Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On the Marriage of Iona and Twitter

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In the past David Quinn has referred to me as hilarious and on the fourth of February he once more favoured me with endorsement by seeking to base a blog post entirely on data gleaned from Twitter. Those of you new to this blog will discover, as you delight in my past episodes, that this is something of a forté of mine.

Quinn's tentative steps towards imitating my methods are quite endearing. They consist mainly of copying and pasting tweets. He is but one man. Assistance was required, and who better to stand up to this momentous data gathering task than @IrelandStandUp? Regular readers will recall that they have some experience in the intricacies of Twitter automation, almost an eighth of their followers being paid for fakes. Their qualifications are further bolstered by direct experience with abusive tweets - they enjoyed tweeting faked pictures of abortions and strange references to demons, battles and snares of the devil during pro choice gatherings. (They've had the good sense to delete many of these tweets.)

Quinn's blog post was timed as a response to the Late Late show's discussion on marriage equality. Lacking any stronger point or argument of substance he opted to take issue with language used by viewers via Twitter. His upstanding companion and he compiled utterances deemed offensive and crafted from them a "river of bile", a cliché which will hopefully not impinge on his writing career.

The plan was simple. Show that secular leftists are "thoroughly nasty" by exposing their use of robust language during Friday night television. But how to identify secular leftists? Without bothering to ask their political views, Quinn and @IrelandStandUp merely assumed that anyone breaching Iona's undocumented acceptable language policy and disagreeing with their views must be a secular leftist. Does this seem a mite circular to anyone else?

Religion and Politics

How effective is this strategy? I consider the only apt opposite to secularism to be proponents of Theocracy or an atheist state. With that in mind it is unlikely we will find many who resist this rather trite charge of believing that the state should neither favour nor hinder religion or the irreligious. Are they all leftists? I did a word cloud of the Rivers of Bile celebrities. Click for big:

The most common party cited was Fine Gael, it's to the far right on the word cloud but left of centre by Quinn's ruling. Indeed, a prominent member of Young Fine Gael has been branded a leftist by the keen minds behind the Iona Institute, a title likely to be received with some surprise. Fianna Fáil members also feature but my favourite quote was the person who described themselves as "Right wing to the grave", rather casting doubt on any duty of care Quinn felt before making these false statements about the political character of strangers. Such sloppy and inaccurate statements do not present the Iona Institute in a good light.

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement

-John 7:24. 

What criteria were used to identify these supposedly abhorrent tweets? Take this example of 'bile'. I've reworded and presented without the author's name to protect their privacy; they've been upset enough by Quinn and company. You may have read it on Twitter:
"The subject matter has me highly upset. This focus on an idea of a traditional family model is preposterous. I'm a single mother. This doesn't make my son and I any less of a family; love and kindness is what matters."
This is noteworthy only in that it has been removed from Iona's website after repeated requests from the author. Quinn did not apologise on the blog.

Let's also examine the most quoted contributor, who's kindly given me permission to reproduce his words:
Darren and the Catholic pretend Ireland is the 1st country trying this. all countries w/ marriage equality are still going strong #latelate
Perhaps his sin was referring to Wendy Grace, a practising Catholic and spokesperson for Catholic Comment, as a Catholic? Her group will have gone through an extended process to earn Bishops' approval to describe themselves as such; it seems unlikely a title she would shirk.

And what of the second most quoted? Again, my thanks for their permission to reproduce their text:
Disgusted at selective use of studies to support awful arguments on #latelate against #marriageequality?Be disgusted at Iona on abortion too
What mote was in their eye? Studies proffered by those opposed to marriage equality on the evening were balderdash. Is it so wrong to express an opinion in a public forum? The hour is late, and spamming all ensnared tweeters for permission would prove time consuming. Do have a look on Quinn's blog if you'd like further instances of how varied his definition of bile must be. this with gentleness and respect

-1 Peter 3:15.

Through some technical wizardry I have yet to fathom, Quinn makes people's names appear both blue and underlined next to their tweets. Clicking said enhanced words will take you direct to a person's Twitter profile, filled with Quinn's ruling that said individual is a "thoroughly nasty" "secular leftist" who has helped drive a "river of bile" towards Wendy and Darren. Perhaps the intention behind this convenient linking is to enable polite discussion of the music act that preceding the debate, but it is not the most obvious interpretation.

So why don't I mirror this - let's be charitable - effort? You know I could. I'm not willing to. To be blunt it lacks class. I'll happily discuss the actions of groups or prominent individuals, and I see no issue with showing aggregated or anonymous data from others, but it's my fond hope that if I followed this example of picking on private individuals that the first people to chide me for my error would be my friends and followers.

The UK's marriage equality bill has passed a significant milestone. As will happen here it was a resounding success with a vast majority of MPs voting in favour, and I congratulate all those who worked toward its fruition. It's supported by secular leftists, religious right-wingers and everyone in between. Any casual glance at an opinion poll will reveal that we will experience a similar result here. I understand that Quinn opposes, and I understand that he wants to present some sort of display against this journey towards equality. But this attack on ordinary tweeters is lazy, inaccurate and weak.


hargaden said...

This is good stuff Geoff. Your twitter analysis amounts to nothing as an argument in itself but it is a superb defeater of others' arguments.

I have a question or etiquette: If someone publishes something on Twitter with an unguarded account, is that not fair game for quotation elsewhere? I mostly keep my Twitter account locked and people therefore can't retweet my witticisms and links to rare classical texts. :) But what is the problem with Quinn taking people's public pronouncements and commenting on them?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't see a problem with Dave commenting on or responding to tweets - as we all do. But describing it as abuse is a bit rich.

Pakman1983 said...

I loved the post. Very interesting and it does highlight some great issues relating to privacy and social media.

I myself have no issues with any of my twitter opinions, insult or jokes being used to argue a point against me as long as the context in which they were used is preserved. Exposing your opinions in this way is an invitation to critique which I welcome.

I do however disagree with aggressively targeting individuals. Having the flaws in my argument highlighted or providing the opportunity for me to defend and expand on my views is something I always strive for. Being vilified unjustly for having an opinion however, whether correct or not, is contemptuous.

Hopefully more discussion about this will lead to a larger debate around the, in my opinion under discussed, topic of freedom of speech and expression.