Bad language warning
What standards should we expect in public debate about an important issue, and what constitutes public debate?
The questions have been prompted in my mind by online discussion of the Scottish independence referendum and the Collaborative Scotland web site. They urge ‘respectful dialogue’ and this seems to me a pretty good principle for discussion of such an important issue. These are their guidelines:
- Show respect and courtesy towards all those who are engaged in these discussions, whatever views they hold
- Acknowledge that there are many differing, deeply held and valid points of view
- Use language carefully and avoid personal or other remarks which might cause unnecessary offence
- Listen carefully to all points of view and seek fully to understand what concerns and motivates those with differing views from our own
- Ask questions for clarification and when we may not understand what others are saying or proposing
- Express our own views clearly and honestly with transparency about our motives and our interests
- Respond to questions asked of us with clarity and openness and, whenever we can, with credible information.
They strike me as sensible and when I across public comments that I think are abusive I try to gently let the person concerned know about these guidelines and leave them to draw their own conclusions. Most of the material of this sort I come across is on Twitter, but I see a fair scattering of it on Facebook and individual web sites. Some of my exchanges end in what I regard as a redirection of abuse (and, occasionally, implied threats) from the original target to me. At this stage I just stop. Some people are so unbalanced and blinkered that no comment they disagree with will do anything other than convince them of the rectitude of their own point of view.
Some however are different and should, in my view, know better.
Yesterday I saw a tweet that read
“@[name] Aw, sad for poor Jose-Manuel Barroso tonight.” Maybe he’ll turn on Cameron and say In ye come Scotland fuck the Tory bastard
I don’t know what action or remark by Barroso prompted this comment but I know what the words (excuse me) ‘fuck the Tory bastard’ mean.
I remonstrated – gently I’d say – with
Not sure ‘F the Tory B’ helps #indyref debate – a suggestion: [link to Collaborative Scotland web site as above]
Our exchange then went:
Him – no but it’s on Twitter, it’s heavy with irony and guess what? People laugh. That’s because it touches how they feel. New media
Me – Still, I find it sad you reduce the high aspiration of national self-determination to ‘Fuck the Tory bastard’, ironic or not
Him – sorry roger. That sounds like sanctimony. This is Twitter not Thought for the Day.
At which point I gave up.
Funny my correspondent should mention Thought for the Day because ‘he’ is not some anonymous internet troll. He’s an ex-BBC journalist who presented a BBC Radio Scotland current affairs programme, amongst other things, for a number of years.
Is it unreasonable of me to expect ‘respectful dialogue’ on Twitter about the independence referendum, especially from public figures? Am I sanctimonious or just a wimp who needs to man up? Should we accept standards on some media we wouldn’t on others? What do you think?