Self-censorship, the virtual mob, and the enemy of nuance

by Stephen Tall on December 2, 2014

Three fantastic articles, all with a common them. Snippets below, but well worth a click on the links to read on…

Chris Rock In Conversation (Frank Rich in Vulture, 30 Nov)

… I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

In their political views?

Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive. …

Does it force you into some sort of self-censorship?

It does. … It is scary, because the thing about comedians is that you’re the only ones who practice in front of a crowd. Prince doesn’t run a demo on the radio. But in stand-up, the demo gets out. There are a few guys good enough to write a perfect act and get onstage, but everybody else workshops it and workshops it, and it can get real messy. It can get downright offensive. Before everyone had a recording device and was wired like fucking Sammy the Bull, you’d say something that went too far, and you’d go, “Oh, I went too far,” and you would just brush it off. But if you think you don’t have room to make mistakes, it’s going to lead to safer, gooier stand-up. You can’t think the thoughts you want to think if you think you’re being watched.

The virtual mob that got Emily Thornberry is coming for you, too (Matthew Parris in The Spectator, 29 November)

What’s new is the way IT can now turbo-charge national hypocrisy, turning it into a ferocious force within the space of a couple of hours. Here’s a warning: a warning equally to those inclined to praise Emily Thornberry and those inclined to blame her; to those inclined to admire Mr Miliband’s prompt command and those inclined to mock it. It’s a warning to the likes of myself; and Boris, too, who will remember his run-in with Liverpool over Hillsborough and the late Ken Bigley a decade ago, and will ask himself whether in an age of Twitter he would even have survived. It’s a warning to left and right, to liberals and conservatives, to black and white, feminists and sexists, racists and multiculturalists alike. … Will mankind learn to start ignoring these storms? Or will people start going down like ninepins? Or will everybody become horribly circumspect, like Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four confiding only in old friends in safe houses? Who knows? I end, as I began, with questions.

#CameronMustGo: Step away from Twitter and close down your laptop — a hashtag will not win the next General Election (James Bloodworth in The Independent, 1 Dec)

Social media is the enemy of nuance and political activists despise compromise. The splintering of the political system into smaller and smaller fragments is at least partly related to the fact that shrill and self-righteous certainty suits the internet age better than calm and reasoned argument. We are right and you are wrong. If the BBC doesn’t report what I say then it’s a sign of unforgiveable and sinister bias. My political party must embrace the full shopping list of my views or I’m taking my vote elsewhere. #CameronMustGo because me and my activist buddies say so.

Welcome to the brave new world of hashtags and online mob rule. The mistake is to equate this shrill and often deafening white noise with democratic will. Step away from Tweetdeck, close down your laptop and believe it or not everything carries on just as it was before.