Now, I love a hand-wringing, pitchfork stamping, mouth-frothing, gang witch hunt as much as the next bloke (I really do), but the propensity that Twitter has for gaffes, insults, crass comments and glib quips that go viral and cause a techno-shitstorm has somewhat diluted the appeal they once had. It’s like anything; too much causes it to lose its appeal. I love Christmas, but if it happened every day, I’d be BEGGING for a garden salad and a couple of Rennie before January 21st.
Twitter is fantastic. It really is. It has essentially made rolling news’ “Breaking Reports” a redundant idea, as every event that happens in the world is spread first on Twitter by someone at the scene with a smart-phone and free roaming switched on. We’ve had insider messages and reports sent from within protests movements in Egypt, Syria and Iran, providing insight the global news agencies could only dream of having. And this circulation of information was made possible by the social media platform of Twitter.
Then, of course, there’s the other side of Twitter. There’s the side of it which, when it isn’t tweeting about what it had for lunch or favouriting whatever asinine rubbish a bit-part member of One Direction is blabbering about, is getting worked up into a FRENZY over someone on Twitter having the gall to vent out an ill-thought and offensive opinion. It espouses the school yard mentality where all sense of rationality and scope go out the window, and you and your followers can tear into a user for offending someone you happen to like, with even the most depraved of responses.
Twitter’s unintended gimmick of “The world’s primary school playground” was heavily enriched this week, with user @Rileyy_69’s meticulously considered tweet to synchronized diver Tom Daley, who, upon finishing 4th in the men’s 10m competition, was informed by the magnanimous @Rileyy_69 that “He had let his father down”. Probably worth mentioning that Daley’s father died of brain tumour last year. Yeeeeeeeeah, not good.
At this stage, @Rileyy_69 was a periphery member of the Twitter community. This guy spent most of his days asking if girls found him fit and threatening people with whom he disagreed with serious physical assault. I wouldn’t follow him. Not a decent pun or photograph of a funny European road sign in sight. The man has nothing for me.
However, it was when this tweet was retweeted by Daley himself, that the shit, didn’t not so much hit the fan, but was forcibly mashed by the gallon-load into a jumbo jet propeller.
People from far and wide made a conscious effort to take time out of their day and inform @Rileyy_69 first hand (from behind the protection of a keyboard) just want they they thought of him.
Reading between the lines for a moment, what I think the illustrious Twitter community was saying, was that what they’d like to right now is take @Rileyy_69’s bad half outside, and do it an extreme physical discourtesy, and then buy his good half a pint of foaming, nut-brown ale. Just, you know, a bit wordier. And with a touch more swearing.
The immense gang-assault from the Twitter police initially caused a slight backtrack from him.
Also going on to add “can you not see that i’m sorry and im shittin myself it was only a joke to start with now this”. But, well, not really an excuse. Saying that comments about someone’s dead father were intended as a joke has the tacit implication that you find jokes about orphaned children and brain tumours funny. So you’d still be a complete arsehole, regardless.
However, then a funny thing happened. His Twitter followers swelled. He went from having 300 to nearly 30,000 (non- purchased, I should add). Then he got a story on Sky News. Then ITN. Then he started trending. All of a sudden, @ Rileyy_69, out of nothing more than a remarkably offensive pithy Tweet, had become a minor celebrity. Well, that was it! The apology was a thing of the past, every story about him, every mention, got a cheeky RT. The Daley threats then increased, including one stating how he was planning to drown him a swimming pool. Which is a threat which works on two levels, what with @Rileyy_69 incorporating Daley’s vocation into this particular witticism.
Then Kelly made various national newspaper front pages, and then the rolling news. Then, the morning after, he got arrested. It was probably not the 12 hours young @Rileyy_69 (whose real name is Reece) was expecting when he was eating his Frosties the previous morning.
The handwringing aside, what we witnessed was a 17-year old managing to get himself on the front page of two national newspapers within 12 hours, via an offensive tweet. That was it. That’s all it took to become the top story. That’s all it took to become a minor celeb. That’s all it took to re-write news reports and become tomorrow’s major story and talking point. Fucking bravo, Reece. Bravo.
What I’d like to know, is what every Twitter user who Tweeted him, followed him and spread his vile words was hoping that would happen? Did they want to show their support for Daley? Did they want to show what viciousness certain human minds are capable of? Did they want to use to the Reece example to try and highlight the problem of abuse on Twitter? Did they want to cause Reece actual physical harm? Did they want to ruin his life?
Whatever people’s intentions were is really now a moot point. When Reece sat down by his computer, he didn’t write that message because after a prolonged mental deliberation he felt that Daley’s performance desecrated his father name. Of course not. He did it as a cry for attention. He did it in order to cause outrage. To become the centre of a scandal. He did it to ‘shake things up a bit’. He did it to become an anti-hero. This is a guy who, reportedly, bought Twitter followers. This is someone who has a burning crave for the spotlight. And as a result he got front page stories on Sky News, ITN, Daily Star and Daily Mirror. He got exactly what he wanted. And he has the moral crusaders of Twitter to thank.
Since Reece’s moment in the sun, his father has attempted to nullify the situation, with the usual diatribe of how he has ADHD and ‘needs help’. Now I have no doubt that ADHD is a serious ailment. I have no doubt that it has a devastating effect on a child’s learning. But I get seriously annoyed at how parents use it as a go to excuse to pardon their child’s behaviour. I know and have met children with conditions like ADHD. And it’s a horrible ailment. But it’s a condition that, as of yet, has caused none of them to think out a layered and disparaging insult to someone, before spending the next 4 hours glued to their Twitter account, having back and forths with various users and news outlets. The fact is that Reece is just a nasty piece of work, and if his Dad actually approached this fact rather than dragging serious conditions through the mud to make himself feel better, the incident may never have happened.
But, for me, the people that come out of this fracas worse, were the Twitter users. The self-righteous masses. The good guys. The ones who wanted the shine a beacon of hope, and proves that not all is lost with the British youth.
Moral crusaders…with promises of physical harm, death threats, personal insults, racism, homophobia and cruel comments about physical appearance. Because that’s the mantra of your average do-gooder. Obviously. (I think that Nathan Celli’s tweet might be might favourite of all time. Never again will I hear an insulted as mind-boggling as “fucking racist poofter”. Mind Boggling.)
What started out as an attention seeking twerp using the openness of Twitter to insult a celeb, degenerated into ‘gang-justice’ where, because @Rileyy_69 started proceedings, it was open season on him. This, for me, proves why it was such a sensation. Why it became such a massive story. Why it galvanised so much of the country. Because it acted as a catalyst for the one thing your average Briton loves more than anything; moral indignation. As Brits, we love a froth. We loved a bit of outrage. We love to feel victimised. The Daily Express is newspaper devoted almost solely to reporting stories of unjust parking fines. Watchdog is a TV program which hears rants from consumers who are seething over the fact that the price of own-brand Penne pasta tubes has gone up 3p per KG, WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A WARNING! We love to whinge, and this gave us the chance.
For the people and papers who waded in both feet first to the story, this was never about Daley. This was never about justice for the victimised individual. This was a chance for society to throw the most putrid things at someone and feel ‘united’ behind a cause, which the mob determined was righteous and just. If it was about Daley, thousands of users wouldn’t have Re-Tweeted it, to make the horrific message unavoidable for the poor guy. If this was about Tom Daley, the newspapers wouldn’t have bequeathed cover space to him looking downtrodden and upset. If this was about Tom Daley, rolling news wouldn’t have consistently shoved this hurtful message in his face and not allowed him to escape it. The masses hijacked it as another chance to allow them to feel fucking fantastic about themselves, and try and latch onto another viral campaign which makes them feel part of something.
This won’t be the last of this. Reece got front page headlines. He got 50,000 Twitter followers. He may well do the morning TV circuit after this. He may even do interviews with papers, talking about a dark phase in life and how he wants to make amends. He might find religion. Hey, he may even get his own reality series on ITV4 “Reece: My Road to Redemption”. Either way, he may well make a lot of money. Which will, in turn, just spur others on. Other members of the disaffected youth who want their moment in the sun may also throw a crass comment out onto Twitter, which people will latch onto and spread like wildfire. Eventually, it may just create a climate where people are trying to constantly out-do each other, and say the most vile and abhorrent things about someone in order to be the next anti-hero. And the masses will lap it up. It’s like theatre, with good guys and bad guys, with heels and faces, with a clearly defined enemy; it’s the clarity that the population needs to be able to really feel great about themselves.
The loser in all this, really, is Daley himself. One off-hand insult thrown at him has now turned into a national incident, with every media and news outlet ensuring that he’s constantly reminded of what hurtful comments were laid upon him. But Joe public doesn’t care. By the time they might eventually come round to questioning their actions, they’ll have moved onto the next scandalous outrage, going potty over the fact that @TomIzSexy666 called John Barrowman an “F-ing Queer”. (And if you want further proof, yesterday a 28 year old was arrested for sending Daley homophobic abuse. So clearly all the fist-waiving worked, guys!)
And that’s basically how not to deal with an attention seeking troll, Twitter style. I’m off for a cry.