Earlier today (2011 May 10) Spiked editor Brendan O'Neill published another of his presposterous Daily Telegraph articles entitled: Far from being a bastion of freedom of speech, Twitter can be a remarkably conformist, elitist and intolerant arena.

The article begins with a picture of the "liberal overlord of the Twittering set" Stephen Fry, a reference to the super-injunction outing nonsense (which personally I haven't even bothered to look into) and then the following gem:

it’s worth asking if Twitter really is a freedom-loving entity in which you can express whatever’s on your mind or in your heart. Because actually it depends. It depends on what you have to say and whether it passes muster with the shabby and incoherent yet surprisingly influential liberal overlords of the Twittering set.

He notes that twitter tends to give Daily Mail bigots like Jan Moir a hard time and that a celebrity called "Kenneth Tong", who apparently promotes anorexia on his website, was also the object of a great deal of Twitter rage.

Brendan goes on to note that twitterers (or rather tweets - which is not necessarily the same thing) were mainly in favour of AV and only 23.9% were anti.

These startling facts lead him to conclude that:

The liberal consensus, and its corresponding intolerance of consensus-breakers, has been fairly successfully transported into Twitter, making this social networking site a surprisingly conformist and uncritical arena.

It almost goes without saying that all this is complete bollocks. I encounter a huge range of opinions on every possible subject everyday on twitter - I've certainly had a huge number of discussions and arguments about AV. Even groups of people on Twitter who kind of coalesce around themes like scepticism or atheism or interest in science tend to disagree about almost everything else.

I suppose there are some areas of consensus on Twitter. The twitterati do tend to take a dim view of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and paedophilia (though I've also come across BNP supporters and a number of apologists for the Catholic Church). I rather tend to the view that these "intolerances" are entirely justified.

But I didn't really want to talk about the article as such .....

Having read it (and a number of other contributions to public debate by Brendan O'Neill) I offered the following tweet:

Couldn't the US Navy Seals just take out Brendan O'Neill? http://bit.ly/kFVlEI - I'm sure even Noam Chomsky would go along w that

Which elicited the following riposte:

@Schroedinger99 That's hilarious - your response is a paradigm example of the kind of intolerance shown by Twitter users he's criticising.

For a moment I thought this tweet was in the same spirit of my original tweet and a continuation of the same joke. I took the "That's hilarious" literally and "your response is a paradigm example of the kind of intolerance shown by Twitter users he's criticising" as irony. But then I noticed that the tweet came from @P_Hayes who is, like Brendan O'Neill, a fully signed up member of the Frank Furedi Fan Club and a writer for it's mouthpiece "Spiked". In Necker-Cube-like fashion, @P_Hayes's tweet suddenly reversed its meaning in my brain.

So let me explain my tweet just in case anyone else from Spiked is reading. I realize this endeavour will leach all remaining humour from my 140 character essay, but it may reveal some of the true nature of Twitter:

1) I have no hatred for Brendan O'Neill.
2) I often find his views ridiculous, but I do not find them abhorrent.
3) There are a number of journalists (especially on the Daily Mail) whose views I do find abhorrent.
4) Because of 1, 2, & 3 above, I probably would not make a similar joke about certain journalists because it might almost seem as though I meant it and I think that would be in poor taste because, as a member of the aforementioned "liberal consensus", I don't really go only with the view that killing people I disagree with is a proper way to behave.
5) Because of 4, the highly illiberal suggestion that Brendan O'Neill be "taken out" was an example of irony.
6) In spite of the "liberal consensus", there has, in fact, been a very healthy debate on Twitter about whether the US assassination of Osama bin Laden was legal or justifiable - and very little "consensus" at all.
7) Noam Chomsky has famously (on Twitter at least) expressed the view (in this article) that the US assassination of Osama bin Laden was illegal and unjustifiable.
8) Almost nothing provokes heated debate on Twitter like the mere mention of "Noam Chomsky".
9) The final irony was that Spiked is a kind of reincarnation of a former publication known as "Living Marxism"*. The politics have changed, but the cult-like adherence to a set of ideas has not. I'm never quite sure how to characterize this set of ideas but, at least in part, it seems to involve being a contrary as possible - on every subject that crops up. In other words, Brendan O'Neill belongs (quite unlike the twitters he castigates) to "a surprisingly conformist and uncritical arena".

If interested, you can read more about this group (who really do have an "overlord") here.

* "Living Marxism" bit the dust because of a fiendishly complex and highly disputed saga involving ITN, the Bosnian war, and a successful libel suit against the Magazine. Chomsky actually supported "Living Marxism" in respect of this specific case - at least to some extent - and I'm one of the few people on Twitter who has tried to defend Chomsky here (though I think he's wrong about the bigger Balkan analysis). As I say it's very very complicated.

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