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Twitter and the Moral Maze

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Malcolm Ryan
4 November 2009

When does a popular and spontaneous protest become mob rule? Fans of Twitter, the micro-blogging site, have chalked up a couple of notable victories of late. Followers helped to expose a legal injunction against The Guardian and Twitter-led protests generated tens of thousands of complaints against Jan Moir when she wrote a column using the death of Stephen Gately to criticise gay marriage. Is this net-based protest a valuable tool to demonstrate popular opinion or are we sacrificing traditional political engagement for the instant gratification direct action?

See Radio 4 and the Moral Maze

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Jill Jameson
4:41pm 4 November 2009

Mmmm - I like 'the moral maze', Malcolm - expresses the confusion, complexity and ambiguity in this whole area. The fact that people can get lost in being taken up by instant gratification, while, on the other hand, here is a tool for effective political action which, judiciously applied, can be valuable..... a useful debate.

Gráinne Conole
6:04pm 4 November 2009

Hi interesting this @sclater on twitter just pointed out there is a programme on the Moral Maze on Radio 4 tonight at 8 pm (UK time).

Jill Jameson
6:28pm 4 November 2009

Thanks Grainne will try to catch either tonight or later.


Gráinne Conole
9:07am 5 November 2009

Found the programme v irritating - dunno what other people's views are!

AJ Cann
9:10am 5 November 2009

No real insight here - pro-users vs, anti non-users. I was hoping for more discussion of how this fits into society and is an agent of societal change. This was a Punch and Judy show.

Gráinne Conole
9:14am 5 November 2009

I agree AJCann - very frustrating indeed. Of course this is a common problem... people who have not experienced web 2.0 tools and practices frankly just don't know what they are talking about, more often than not their arguments and comments are meaningless as they are based against an old reference model of a world pre-web 2.0. It's abit like scientist wedded to a Newtonian perspective making arguments against an Einsteinian view - the two just don't equate. Wow Newton and Einstein at 9am bit of a heavy start to the day!

AJ Cann
9:16am 5 November 2009

Well since you brought it up, Horizon was very good on Tuesday night (especially the opening sequence "What are black holes mad of?") - opened my kids eyes about "Science".

Mark Childs
9:18am 5 November 2009

I've listened to the Moral Maze occasionally but have never found the panellists particularly articulate or well-informed on the subjects they're talking about. (though some have managed one or the other). This seems reminiscent of the Oxford debate on elearning recently, when half of the debaters didn't even seem to know what elearning was (from what I could glean from the comments on the debate).

Perhaps new media are something that can't be debated using the old media/institutions. Those who are already empowered by the old system have no drive to familiarise themselves with the new (with one or two exceptions).  It is those who were previously disempowered who do and they don't have access to newspapers, TV, radio, etc.

Gráinne Conole
9:36am 5 November 2009

@AJCann - horiozn sounds good, is there a link, is it still available.

Mark I agree I found the elearning debate very frustrating, people pontificating about things they didn't really understand. And you hit the nail on the head with:

Those who are already empowered by the old system have no drive to familiarise themselves with the new (with one or two exceptions).

But I think those of us participating in these new spaces can see the profound impact they are having and the way they are definitely fundamentally changing practice. Those of us communicating in this cloud for example would not have had the mechanism for this kind of cross boundary communication 5 years ago. I wonder are we heading for a new form of diigital divide?

AJ Cann
9:39am 5 November 2009

It's on the iPlayer:

Jane Challinor
9:47am 5 November 2009

I only caught the start of the debate so glad I didn't miss anything significant. The R4 take on Twitter is all a bit patronising - as in John Humphrey's foray some weeks back. Could have been a really useful debate. As for Horizon and Black Holes it was good - I was just about to post the iplayer link but I see Alan beat me too it.....:0)

Leslie Carr
8:16am 9 December 2009

If I may answer Malcolm's original question (now it sounds like QUestion Time, not Moral Maze!) I think it is a bit leading to suggest that twitter equates to "instant gratification" (that sounds shallow) versus "traditional engagement" (that sounds deep and profound).

Here's an alternative set of prejudices: traditional political engagement is about lobbying by industry and media spin; twitter is just an opportunity to redress the balance by allowing an open channel on which popular opinion can be democratically evaluated.

Mark Childs
3:43pm 9 December 2009

I agree, that is what traditional political engagement is - remote, inaccessible and only for those already with power. That's why (going back to the original question) there is no sacrifice involved, at least not for people like us. The sacrifice of traditional political engagement only really has an impact on the lobbyists, old media executives and industry, which is why it is those groups who are most against it.

Robert Farrow
2:09pm 26 April 2010

(I haven't seen the debate in question.)

I agree (with Leslie) that Twitter offers (at least the semblance of) a more traditional form of free, public democratic expression than we have had for many years (and which was never available to all).  But I don't think that traditional political engagementis best understood in terms of the lobbying machines that characterise modern UK (and US) politics.  In my view, these are undoubtedly modern. (This appears to put me at odds with both Leslie and the original poster.)

A better example would be the 'public space' enshrined by classical Liberalism as the cornerstone of deliberative democracy: the very kind of public space that we don't really seem to have any more.  This would locate technologies like Twitter along a spectrum  of increasing publicity and access to public space that would includes the newspaper, the novel, radio and the internet.

The suggestion that there are those with vested interests who are 'against' new technologies and new forms of political subjectivity may not be untrue, but I think the main problem is a more general lack of interest or engagement with politics.  Twitter isn't a game changer - politics is still politics - but it lets people communicate in new ways and so enables new forms of collective action.  I wouldn't have thought that all those people protesting at the coverage of Gateley's death in media felt that way *because of Twitter*.  They were simply able to express their outrage and know that other people out there felt the same way:  this is entirely consistent with traditional accounts of political agency, and the difference is simply one of scale.

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