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On Twitter – a lesson in good manners.

Peter Phelps, MLC versus tweeps.

Twitter is the cyber equivalent of Speakers’ Corner. In the old Speakers’ Corner you could get out your soap box and say whatever you like, especially venting on those issues of the day that had given you the shits. The really great speakers could always attract a crowd. Their subject of special interest was laced with lashings of good humour, a lot of it self-deprecating, and witty repartee with those members of the general public who decided to stop, listen and engage. Even the most heated debates rarely descended into personally abusing an opponent when the rigours of the debate became too much.  There always seemed to be an unspoken understanding as well as a certain degree of tolerance and good humour that permeated the scene.

In today’s world such niceties of behaviour have long gone. Today’s plethora of shock jocks whose appalling lack of manners are tolerated because of the ratings and money that such behaviour generates, and reality television that belittles and regularly abuses those who appear, are the backdrop to a form of populist culture that certainly dominates in terms of quantity.

It is, therefore, interesting and quite unexpected to discover that when you enter the twitter world things can be a little different. In the five months I’ve been tweeting I have come to regularly converse with a very nice, intelligent and engaging group of people, a reflection of my eclectic range of interests. In that time there have only been three instances of what I would describe as unacceptable antisocial behaviour.  All three cases involved men of some authority and status who, when confronted with either reasonable questions to which one expected reasonable answers, or exceptions to what they had said, or, heaven forbid, alternative points of view, resorted to a form of personal abuse that was both unnecessary and highly offensive. In all instances these personal attacks were against women.

In two of these cases both men should have known better, but that didn’t stop them from behaving like bully boys as well as being just out and out rude.  My! How proud their mothers must be. One is a recently arrived journalist for a prestigious overseas media outlet. The other is a politician who yesterday came unstuck when his imprudent language and behaviour, which I suspect to be commonplace, was deemed to be beyond the pale by a number of twitterers.

The details of what Mr Phelps said that prompted the outrage was a tweet about a fellow committee member, Rhonda V, and female witnesses to parliamentary committee hearings and their need to ‘HTFU’ (harden the fuck up). This tweet resulted in a number of tweets. One of which came from @Nyx2701 suggesting that perhaps Mr Phelps needed a “good punch in the head.” To which Phelps wrote the now infamous tweet of telling Ms 2701 to “go fuck yourself, commie! And you can’t complain because I put in a smiley;-)”. Well I don’t know whether Ms 2701 wanted to complain or not, but there were a hell of a lot of us who sure did.  My contributions were small potatoes compared to others, however I did suggest that if Mr Phelps couldn’t behave himself with more decorum then perhaps he shouldn’t tweet; that he was in a position in which his behaviour is expected to be of a certain standard; and descending into personal abuse indicated a lack of intellectual application on his part. These contributions were met with a few offensive, demeaning and just rude replies, but was nothing more or less than anyone-else received from Mr Phelps yesterday, except of course @Nyx2701 who received the brunt of Mr Phelp’s toxicity. 2.webloc

Ultimately the he said, she said, we all said does nothing more than indicate that Mr Phelps feels he can get away with this kind of behaviour on twitter because he seems to be able to get away with it in the non twitter world. I suspect he was quite taken aback when a number of tweeps took umbrage at what he had said, and were forthcoming in their disapproval.

Twitter gives one a false sense of security. Often you are conversing with total strangers, sometimes in a country not your own. It is therefore easy, if your personality tends towards the bullying, to think that it isn’t going to matter a jot if you engage in similar kinds of behaviour on twitter as you exhibit in all other areas of your life. One would expect it to be even easier because of the anonymity that appears to be Twitter. I now believe the reverse to be true.

At anyone time there is a whole group of people on Twitter who will happily stand up and attempt to nip cyber bullying in the bud, deeming it to be totally unacceptable.  The anonymity of the cyber environment can instead liberate the intended victim to a position of not giving two hoots as to who you are, what position you may hold, or what profession you may have. The subject of the abuse can’t be physically intimidated, and, if someone has to resort to bullying or personal abuse, their intellectual vigour has been found wanting.

Twitter is empowering, informative, can be intellectually stimulating as well as creative and just out and out fun. No one should have to put up with the nonsensical, offensive and mean spirited abuse that came from Peter Phelps yesterday.  He is a publicly paid for politician who is supposed to be a part of a group of individuals, including church and corporate leaders, that together are supposed to help set the moral tone and standards we, as ordinary Joes, are then supposed to emulate.

Codes of conduct and ethics don’t grow from the ground up, they filter down from the role models at the top of the societal tree. If the current younger generation is not living up to the standards we would like, then we should start looking at the examples set by our leaders.

Barry O’Farrell was disappointing yesterday.  It was very nice of him to apologise, well he didn’t really apologise actually. Rather, it should not have been O’Farrell’s role to be put in the position of having to “apologise” on behalf of Mr Phelps. Mr Phelps should have apologised to those he sprayed, and not stood behind his leader as a small child stands behind its mother when in trouble. From Phelps there is still nothing but a deafening silence. The absence of an apology from Mr Phelps says volumes about the manner of the man.

To those who were sufficiently outraged to speak out yesterday I salute you. @Nyx2701 who was the subject of the most offensive rant, @greenat15, @kateausburn,  @mrtiedt, @kimworldwide  and @Jo_Tovey  @SMH

To poor Rhonda V who has to sit on a committee with Mr Phelps you have my most heartfelt sympathy.

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