This Week on Twitter

Was it last year, or 2009, or maybe 2008, that was branded “The Year of Twitter”? I am tempted to say that it’s an accolade deserved this year too. We’ve had the Arab Spring, the Japanese earthquake, the Royal Wedding and the death of Osama Bin Landen this year, and it’s only May. All these globally significant events have been defined and re-defined in the popular consciousness by the micro blogging site we have come to know and love. In the case of #OBL the event was actually live-tweeted by a Pakistani citizen journalist. 2011, the Year of Twitter again, right?
I think this misses the point. it’s better to say 2011 has already been an important year for events, and Twitter has both reflected and amplified those events.
It is also affecting more traditional news gathering too, so my claim (above) about “the popular consciousness” holds true even if not everyone uses Twitter. This critique by Felix Salmon of the New York Times‘ coverage (or rather, its coverage of it’s own coverage) shows how the organisation is in denial about how social networks affect it’s relevance and it’s reporting. Meanwhile, this article by Frédéric Filloux points to the wider evolution of news. This has a knock on effect for everyone.
In some cases, independent Twitter users are providing a crucial link in the news reporting chain. News editors have been fuming for years about super-injunctions, and their inability to mention gagging orders in their coverage. Meanwhile, Twitter regularly carries the names of those celebrities who have sought injunctions… So why has the main stream news media jumped on the story about one particular tweeter who has explicitly revealed the details of particular super-injunctions? The answer is of course that it provides an excuse for papers to reveal such details by other means.
In this story, apparently some of the tweets are actually inaccurate. Is this a fatal flaw, a reason for heavy censorship? Not really. As we saw earlier this week when a quote was misattributed to Martin Luther King Jnr, the same networks that propagate the inaccuracies are also the place to correct them. Social networks are surprisingly good at doing this. With the rise of the Internet, we have also seen the rise of new social norms and eittiquette. Forwarding on a false story is quite a major faux pas in the 21st century, perhaps more so than printing gossip, rumour and anonymous sources. The major reason for the New York Times’ loss of credibility in recent years was it’s failure to fact-check the anonymous government sources that told reporters that Saddam did have WMD. The paper was ruthlessly manipulated by the Bush Administration hawks, and yet does not seem contrite. If only Twitter had been around in 2002-03, we may have had the tools to more effectively call the news media, and through them, the US government, to account.

Making Do With The Monarchy

Heart and head are split over the monarchy. The moral case for a Republic is unassailable, yet I was filled with delight at yesterday’s pageantry. How to rationalise this?
I think it’s a form of what we call Making The Best of a Bad Job. A useful comparison is with the Premier League, a more regular spectacle. The way that league is commercially arranged is clearly damaging to football as a whole, and ticket-buying fans do not get value for money. Yet that doesn’t stop us thrilling at another close run title race, or another brilliant goal by the most obnoxious of the overpaid stars, Wayne Rooney.
In the sphere of politics, I entirely object to the counter-productive format of Prime Minister’s Questions, a barrier if ever there was one to reasoned policy-making. Yet, while it exists, I can enjoy the event and value the fact that our leaders can be held to account in such a robust manner.
So it with the Royal Wedding. I can hold that the Hereditary principle has no place, however ceremonial, in modern politics. But while it exists I can enjoy a history lesson that incorporates Bank Holiday drinking, street parties (including one in London a quarter of a million people strong), and the the pinnacle of UK fashion design. This not principle in action, but pragmatism. Making do with what we have. A very British trait, no?

Kate Middleton insults the Church

Many wry smiles and twittered Lolz at the news this week that Kate Middleton has been confirmed into the Church of England.
Is it appropriate for a British subject such as myself to comment on our Queen-elect’s faith choices? Probably not, firstly for reasons of deference, and also because to question such an act is to risk being patronizing and a bit sexist. If I express cynicism about Ms Middleton’s faith, then am I not suggesting that she is not her own woman?
In this case, I actually think some comment is justified. Faith should be a private affair, and had Kate chosen to have a quiet confirmation, with no associated press strategy from Clarence house, then the rest of us would do well to shut up. However, since the news has been released by her own media team, I see no reason why we should not raise a few questions about the act.
And anyway, the Faith of the Royals (and Kate Middleton will very soon be the very Royal ‘Princess Catherine’) happens to be a topic of public interest, public discussion, public concern. This is the way our country is constituted. Fact. Catholics are constitutionally demeaned, and should any future heir or near-heir to the throne marry outside Europe (very possible as the world and the Royals become increasingly cosmopolitan) the current system would bully the unfortunate spouse out of their original faith, in favour of Anglicanism.
And ‘bullied’ appears to be what has happened to Kate M. At the very least: ‘pressurized’. No-one who heard or read the news reports would have considered for a moment that this decision was taken by Kate Middleton alone. Rather, we are all entirely certain that this is a cynical and pragmatic act in order to sidestep a theological conundrum that, in Twenty-First Century Britain, is increasingly absurd.
Kate Middleton is not alone in paying lip-service to a religious faith, having previously demonstrated no interest in it. Couples routinely attend church for the minimum number of weeks specified by the vicar, before the picturesque parish church wedding will be sanctioned. Others even sign a statement, saying they will bring up any children of the marriage on the Catholic faith. And I’ve known a few people who have ostensibly converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim, while demonstrating very little interest in, or knowledge of the religion itself.
I should not care about any of these instances of hypocrisy. After all, it is not my faith that is cheapened by these all-to-convenient faux-Damascene moments. But nevertheless, it still irritates me. In being so casual and opportunistic in their conversions, Kate Middleton and hundreds like her cheapen the covenant that the true adherents have with their church. With this confirmation, the message that Wills, Kate and the Royal Establishment have conveyed is that Church-going and church-membership is a mere accessory, a thing of necessary convenience like a new SIM card or an MOT. Something borrowed. For ordinary subjects to behave in this manner is hypocritical. For the future heads of the Church to do the same is gross negligence, a dereliction of duty, a desecration of the Church of England, cheapening an institution that is already weak and belittled. There is no better argument for disestablishment than a rushed and panicked Royal confirmation.
Perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps Kate is being genuine, and the timing is just bad. After all, if being chosen as the next Queen of England doesn’t inspire faith in a Higher Power, what would?