The Twittermob is watching you, too
The twitch-hunt of far-right nutjob Nick Griffin over one daft tweet has frightening implications for us all.
Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), currently has 19,356 followers on Twitter. Given the events of the past week, it seems many of these are not following Griffin because they enjoy his rants on anything from fracking to Islamists. Rather, the majority are following him in order to monitor his newsfeed, seemingly just waiting for an opportunity to report him to the police for offensive tweets.
Griffin’s latest misdemeanour was to tweet part of the address of two gay men who had won a court case against a couple of Christian B&B owners who had refused the men a room. Griffin then suggested to his followers that they might like to cause ‘a bit of drama’ outside the gay couple’s home in Huntingdon. So did any Twitter followers turn up? No – they were too busy shopping Griffin to the police.
One of the quickest off the mark was the Labour LGBT campaign group, which claimed to take ‘genuine offence’ at Griffin’s tweets. Labour LGBT tweeted: ‘If you agree Nick Griffin has just breached Sec 127 (1) of the Communications Act 2003 (see link), report him!’ This was retweeted by over 400 individuals, with the group sending interested individuals to the Metropolitan Police website where Griffin could be reported for a hate crime. A full-blown twitch-hunt had begun, with the hashtag #bangriffin heavily used. And almost 40,000 people signied a petition to ‘Get Griffin off Twitter’ for ‘publicly tweeting the address of a gay couple and inciting protest outside their home’.
The National Union of Students (NUS) joined in, posting a statement that the reporting of hate crime should be ‘encouraged’ and ‘the NUS LGBT campaign welcomes the police investigation into these tweets and will be monitoring the situation on behalf of our members’. The LGBT office of campaign group Hope Not Hate wrote an open letter to Cambridgeshire police stating: ‘In Nick Griffin’s tweets he seeks to incite violence against the gay couple.’ Griffin’s Twitter account was suspended and Cambridgeshire police declared that it was investigating Griffin.
Without doubt, tweeting the address of a gay couple, and threatening to give them ‘a bit of drama’ in the form of a demonstration, is an idiotic thing to do. But did anyone really think that a militant wing of the BNP was going to swoop down to Huntingdon and pay the sixtysomething gay couple a visit? Certainly not the couple themselves, whose chilled-out approach – as Brendan O’Neill has pointed out in his Telegraph blog – contrasts sharply with the hysteria of the Twittermob. Any demo, the couple said, would be a ‘damp squib’. Furthermore, ‘it would be difficult for people to gather as we live in a small village and there’s nowhere to park’.
Such cool reasoning was not shared by members of the Twittersphere, or by some gay-rights campaigners. In the words of a spokesperson for gay-rights group Stonewall, Griffin’s behaviour was ‘beyond words, unbelievably shocking. It is a real example of the hatred still out there towards gay people.’
‘Out there’ – it is a revealing phrase. It seems that this Twitter-stoked furore is not just about the loon Griffin, who has for many years developed notoriety for spouting offensive rubbish. It speaks also to the fear of some sort of silent, bigoted majority that Griffin supposedly represents. All it takes, it seems, is a tweet from Fuhrer Griffin and the gay-bashing hordes will arise. They won’t, of course, because they don’t exist. Yet, that someone widely known as a bit of a nutjob is seen as a ‘real example’ of hatred towards gays says more about a culture of offence-seeking than actual attitudes towards homosexuals in twenty-first century Britain.
It appears, however, that Cambridgeshire police has decided not to press charges against Griffin. And his Twitter account has been reinstated, albeit with the offending tweet deleted. To Griffin’s delight, he’s even attracted 3,500 extra followers on the back of the publicity. This time, it appears Griffin lives to tweet another day.
But the furore provoked by a few words online, coupled with the Twittermob’s censorious desire neither to debate nor countenance protest, speaks volumes about the increasingly intolerant nature of the Twittersphere. In its hounding of Griffin, the Twittermob is sending a frightening message: we are watching you, too. Conform or else.
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