Over the last few months, I’ve become a bit of a Twitter fanatic. And I’ve learned a lot in that time.
I’ve learned that Twitter users can be roughly divided into two groups – those who use their real names and real profile pictures, and those who use a made-up pseudonym and a cartoon or other picture as their avatar.
These groups can be further subdivided. Those who use their real names and profile pictures – particularly those with blue ticks after their names, indicating not only that the person is likely well-known to the public (think journalists, politicians, celebrities) but that the account in question has been verified to be a true account owned by the person in question and not a spoof account – these people tend to take a bit of care over what they tweet. Donald Trump being the obvious exception.
Those with made-up pseudonyms, on the other hand, have to be treated with caution. They could be genuine people, expressing genuinely held views, and just wanting to protect their privacy for fears that their comments may attract unwanted online abuse . On the other hand, they could be spoof accounts tweeting purely for the purpose of satire – or they could be nasty, cowardly trolls enjoying the anonymity that the internet affords them to spew whatever hateful bile crosses their minds.
I’ve learned that there are some very funny, very witty people on Twitter. And that sadly there are just as many people who are just sad, angry, barely literate and spoiling for a fight.
I’ve learned that there are a lot of virtue-signallers – particularly among the blue-tick brigade (Gary Lineker, JK Rowling, I’m talking to you). And precious few blue-tickers who will openly express an unpopular opinion.
And above all else, I’ve learned that nobody – absolutely nobody – who tweets on a regular basis, is able to hide their true beliefs for long. Whether it’s the 140-character limit, or the incendiary nature of so much of what other users write, it is very hard not to resist a knee-jerk reaction and a barely-thought-out response.
The result of this, is that racists, misogynists, anti-semites, and every other type of narrow-minded class of bigots, are pretty easy to spot on Twitter. They tend to give themselves away pretty quickly. They just can’t help themselves.
The flip side of this, of course, is that after following somebody for a while, seeing what they tweet about, the tone of their tweets, the way they present themselves and the comments they attract from supporters and opponents, allows an opportunity to make one’s own mind up about their individual character.
And so I finally come to the point of this piece. I read, with utter astonishment and alarm, an article by Nick Cohen in today’s Observer, branding Anne-Marie Waters, a current contender for the leadership of UKIP, a “far-right bigot”. Astonishment, because as somebody who has followed Ms Waters for a number of months now, I have seen nothing in her tweets to indicate she merits such a label, and alarm at the realisation that the demonisation of anybody who has the temerity to question the ‘multicultural dream’ to which the liberal elite are still desperately clinging, has now reached the point where a mainstream publication can print such a libellous piece with clearly no expectation of any comeback.
What is it about Anne-Marie Waters that the Observer, and Nick Cohen, find so objectionable, you might ask. Well, Cohen is pretty unclear in his article as to exactly why he feels Ms Waters is a far-right bigot – his argument appears to rest on the fact that, apparently disappointed at the “liberal hypocrisy” of a left-wing feminist organization of which she was previously a member, she turned her back on the organisation and instead decided to embrace “the white racist right”. He provides no evidence of racism on the part of either Ms Waters or her political affiliates – it is left to the reader to draw their own conclusions as to who or which group “the white racist right” could refer to, but it’s clear to anybody with even the vaguest familiarity with Ms Waters’ background and affiliations, that he’s referring to Tommy Robinson, and the English Defence League.
Let’s talk about Tommy Robinson, shall we? This is the man who, appalled at the lack of action by authorities over the grooming of underage girls for sex by predominantly Pakistani Muslim gangs, and equally incensed at the way Islamist extremists in his home town of Luton were openly mocking the service of armed personnel, formed the English Defence League in protest.
The man who eventually left the EDL when it started to attract too many far-right racist members.
The man who has consistently been branded a racist by the press and police, who have spent more time trying to find cause to arrest him for refusing to be quiet about issues faced by ordinary working class people in towns and cities across the UK, than to tackle the growing threat of extremism on the streets of Britain.
The man who has worked tirelessly over the last few years to try to overcome, and counter, the public perception that he is simply a racist thug.
The man who still is referred to by the BBC and other broadcasters who should know better, as “EDL-leader Tommy Robinson” despite having left the EDL four years ago.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Robinson is by no means a paragon of virtue. I follow him on Twitter, too, and what I see is a rather hot-headed man who is not above deliberately provoking people to get a rise, and who I imagine consistently causes massive headaches for the police. But what I also see is a man who, at heart, has a genuine, and considerable, set of grievances, which are not being addressed by those whose job it is to uphold the law and protect the citizens of Great Britain. And a man whose popular support is growing by the day, as more and more people realise he is not simply the racist thug that the media portray him to be, but a determined man who will not be silent until the issues he is shouting about, which are felt by millions of people across the country, are addressed.
Now, put Tommy Robinson and Anne-Marie Waters together and you have two very vocal, very passionate people, absolutely determined to keep fighting for the issues that are important to them and their supporters.
When you understand that the two most important issues to Anne-Marie Waters, are Islamist extremism and Brexit, suddenly the motivation for the Observer’s hit-piece becomes abundantly clear. Let’s just hope their pockets are deep, though – because Ms Waters has a huge amount of support, and it looks like the Observer are about to have a defamation case to fight.