The perils of the ‘anti-social’ media: Facebook follies and Twitter ‘trolls’

According to the Chambers Dictionary definition, twitter is a ‘tremulous chirping’ and ‘an excrescence on a horse’s hoof’, which I’m sure Zara Philips would recognise instantly.

Handling as it does 40 million ‘tweets’ a day, Twitter is also a social media phenomenon, so colossally popular it has ballooned into the second most-visited information exchange after Facebook.

So how come I rather favour Chambers’ latter definition, minus allusion to things equine, because I think there’s a clear and present danger it is becoming not so much ‘excrescence’ more on-line, verbal excrement?

I don’t ‘tweet’ for two main reasons: i) I’d find it nigh on impossible to say anything meaningful in a maximum of 140 characters; and ii) most of the outpourings I’ve read on Twitter are so utterly puerile, I don’t wish to join a club whose membership includes lobotomised nerds with nothing better to do than to stuff their opinionated vanities down the gullets of the gullible or similarly vacuous.

Yes, yes, I’m sure Twitter has some very salient advantages, which many folk appreciate. However, my gut instinct tells me I’m somehow not going to benefit from the ‘tweeted’ wit and wisdom of overpaid soccer stars or what some preening pop princess has to contribute on the topic of world peace.

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous 'trolls' lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous ‘trolls’ lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

Maybe it’s a generational gap – after all, 51% of its users are in the 24-34 age bracket – but frankly I suspect the whole social media scene is a minefield, too easily open to misuse by abusers dubbed ‘trolls’.

Facebook, meanwhile, can be a mixed bag, though I have a page on that site, where this blog features.

Certainly, it’s a splendid means of mass broadcasting personal messages – thereby nullifying the need to make countless phone calls – but beware of pitfalls…like saying how you’re coping after the decree nisi (fact: one in five divorces is blamed on Facebook).

Maybe the pool party photos you posted of you and what’s-his-name skinny-dipping, rat-legged, might have been to blame. The judge certainly didn’t buy the line it was just innocent fun, especially when your newly-liberated ‘ex’ was away on business in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, was it wise to announce to every burglar in the neighbourhood you were off on that round-the-world cruise? No wonder those nasty insurance men made such a fuss over your claim for replacing three plasma-screen TVs, all those expensive electronic gizmos and your late mum’s collection of Georgian silver after they’d seen your Facebook page.

Frankly, I’m often gobsmacked at how much personal info people naively post on the internet about their plans, their thoughts and those wonderful snaps, which is why Facebook has become the first portal of call from the criminal fraternity.

Twitter, however, is an entirely different social media animal – and lately too often a vicious, nihilistic form of disseminating obnoxious disinformation by any moron with the minimal grey matter to invent a hash-tag.

So, far from social media being a positive force for democratising the internet, thus allowing individuals to plug their talents or businesses and form friendships, in parts it has become a virtual realm of dark lawlessness for the anti-social to gratuitous pervert what we glibly describe as ‘free speech’.

And, in the wrong hands, it’s fascistic, because it directly contradicts the compact that exists in a civilised society, whereby we accept moral responsibilities – and legal edicts – that curb what we can do and say.

The official media generally accept those obligations, because libel actions are expensive, while phone-hacking and bribing cops is illegal.

TWEETERING TWIT? Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker, paid the price for an erroneous 'tweet'

TWEETERING TWIT: Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker

Some ‘tweeters’, too – notably silly Sally Berkow, wife of the UK House of Commons Speaker, comedian Alan Davies and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot – also found a loose texting finger can be costly and embarrassing, after they erroneously smeared Lord McAlpine as a paedophile.

Yet, Twitter remains the preferred weapon of choice for sinister ‘trolls’, who eke out sicko pleasure in cyber-bullying and stalking an untold number of women with the most chillingly explicit menaces.

It’s also the nether world of sexual predators and racists, who can broadcast their bile by cellphone, on the hoof and ostensibly undetectable.

Meanwhile, because the demented perps hide behind the anonymity of hash-tags and operate in cowardly isolation, nobody, it seems, can collar them.

The police claim they haven’t the resources, despite managing to arrest a man over alleged death threats to British parliamentarian Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

And Twitter? So far their knee-jerk reaction has been little more than a cringe-inducing ‘personal apology’ from its UK boss, Tony Wang.

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being bullied by anonymous 'trolls' on the Ask.fm website

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being cyber-bullied by anonymous ‘trolls’ on the Ask.fm website

Twitter and Facebook, however, aren’t the only miscreants, because last week 14-year-old Hannah Smith, from Leicestershire, hanged herself, after receiving threats on Ask.fm, a Q&A site, which allows users to send messages to one another without having to disclose their identities.

Last year two Irish youngsters took their lives in separate incidents after also being bullied on the same, Latvia-based site.

Clearly, this state of internet anarchy can’t prevail and politicians everywhere seem powerless to stop the rot, except to issue pious words of condemnation.

So the solution must rest with the social media platform providers themselves, who should show some social responsibility for the billions they net, by blocking the nasties and nutters from their domains.

Until they do, ‘tweet’ at your peril and make sure your Facebook postings don’t explode in your face.

The Ash TRAs: The good, bad and ugly of 2012 get their gongs – and come-uppance

Yes, it’s that time of year again commonly dubbed the awards season…from the New Year’s Honours List to the media’s annual verdict on the paragons, plonkers and the plain old whackos gracing and disgracing our lives in 2012.

So, not wishing to be stranded on the red carpet, I’ve launched the Ash TRAs – my Triumphant and Ridiculous Awards, hopefully doled out in fair, equal measure. Some are undisputed champions in their class, others unapologetically contentious. See if you agree…

• Outstanding Achievement of the Year: The 2012 Olympics. Even Larry, the Downing Street cat, must have had his doubts the UK could set a new gold standard for the Games. But London did – despite the security recruitment fiasco orchestrated by G4S – and the nation’s athletes matched the challenge of splendid stadia with a colossal medals haul.

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

ACHIEVER OF THE YEAR: Danny Boyle for the London Olympics opening splash

• Outstanding Achiever of the Year: Film-maker Danny Boyle, tasked with designing a Games opening splash that perfectly encapsulate the best of Britain over the ages. There may have been a nervous, communal intake of breath when he said sheep and NHS beds would feature in the show, but ye of little faith were forced to eat humble pie.

• Long-term Achiever (cont’d): The Queen. Over 60 years, she has employed a steadfast hand on the helm of Britain’s constitutional monarchy; a nerveless, unerring and – at times – humorous figurehead, who’s dedicated her life to serving country and Commonwealth. HM is the perfect rebuttal to republicanism…I mean would you have preferred Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Margaret Thatcher as GB presidents in her place? No, neither would I.

• Losers of the Year: Most politicians – certainly those, like UK Chancellor George Osborne and his Europrat counterparts – who mistake austerity as the panacea for the world’s ills. Medieval quacks believed bleeding the body was a cure and now the politicos have adopted this discredited medicine. It didn’t work in the 15th Century, so why should it do so in the 21st?  (And by the way, George, we’re not ‘all in this together’, as you insist – because you’re not!)

• Winners of the Year: UKIP, probably the only political party to emerge from 2012 smiling. After drubbing the Coalition – especially the shamelessly power-hungry Lib-Dems – in three recent by-elections, they’re no longer the fringe party of anti-Brussels nutters, though 2013 will determine whether they’re really a force to be reckoned with. Methinks they will be.

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President - thanks to a rival who was even worse

LUCKIEST MAN: Barack Obama for being re-elected US President – thanks to a rival who was even worse

• Luckiest Man of the Year: President Barack Hussein Obama. The US’s second socialist leader after the serially-inept Jimmy Carter, he made a pig’s ear of the country’s economy and was a hologram on the world stage, but still won re-election…chiefly because his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was considered an even worse option.

• International Twerps of the Year: Anyone who actually believed the Arab Spring would prelude democracy. Despite a surprisingly transparent election – probably the last Egypt will see – Mubarak’s usurper, Mohamed Morsi, wants to to be a new-age pharaoh; Libya is a basket-case of factionalism; and the bearded ones can’t wait to get their teeth into Tunisia. Meanwhile, the ruptured Palestinians place PR gains ahead of peace with Israel.

• Twits of the Year: Twitter-addicts, as exemplified by silly Sally Bercow, uppity wife of the House of Commons Speaker, who ‘tweeted’ a line that led to the omnishambles of Lord McAlpine being wrongly smeared as a perv. The sooner this irritating, so-called ‘social forum’ patronised by egoist berks (and Bercows) is booted, the better.

• Disorganisation of the Year: That bastion of right-on, illiberal Leftiness, the BBC, for its multiple cock-ups over the Jimmy Savile scandal and shoddy journalism meant to gloss over fault lines. If ever an organisation proved it isn’t fit for purpose, the BBC is it, though the UN and that Nobel Prize-winning joke, the EU, ran it close (also see next item).

LUCKY PLONKER: BBC's 54-day wonder, George Entwistle

LUCKY PLONKER: George Entwistle, who lasted 54 days as BBC Director General – and scooped a windfall pay-off

• Most Successful Plonker of the Year: George Entwistle. As head of BBC Vision, he was the toast of Sky TV for Auntie’s abysmal coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, only to be propelled to the dizzy heights of Director General – for a whole 54 days! Savilegate saw him off, his pockets bulging with public dosh. Lucky blighter (or words to that effect).

• Misjudgement of the Year: The Leveson Report. Regardless of the judge’s stated intentions of not wanting legal curbs on the Press, he botched it. And now that all with a vested interest in truth have read his two million words of small print, if Leveson’s ideas are adopted they’ll quash investigative journalism and leave politicians effectively editing newspapers.

Justice of the Year: Exoneration for the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, in which 96 Liverpool soccer fans died and 766 were injured. An independent panel finally conclude the supporters were not responsible for the tragedy and accused the emergency services of colluding in a massive cover-up, including the alteration of 164 police statements.

• Robber Barons of the Year (cont’d): Bankers. They promised to repent and not use investors’ cash to fund their personal casino, where, even if they lost, the taxpayer covered their bets. Fixing the LIBOR rate and money-laundering confirmed that leopards don’t change their spots, even if they wear pin-striped suits.

• Stellar Telly of the Year: Downton Abbey (a.k.a. Trouble At The Toffs), period drama at its finest, even if Shirley Maclaine’s cameo as a trans-Atlantic dowager was more rank than Yank. Long may the aristo Crawleys go crumbling on and their obsequious servants backstab each other with silver cake slicers.

• Telly Stinker of the Year: The Royal Bodyguard, a monumental blight on sainted David Jason’s CV. Embarrassing and excruciatingly unfunny, no wonder that of the eight million viewers who switched onto the first episode, only a million-and-a-bit were there at the end. If you never saw it (or better still haven’t heard of it) count yourself royally fortunate.

• Must-see Movie of the Year: Probably the best of the 007 flicks since Dr. No a half-century ago, Skyfall has chilling pace, hardly a gimmick, and Daniel Craig as the coolest Bond ever – even if Judi Dench’s M, and Javier Bardem’s traitorous Silva nearly stole his thunder.

• Must Miss Movie of the Year: Despite the presence of nubile Jennifer Aniston in Wanderlust, this tale of a couple of big city losers joining a hippie commune left film fans with only one lust…to wander straight out of the cinema, mid-movie.

• Best Prediction for 2013: This will be the Chinese Year of the Snake…and there’ll be plenty of those slithering around in the grass, so don’t expect much change for the better.

Nonetheless, a happy and hopeful New Year to whoever you are, wherever you are!