your initial tweet, Stephen's reply and your further reply, I wasn't sure what the fuss was about. But then, I noticed you went on to tweet to another about the matter and you concluded said tweet with what I would class as an pretty unpleasant hashtag, one which could only be consider as pejorative and aimed at Stephen. I suspect it was this particular tweet's hashtag that caused the most offence and I would label your action in this case as a form of ugly bullying. It is to your credit that you have apologised to Stephen and I can only hope that he will accept the same. I guess, at times, we are all guilty of saying things that we shouldn't, which you point out in your blog posting and, as you rightly said, Stephen had also noted in his own lengthy blogged apology about what he'd said about Poland, so it behoves us all, and I do mean all, to be careful what we say. I don't remember the exact words, but my mum has at times reminded me of something her dad, my grandad, used to say, which went along the lines of 'once the words have left your lips, it is too late to take them back, so think carefully before saying something that may hurt another'. I expect you'll think that to be remarkably trite, but it is something that I try to keep in mind as part of my own moral code. Anyway, good luck to you and Stephen Fry over this matter and I do hope that it can be resolved amicably and maybe some good can come of things if people behave in a more caring and considerate manner in future, whether on Twitter or elsewhere.


    Joanthan Bryning

  13. Hi,

    Probably like a lot of people commenting here, I've never read your blog before, but was intrigued by the whole Stephen Fry twitter malarky.

    For what it's worth (i.e. nothing) my opinion is that this whole media storm is hardly your fault. As someone above says you probably just caught Mr. Fry on a bad day, and you've since apologised for any offence.

    That should be the end of the matter.
    I hope Stephen Fry will soon bounce back to his enthusiastic tweeting self, and I wouldn't be surprised if (being a nice chap) he doesn't soon apologise to you for any inconvenience caused.

    Like all these things, it'll soon blow over...

  14. Shall we ask people in Sudan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, ... what they think of this?

  15. TO Daniel, re @thefuckingqueen - she is indeed good, but give @funnyjoker a go, too!

  16. This, like most things - will be forgotten about within a week, not only by the general public, but most likely Fry himself also. You just so happened to be 'the one' he could @reply to make a point.

    Don't worry about it.

  17. Someone pointed out to me that @alandavies1 has ploughed into the fray. He's clearly not read my original tweet. He's also called me a wanker.

    OK, fair enough, Alan, Stephen is your pal and you're gonna stick up for him, but a person in your position using language like that about someone who has actually bought tickets to see you perform is, frankly, not on. (Oh, and you were, I think, the fourth person I ever followed on Twitter.)

    This is doing your "brand" a world of good.

    Can someone draw Alan's attention to this, please?

  18. To Derek Barry

    I used the points you made in your blog as a launch-pad to make one or two of my own. I don't hold anything against you, and think your piece was wonderfully written and made some great points, worth making.

    At some point, I will be commenting on your blog with one or two further specific points, but for the time being I need rest!

  19. I don't think you did anything wrong. You can voice your opinion, and your opinion wasn't malicious in the slightest. Don't get me wrong, I adore Stephen fry but i also have first hand experience of bi-polar disorder so I know it's possible to catch someone on a bad day. Take care, and don't listen to the fanatics. Maria x

  20. This whole situation is so petty and idiotic. I really do sympathise with you. I'm sure Stephen has received more than his fair share of @ replies calling him 'boring', yet you happened to be the unlucky person he snapped with. I'm sure this whole situation will sort itself out soon and we'll all have forgotten about it in a month's time. Take care!

  21. I wrote about this in my blog, here

    What I said to you directly in it was "@brumplum: What was the point of telling @stephenfry that you found his tweets boring? My mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then not to say anything at all. In this case, that would have been the better policy. Nobody can please everybody all of the time, not even Stephen Fry. If you find his tweets boring, just unfollow him or don’t read them. I can see that you’ve apologised and understand that Stephen did over-react, but there was just no need in the first place. I hope Stephen’s fans don’t treat you like Scott Baio’s fans treat the “haters”."

    It looks like everything is cool in the school again and I hope not too many people have been beastly to you.

  22. Hi Richard. Good post clarifying. I had not followed the twitter stream yesterday and late in the night, while checking some news sites, I had a feed saying, from BBC World, that Mr. Stephen Fry would be quitting twitter. Due the lateness of the hour and my own fatigued situation I retired to bed. This morning when I read the whole episode, you and Mr. Fry had patched which was indeed a good ending.

    A couple of days back, I had @ replied to Mr. Fry stating that, perhaps he is the only person, to whom, I would have tweeted more than a 100 times without a response from. I have never and will not in the future take any offence considering the fact that my one little tweet would be lost in that ocean of his timeline. I was one of his earliest followers and he had the courtesy to follow me back. I could have Direct Messaged him but, found it rather ridiculous to do so.

    I am sorry that you had to endure some pretty nasty comments from others. And you were right. It did become an international episode. I live in India. Cheers.

    -Shrinath Sundaram

  23. I have no problem with anyone calling anyone else boring - it might be slightly unkind but it's not nasty and it isn't necessarily untrue. The #envioushomo hashtag later in your stream, on the other hand, IS offensive.

  24. To JB and Laz... there are two hashtags I see that might be read as referencing Fry's homosexuality. But if you take a look on this blog you'll find fairly convincing evidence that brumplum was referencing himself both times. ;-) Which is how I initially read #envioushomo, by the by--I just scanned the blog for evidence to back up my impression.

    I don't know brumplum from Adam, I'm just here in the wake of the sad mess this post is about.

  25. Seriously cannot believe how far your rather innocent Tweet went. It was pretty run of the mill, and to have it blown up like this is rather unfair to you. I think your responses here and on Twitter have been kept very reserved and totally beyond reproach.

    But on the bright side you're finally infamous!!

    I now owe you several more hugs and some tea and sympathy. *hugs*

  26. I saw the tweets from Fry leaving in my stream and did some investigating to find the cause - and had a genuine moment of 'wait, seriously?' when I saw the cause. And frankly, TimesOnline and BBC covering it is silly - is there honestly nothing better happening?

    I find the backlash of people against you positively scary. I did some research back in May ( where I DM'd him asking him to tweet about whether he should join Reddit- then I analyzed his @replies.

    Seriously though, that amount of power is scary - the ability to send a wave of hatred at any chosen user. He should be more careful.

    In short, fully support you! :)

  27. Sorry - I'd just like to add that, in the interests of transparency, I'm @TrustTommy :)

  28. You poor man. I am so sorry you have been catapulted into the media for a benign and honest comment, which has been blown out of all proportion by the media. Stephen bravely speaks of his bi-polar disorder and when the lows come cognitions become skewed and Stephen obviously took it deeply. However, sometimes even great, genius, artistic people are boring, and I am sure that a comment like yours, on a good day, would be received with challenge and playfulness. You just caught him when he was down. Hope you are reassured by all the comments on here and have a lovely sunday. You sound like a nice guy.

  29. I've said it to you during what happened and I'm saying it now. Everything might have been blown out of proportions, but why did you follow someone that you found boring? Either accept that and keep quiet about it or stop following. That's really easy. I know that small words on the internet can easily be interpreted as something else, but you can't know how the other person is feeling, can you? So careful next time. And next time maybe not pick on someone with close to a million of friends;)

  30. Just a few weeks ago, Aled from Radio 1 said : ;[ing] QI. Struggling to get into it. Pompous so far'. @stephenfry jovially responded '@ahj So sorry you think that.' and '@ahj Hey. It's cool. It's not against the law to dislike it!' and nobody was vilified then!

  31. Wow, I followed Stephen Fry when I first went on twitter but (I think he was doing a travelling show) I would log in and get about 50 twitters from him at least filling up several entire pages of history so I just had to block him - I'm so glad I didn't pass any comment to him otherwise I might have been the subject of TimesOnline articles also, phew I was lucky obviously!

  32. Hi Plum,

    I'm afraid I've never followed you on twitter, nor have I ever heard of you :-( (although I do follow a couple of the bloggers that you do).

    I sent a message of support to @StephenFry when I saw his tweet that he was considering leaving, just as I would for anyone of the people that I follow if I saw that someone was feeling down.

    It wasn't a case of taking sides for me, and I'm aghast that there are people out there who have said the awful things that they have. But such is the nature of the internet's anonymity.

    This is just today's "story" though, and twitter is a fickle thing. It will die down and you'll probably be thrust out of the limelight very soon.

    But one good thing's come out of it for me at least, I've found a blogger and tweeter that I didn't know before and look forward to (hopefully) following you and your blog for a while yet!

    I hope you don't feel too bad about this whole furore, and wish you the very best!


  33. I am glad this is settled.

    What I would say, however, is that twitter is not a 'ultimately insignificant glorified chatroom' and this whole media storm proves it. Twitter is an easy way of easing people into new media and is changing the ways people use the internet

  34. This is just a case of wrong place wrong time I think. Being bipolar myself, I know Stephen felt really hurt by your comment and am sure he's just as sorry about his reaction today! Not his fault, not yours!

    That's with the quick and short messages we can send all over the world these days. It can go wrong without anybody really meaning it.

    Let's get over it and I'm glad you didn't chase Stephen away for good :-))

  35. Glad things seem to have sorted themselves out. Its amazing how tiny things can blow up into an enourmous and unpredictable sh1t-storm. Good luck to you. I think you've handled yourself with dignity through what must have been a terribly trying time.

  36. What the general public tends to forget about celebrities (usually because we're all so busy deifying them) is that they're normal people, with normal fears and foibles, desires, impulses, illnesses... they just have a better job than we do. There are recently deceased celebrities that very well might still be alive if we, the general public, remembered that.

    To expect @stehenfry (or anyone else, for that matter) to behave anything other than human is unreasonable and illogical. He's just Stephen Fry; Regular middle-aged British gentleman who just so happens to have a job that people like to watch.

    If we as a public would take that into consideration more often and were not so quick to hold them to an artificially elevated standard, then perhaps Diana would still be alive, Michael Jackson probably wouldn't have thought he needed anaethesia to get a good night's sleep, anf George Clooney would still be able to buy his own groceries.

  37. I read Alan Davies' comments to you last night, and when he said the statement about doing things 'in the Essex way' he was responding to you asking "what business is it of yours?". He explained that when people diss your friends, you step up for them. He did NOT suggest doing that physically! Stop being a drama queen. You've explained, now just keep the facts in view. It's over.

    With all due respect, Subz.

  38. I cannot believe this made the national news! No-one is to blame, it's just one of those things. We all do it, heck I did it the other day, but because the person involved wasn't famous no-one noticed or cared.

    Both of you have the right to say what you like, and I find it astonishing that your calling him boring was considered news.

    Still, I hope people are nicer to you now, and I think it's very commendable of Mr Fry for backing you in his Twitter stream.


  39. Holy lord. I just wanted to say I don't know you I don't know Stephen Fry, and I really can't remember how the heck I even found this but WOW. Did you honestly think one little twitter statement would lead to all of this?! And having to change things in your blog just because of it is sad. (taking pics down)
    I hope things die down quickly for you. But you might have a new reader or two because of it. (I think I'll have to peek around!)

  40. I'm here via a link from the first page of the New York Times online, complete with photo of Stephen Fry to draw us in. My sympathies!

    Non-Tweeter in New Jersey.

  41. Mr Fry's Twitter gives people the illusion of proximity to him. "Oooh, I know that Stephen had marmite on his toast this morning!" (I made that up - he might not like marmite at all, of course).

    And then when he threatens to leave Twitter, they can't bear it. "Noooo, don't take away my personal hotline to the famous!"

    So upset were they that they sought a cause, and found you.

    Heck - I once said his Twitter userpic made him look like Jeremy Clarkson, and he replied "Oh no! Last profile pic looked like James May according to many of you & now I'm being told the new one makes me resemble Jeremy Clarkson." That's surely worse than saying he's "boring", and presumably he was in a good mood that day and didn't take it the wrong way (and having had Clarkson on QI I doubt he was that devasted - had I accused him of wearing jeans, it could've been a different story).

    But it didn't matter to the hoardes what you'd said - they held you personally responsible for taking away their link to the famous on twitter (something to do when not pitching a tent in Mr Fry's front garden or rummaging through Chris Evans' bins) and they would give no quarter.

    Rather odd to see but, speaking as a veteran of several internet punch-ups (10 years of it! Ten years!), if someone says something nasty to you, step away and don't reply to them personally. It's really not worth it.

  42. It is amazing at the amount of time/energy/ink that your comments generated. I am writing you because of a link posted on my email account.
    As both private citizen and a pastor in our community, I just want to say I empathize w/both you and the person you made the comment about.
    In both roles, I manage to put my foot in my mouth more than ocasionally. I have insulted people - most unintentionally - and always try to apologize when I am made aware of my faux pas. (Not sure of the plural of pas).
    On the one hand - to be sure - your intial comment was pretty innocuous and if that's the worse thing that were ever said about anyone - we'd be in much better shape I'm sure.
    But being someone who also has experienced clinical depression and shall we say, insecurity - I'd might have reacted as well. (Funny though, how the word "boring" can generate real angst.
    Either way - whether on line or in person - people have managed to step on one another's toes throughout the ages. The key is, how can we respond and perhaps grow from our experiences.
    Best to you in your future endeavors.
    Joanna T.

  43. I got blocked ages ago by @warrenellis (when he was at about 12000 followers) for what was a poor and all caps attempt at giving him a backward compliment. He wrote "...okay. That was a weird response. Let me help you out with the block button there, strange shouty person" which I thought was just priceless language, to be called "strange shouty person". It's dangerous out there! Glad you're coming down off the cliff!