The Internet’s mightier than the pen…

In the golden days of newspapers, when the word ‘columnist’ was bestowed only upon the worthy and brilliant (and not viewed as a natural ascension for opinionated feature writers) acerbic, controversial and provocative views would generate post-bags of mail.

Indignant senders never knew if their missives were read let alone heard, and it was probably best they never knew that the intended recipients were untouched by any vitriol that came their way. The only voice heard was that of the mighty columnist. The voices of the public remained muffled in the postbag.

If only the same were true today, Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir must cry, wishing she could climb into a helium-filled balloon in Colorado and drift into the same oblivion where her questionable wisdom resides.

Ok. She exercised her freedom of speech over the death of Stephen Gately in an infamous column that, to everyone but her, was homophobic and bigoted. This human right permits that view, regardless of how hateful, pernicious and vile. The nature of this cornerstone of democracy means that the ignorant and the prejudiced are allowed their voices, however distasteful. It is an ancient and healthy right that should be celebrated, as long as it’s honestly-held.

But here’s what has changed within our democracy – the public has a voice like never before…thanks to social media. It is no longer muffled within a post-bag, unable to be heard, unable to make an impact. No longer is the journalist’s pen mightier than the sword. It is merely as mighty as its growing equal: the Internet.

On-line content is not just responsible for the slow death of newspapers, the Jan Moir episode also demonstrates an Internet influence that is capable of drowning out the columnist, once untouchable, once mighty. No more.

Here’s the truth: Twitter has armed ordinary people with the equivalent of their own private news channel – and the force of this mutating word-of-mouth is as fierce and uncontrollable as a bush fire in California. These millions of people have always been there, silent but gagging to talk. Today, they have an outlet: YouTube and Twitter especially.¬†

Jan Moir, in her back-tracking statement, bemoaned an underhand internet campaign for whipping up a storm. Once again, she demonstrates how out of touch she is (or was it denial?) Because, let’s face it, she wasn’t inundated by a concerted anti-Moir campaign. She was inundated by the force of the Twitterosphere; surrounded by a fire started by her own carelessly dropped match. Such is the nature of the social media beast that many of her generation fail to grasp.

Look what happened. The columnist and newspaper set the whole thing in motion, feeling in traditional control at the start of the day’s play. But then word spread, the fire galloped and the voice of the people suddenly set the news agenda. By the end of play in Britain, the internet furore led the television news. The tail was wagging the dog.

It’s true that the public stampede was reminiscent of a lynch-mob, and much of the hatred towards Moir was irrational. But the pot can’t call the kettle black. Let’s just call it what it is – the power of social media drowning a columnist, and leaving her reputation on the floor on an unknown scale.¬†Columnists are nowadays as fair game as the subjects they write about. They are touchable. The public has found its voice forever, and ‘people power’ has never seemed stronger. Editors, columnists, brands and celebrities…let your reputations take note.

One Response to “The Internet’s mightier than the pen…”

  1. ‘She was inundated by the force of the Twitterosphere; surrounded by a fire started by her own carelessly dropped match.’

    Steve, I can not emphasize how much I appreciate and respect your writing skills. I am inspired by your mastery and creativity with every blog post.

    Your content is always somewhat thought provoking and useful. It’s highly enjoyable especially the imagery such as produced in this entry. Wonderful.

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