“OMG! That’s disgusting!” Twitter and Stephen Fry’s ‘free speech’ hypocrisy

Compare and contrast:

Tuesday last week:
The Trafiguragate scandal, whereby the multinational company, through solicitors Carter-Ruck, succeeded in blocking The Guardian newspaper from reporting on parliamentary goings-on, only to be forced into retreat when thousands of Twitter users (including Stephen Fry) got hold of the story and blew it wide open – effectively negating the gagging order and forcing Carter-Ruck to drop it.

A true victory for free speech.

Friday last week:
Jan Moir shares her views on Stephen Gately’s death in the Daily Mail. Cue widespread outrage on Twitter, a record number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (encouraged by Stephen Fry) and even one to the police, forcing Jan Moir into publishing a clarification of her remarks.

A true victory for free speech?

Of course, as many will no doubt tell me very shortly after I hit the PUBLISH button, these stories are completely different. After all, The Guardian was right for wanting to publish that and the Daily Mail was wrong for publishing the other. Right?

Well – who decides? Stephen Fry and his happy band of sycophants had quite a big say in both these issues and as he comments:

Maybe the two twitterstorms of last week point to a new kind of democracy. L’Affaire Moir followed hard on the heels of a quite horrific attempt to muzzle the press by the lawyers Carter-Ruck. In the name of sub judice this notorious law firm slapped a ‘superinjunction’ on The Guardian newspaper forbidding them to mention the name of an MP or the question he had tabled in Parliament on the Trafigura toxic waste dumping scandal. Six hours of TwitterIndignation later, during which time every censored detail was made freely available for all to see, and the injunction was, force majeure, lifted. The internet had hobbled it fatally and it was led limping back to its stall, to the jeers and cheers of the public.

 And I think that we all agree that he’s right, but then goes onto say:

Well, I contend that I do not wield influence. I contend that Twitter users are not sheep but living, dreaming, thinking, hoping human beings with minds, opinions and aspirations of their own. Of the 860,000 or so who follow me the overwhelming majority are too self-respecting, independent-minded and free-thinking to have their opinions formed or minds made up for them in any sphere, least of all Twitter.

Which is utter bullshit. When you have 860,000 people hanging on your every tweet, searching for the “correct”, “trendy” or “socially acceptable” response to any given topic, you wield huge influence and, what’s more, he knows it.
No, not all of his followers are sheep, but let’s face it, to get a record 21,000 letters to the PCC, you only need 2% of them to blindly follow you, the other 98% can stand idly by and graze. 

So it’s the best of both worlds for Mr Fry: he can honestly and truthfully state that “the overwhelming majority” of his followers can think for themselves, while the small minority get on with spreading his gospel on whichever side of whichever subject he has chosen.

I’m not necessarily saying that he was incorrect in his choice of sides on these two affairs, merely that one shouldn’t automatically believe everything that influential people tell you.

Even Stephen Fry. Or maybe even Especially Stephen Fry
Thou shalt think. For. Yourselves.

12 thoughts on ““OMG! That’s disgusting!” Twitter and Stephen Fry’s ‘free speech’ hypocrisy

  1. “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

    Yes, I am following John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859) 😉

  2. Andrew > I think this calls for a case of Dave Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
    Where did Moir cross the line? Did she cross it?
    Fry describes her piece as:

    that epically ill-judged piece of gutter journalism. Its malice, stupidity, incoherent illogicality and crass insensitivity have been superbly anatomised by many others

    So you can obviously see why he wanted to raise his armies against it.
    Was it distasteful? Yes, a little.
    Was it hate speech? No, definitely not.
    Did it (and she) deserve what it (and she) got? No. Probably not. It was a huge and unnecessary over-reaction, IMHO.

    Emil > A kind of pseudoVoltaire… 🙂

  3. Was it hate speech? No, definitely not.

    Imagine the scenario : A white man dies in similar circumstances and he is married to a black lady. This happens just after Apartheid laws are scrapped and interracial marriages are allowed. Some journalist then writes a scathing articles alluding to the seedy downside of these marriages and how they are more than likely the cause for this death. There must be MORE than meets the eye because this is a dark lifestyle.

    Racism? No, definitely not ?
    Hate speech? No, definitely not ?

    I don’t see the difference between my scenario above and the Gately / Jan Moir debate.
    I hope your child never grows up to be on the receiving end of such hate based on something entirely beyond his or her control.

  4. George > I don’t see that as hate speech. I see it as an expression of personal views which differ to other people’s. If she’d called for homosexuality to be outlawed or for their balls to be lopped off or something, then it would be hate speech.
    Stop being so oversensitive.

  5. There is a time and a place for one’s personal spiteful views and the day before they are laid to rest is not that time.

    I don’t think I am being oversensitive, I think she is being a nasty horrid woman who obviously has alot of negative pent up energy. If you read some of her other “articles” you will see a trend of hate and negativity that beggars belief. She is a sensationalist of the worst kind and I hope they think twice about printing her vile opinions in future. She doesn’t deserve a readership.

    The reason why I class her article as hate speech has more to do with the people’s comments who read it. Those who were in favour of the article clearly understood what she was getting at. They agreed with her and took it one step further. Inciting hatred and stereotypes, no matter how subtle that may be, is hate speech in my book.

  6. Good piece.

    He shouldn’t be so irresponsible when using Twitter for politics. After all he suggested people go to the PCC, a body with a code of conduct. And so then he should apply the same sort of code of responsibility to himself. Why tell people to go and get outraged, that’s the curious thing. He wanted them to be exposed to and outraged by her, a gossip columnist who wrote a similarly poison pen piece on Jade Goody. You don’t have to go and be insulted by something, you can freely choose to ignore it, turn the page or if you feel strongly, write a counter view. To encourage people to go and become outraged, complain and then silence someone is irresponsible and vaguely fascistic behaviour. The result was a massive attack on freedom of opinion, the results of which have far greater ramifications than some puerile gossip about a celebrity the likes of which we read daily. As a Pole immigrant to this country I cannot say I was overly impressed with his attempt to tie an apology for his spiteful, grotesque remarks about Poles and catholics into a step-back on the Moir ‘debacle’. It wasn’t a particularly sincere piece.

  7. I’m back… and now adding my tuppence worth. I have to agree with you, 6000… not hatred, but possibly dismissive arrogance?

    It’s a certain sort of someone who buys and reads the Daily Mail. My husband buys it on a Saturday, partly because they have rather a good magazine which is handy for the telly times. I do read the paper, and raise my eyebrows when I read something that jars. What I don’t do is declare utter outrage, partly because I know which part of the population the Mail’s readers consist of. I’m married to one of them, although he only sins on Saturdays… 😉

    Okay, so perhaps two pounds, more than two pence! 😀
    .-= Helga Hansen´s last blog ..Brain Drain =-.

  8. HH > O, that’s just vine then.

    George > She may, in your opinion, be a “nasty, horrid woman”, she may be a “sensationalist of the worst kind” (is there a good kind?), she may not “deserve a readership”. But that doesn’t make it hate speech.
    And you can’t hold her responsible for the comments that are left on that site. Look at any “news” or newspaper site worldwide and you’ll see questionable comments on the most mundane of articles. Are you going to label them all as “inciting hate speech”?
    As for your comment on the timing of the article, would it have been better for her to wait until he was buried, then? He is was a celebrity. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

    Alison > Agreed. Yes, we all make mistakes, but a sincere apology would not be to claim that “mine was nearly as bad as hers” after this whole sordid tale. This was very much a case of Stephen Fry whipping his followers up into a frenzy over the issue. Which would all be well and good if:

    a) He wasn’t now denying that he did it, and
    b) He wasn’t moaning 3 days earlier about the lack of free speech over the Trafigura story.

    HH > Yes, I’ll certainly agree (as I have done all along) that Moir’s was not a pleasant article. And perhaps she was pandering to that specific readership – because that’s her job. But it was merely her expressing her view – because that’s her job. Just because some people disagree, well – that’s the nature of any contentious issue.

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