I never thought I would find myself defending Emily Thornberry. I admit I laughed along with the rest when THAT tweet was published on Thursday afternoon by the now former shadow attorney general.
It was “Bigotgate” all over again, when Gordon Brown called a member of the public who questioned the wisdom of unfettered immigration a bigot. One of those occasions when the mask slips, and we realise the contempt with which the inner political circle holds us and our views even as they fawn over us for our votes.
But there is something disturbing about the way she was hounded out of office by a Twitter mob. Engagement with social media is obligatory now for politicians, and gaffes are inevitable. Our political class is obsessed with such mistakes, because it takes attention away from any debate on substantive policies, which might require them to put some unpalatable truths before the electorate.
She should have brazened it out. Pointed out that, as it happens, she had been raised in a council house.
In recent days the Twitter mob has also whipped up a campaign against a Californian who claims to be able to teach men how to seduce women. Sexist. As a result he has been banned by the authorities, as if he were some neo-Nazi or Islamic hate preacher. We have to be protected from hearing his asinine ideas because the Twitter mob says so.
It is terribly easy to ignite a Twitter campaign, because of the self-feeding, self-replicating nature of social media. One click becomes ten clicks, becomes a hundred clicks, and so on. Soon it appears that large numbers of right-thinking people support it. Actually, it is a few thousand nutcases and single issue fanatics, brought together by the Internet.
Better for said Californian to be allowed into the country, given time on prime time TV and then taken apart by a seasoned interviewer. Not difficult, and ridicule is what such people fear most. Being made to appear a martyr only feeds their sense of importance.
All this matters because Twitter, and social media, has been used on a number of occasions recently to shut down reasoned debate at universities, somewhere where you might think the putting and abutting of robust views would be welcomed. Oxford, Cambridge and others have cancelled public debates on important subjects because of the Twitter mob.
Students must be protected from hearing opinions that do not accord with the world view of a few single issue fanatics. Heaven forbid they should be introduced to new ideas and allowed to make up their own minds. That’s not what universities are for, is it?