The Twitter meltdown over the gay cat story is crazy

Never has the irritating internet phrase ‘I can’t even’ been more apt than in response to Catgate. They aren’t calling it Catgate yet but it’s only a matter of time. This is the story of gay tweeter Alex Andreou being turned down for the adoption of a cat on the basis of his sexuality by a woman he found on Gumtree who is very religious and possibly a little unstable. An unpleasant experience, no doubt. A nasty woman, I’m sure. But judging from the Twitter meltdown over this incident, and the media rush to cover it under startled headlines and in outraged purple prose, you’d be forgiven for thinking Britain was morphing into a homophobic dystopia.

The reaction to this sad, isolated encounter between a gay man and a woman who doesn’t like gay men has been, not to put too fine a point on it, insane. Mr Andreou tweeted out screenshots of his text-message chat with the Gumtree woman, in which, after promising him the cat, she twigs he’s gay and says: ‘I am religious so I strongly disagree with the lifestyle. I am sorry if I hurt your feelings.’ In a normal society that recognises some people have old-fashioned and even backward views, and that that’s okay, this would just be brushed off. Brushed off as one of those things that happens in a pluralistic public sphere in which people disagree with each and sometimes dislike each other. One woman from the internet dislikes the gay lifestyle: so what?

But ours is not a normal society. Ours is a society in which people, especially tweeting people, those people who make up the perma-furious Twitterati that is never happier than when it’s demanding someone be silenced, shamed or shunned, are always on the lookout for an opportunity for moral distinction. An opportunity to show how good they are by advertising to as wide an audience as possible how bad someone else is. And so it was that tens of thousands of tweeters piled into this story, lamenting the evilness of this woman, this ‘cow’, this ‘psychotic bitch’, this ‘evil homophobic bigot’, etc. ‘Surely it’s illegal…?’, mused Paul Waugh, executive editor of the HuffPost. These people think it’s against the law for one private citizen to refuse to give a cat to another private citizen on the basis of his sexuality? Just what kind of society do they think we live in? Or, more terrifyingly, what kind of society do they want to live in?

I have no doubt Mr Andreou felt bad after this encounter. It wasn’t nice. Some people aren’t nice. They have prejudices, they say bad things. But the transformation of this incident into an angry media talking point, and a Twitter pile-on, also points to something that isn’t very nice: the fashion for turning individuals into symbols of evil for the express purpose of demonstrating our goodness. Whether it’s a Mail columnist criticising the gay partying lifestyle or a Tory MP who tells an off-colour joke or a silly woman on Gumtree who won’t give her cat to a homosexual, the Twitterati is forever looking for someone somewhere it can hold up as wickedness personified in order to send a message about its own virtue. Doesn’t this speak to a serious moral lack in the middle classes who make up the Twitterati? Sure, we can ask what kind of woman won’t give a cat to a gay person. But we might also ask what kind of people need incidents like this to show us they are good people.

There’s a twist to the story, which everyone is laughing about, but which isn’t actually funny. It now seems possible that this woman doesn’t really have cats and that she has turned down pretty much everyone who has offered to adopt these possibly non-existent pets. This suggests to me that she has issues, and might even be a little mentally unwell. Thousands of time-rich tweeters and well-connected liberals piling on an individual who might not be all there? Yeah, that’s nasty too.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.

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