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.