Twitter does have something of a reputation as an online asylum for the angry, unhinged and immature, and on occasions this reputation is undoubtedly deserved; whilst some may derive enjoyment from petty playground name-calling, I had enough of that at school. The ‘evils’ of Cyberspace discourse are never far from tabloid headlines, and the kind of moral panic once reserved for musical movements such as Punk Rock or Acid House is today more likely to be aimed at social media; the powers-that-be rarely miss a chance to sweep their own failings under the carpet by attributing society’s ills to the internet. Google is already policing YouTube now, having bowed to pressure from government under the dubious pretext that the video forum is a refuge for Jihadi vloggers; and every teary-eyed second-division celebrity to share a daytime TV sofa with a simpering host doesn’t take long before she wails about being a target of trolls during her fifteen minutes in the spotlight.
As with every medium, however, it often takes a patient sift through the surface slurry to discover the gems that make it worth investing in. Spoof Twitter accounts of household names, if done well, are one of the narrow channels in which satire staggers on in the face of increased censorship and a rush to take offence with more traditional media (which has responded by waving the white flag at pressure groups). They serve a purpose in puncturing the pomposity and self-righteous proclamations of annoyingly ubiquitous talking heads whose omnipotence on TV discussion shows and in the pages of broadsheets sometimes make one wonder what their job descriptions actually are.
It’s tempting to wonder if Twitter had existed in the twentieth century what form spoof accounts of the equivalent irritants would have taken; imagine a Malcolm Muggeridge spoof account, or a Sir Gerald Nabarro one. This thought occurred to me a couple of days ago when I was directed to a 1971 edition of Radio 4’s evergreen debating society, ‘Any Questions?’; the subject under discussion was commercial radio and whether or not the BBC’s monopoly of the airwaves should end. One of the guests who was vehemently opposed to the idea was described as a journalist, and though the programme was transmitted at the height of the ‘Permissive’ era, this snooty unknown sounded as if she’d been transplanted from the 1920s – pure Nancy Mitford. What a wonderful spoof Twitter account she could have inspired.
But it’s not as though we’re short of condescending, self-appointed experts when it comes to making up the numbers on the ‘Any Questions?’ panel in 2017, and these are sitting ducks for the spoof Twitter account. One such account goes by the name of ‘Owen Joans’, which accurately parodies the Gerry Anderson puppet socialist and Grauniad columnist who pops up with tiresome regularity on the telly. Owen Joans describes himself as ‘Working class hero, intellectual lightweight, Oxbridge, Faux Northern accent and #religionofpeace advocate. Retweets all sycophants.’ There’s one final – and fairly crucial – word at the end of Owen Joans’ brief biog, and that’s ‘Parody’. A pity Bradford West MP Naz Shah didn’t notice that earlier this week.
You may recall Ms Shah was briefly suspended from the Labour Party last year for making anti-Semitic comments online and had to make a grovelling apology in the Commons that was reminiscent in its absence of sincerity of a child being forced by its mother to say sorry for kicking a football at a neighbour’s window. Having already criticised her ‘disgraced’ Labour sister Sarah Champion for saying out loud what many felt on the subject of the Rotherham grooming scandal, Shah’s scramble to be seen as the biggest box-ticker on the backbenches saw her retweet and ‘like’ a comment from the Owen Joans account that placed her hot on the heels of Jess Phillips in the race to decide who is the thickest Labour MP.
The comment in question was ‘Those abused girls in Rotherham and elsewhere just need to shut their mouths. For the good of #diversity!’ One hardly needs to be a regular reader of the middle section of Private Eye to recognise a piss-take when one sees it, but a far-from bright button like Naz Shah can’t be expected to distinguish between pastiche and the genuine article. And she didn’t. Only when her embarrassing error was pointed out did Shah delete the retweet and unlike the post, but by then it was too late. The whole thing had been endlessly retweeted and Shah’s spokeswoman was furiously attempting to emphasise the retweet had been a genuine mistake that was rectified in a matter of minutes.
The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath stated the bleedin’ obvious by saying Naz Shah ‘should know better’ and added ‘We need to keep the victims of these horrific crimes at the heart of the debate and always remember that diversity is not served by silence.’ To be honest, though, I wouldn’t have expected anything else from such a vacuum of intelligence as Naz Shah; and Owen Joans, whoever he – or she – may be, has been thrust onto the front pages as a result of one dim MP’s desperate desire to cling onto the diversity bandwagon as her ticket to the frontbench.
The actual Owen Jones, along with his fellow humourless online narcissists JK Rowling, Lily Allen, Gary Lineker and dozens of others, set themselves up for a Twitter fall with every tweet; they provide endless open goals for those that are quite tired of being lectured at by people who regard their fame and fortune as some form of degree in human rights that gives them the authority to tell the rest of us why they’re right and we’re wrong. They need a good satirical kicking, and if every other medium is too scared to put the boot in, at least Twitter when in the hands of the wittily mischievous can provide that function. For now, anyway.
© The Editor