Hang Our Heads

The 'celebrity', in happier times. (Image by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer.)



Tell me where you can download that smartphone app that enables a clenched fist to come out of the screen and pummel the side of your head.

The reason I need one is because I keep reading about a torrent of Twitter abuse that put into hospital someone of whom I'd never before heard.

Someone called Charlotte Dawson.

Before a couple of days ago, the name 'Charlotte Dawson' might begin to stir memories of Dawson's Creek. Now, of course,  I understand she's a not-bad-looking 'celebrity' from some… reality show…? who retweets cyber-bullying messages, and in addition, blew the whistle on someone who tweeted without thinking. (Not to diminish the potential seriousness of the thoughtless tweet or the whistle-blowing.)

People who think rationally, can hold a conversation and discuss and even argue topics in a civilised manner use the internet. So do cretins. And so do people who think rationally but prefer to behave like cretins.

I know this from experience.

I fit into the 'people who think rationally' category. Some may argue I occasionally stray into the 'people who think rationally but prefer to behave like cretins' category - but they're bloody idiots who ought to hang themselves they'd be mistaken, because I don't. When I'm wrong, or I've crossed the line, I will acknowledge the fact. I will step back. I will apologise when necessary. I will even change my opinion when evidence resulting from discussion and argument renders my opinion untenable.

I will, essentially, 'take responsibility' for my words and actions. It's a pity that not everybody does. That's why society seems to require whistle-blowers to 'dob' on rational people who behave like cretins - a category that includes corrupt cops and politicians as well as crooked CEOs of multinational corporations. Few people seem to respect whistle-blowers, unfortunately. Lots more people respect rational people who prefer to behave like cretins, especially when they get away with cretinous and illegal behaviour. But that's almost by-the-by.

I try to behave responsibly, and that's perhaps why I've never received what might be considered a 'torrent of online abuse'. I'm also not a 'celebrity'. Not a real one, who's rightfully earned fame and fortune by doing something significant and noteworthy through application of talent, creativity and hard work. And not a pretend one, who's earned the same by appearing on the kind of television or radio show designed to placate and keep docile both cretins and rational people who prefer to behave like cretins.

Cretins and rational people who prefer to behave like cretins have a history of turning on both real and pretend celebrities - the talented people, and the untalented people they'd previously helped celebrate. It's sad, but it happens. Not to me, of course. Although, if it ever did, I think I'd cope.

If any online interaction took place that I was even slightly uncomfortable with, that could not be mended with an apology, a retraction, a deletion of as many tweets, emails, online contacts and friendships as required, I'd still cope.

I have the good sense to turn off my computer or phone and walk away.

Even so, I still fail to see how receiving a 'torrent of abuse' lands you in hospital. At least, not without the installation of the 'Pummel You In The Side Of Your Head'™ app, which instantly converts an abusive tweet into a punch.

There still has to be a step between the receipt of torrents of abuse, and the hospitalisation. There has to be a 'self-harm' stage, and a 'calling the ambulance' stage before the admission to hospital stage.

Except, that's the thing, isn't it: there doesn't have to be a 'calling the ambulance stage' unless there's a 'self-harm' stage. And there aren't any apps created to automate those processes, either.

So there doesn't have to be a self-harm stage.

Although, it's not clear if there was a self-harm stage in Charlotte's case. That won't be made clear until the 60 Minutes interview, if at all. But if there wasn't, why and how did the 'torrent of online abuse' lead to 'hospitalisation'? Was this an elaborate hypothetical 'see what can happen, cretins' exercise? If it wasn't, please don't think I'm making light of someone being tormented to the point of self-harm. I'm not. I'm making fun of someone clever enough to rise to the level of 'celebrity' despite not having the smarts to disengage from the blogosphere.

It particularly irks me because there is more talk of closer policing of the internet and twitter and the like. It's not that bad behaviour ought to go unpunished - just that some behaviour would be less detrimental if we engaged with it less. In the case of the torrential abuse of Charlotte, was tweeting the crime? What about retweeting? What about printing copies of the tweets and the retweets? At what point did any of it become criminal activity rather than merely bad behaviour? Or 'journalism' rather than 'sensationalism' (ie, merely bad behaviour')? If they were always criminal activity, why did it take the hospitalisation of a not-bad-looking 'celebrity' for it to become a police matter? Why do rational people have to be affected by the bad behaviour of cretins and rational people who choose to behave like cretins?

Before the age of smart phones and laptops and the internet in every home, and before the age of far too many reality television shows and wall-to-wall not-too-bad-looking 'celebrities', abuse was less torrential. It wasn't cyber-bullying, it was proper bullying, delivered firsthand. I assume we all experienced it at one time or another. I was an overweight Italian kid who read books on the bus, so clearly I was fair game as 'the fat wog'. It hurt, but it didn't result in hospitalisation.

That's because of the fundamental truth: sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

It sounds corny, I know. More so, when chanted out loud at your would-be tormentor.

And even when, on the odd occasion, the verbal abuse escalated - via some shoving, no doubt - to fisticuffs, it still didn't result in hospitalisation. Is it because we were less molly-coddled back then? Was it because we knew what a punch felt like, having thrown and received them early on, that we learnt to avoid them soon after? Were we all just brought up better, by parents who automatically parented better? Maybe that's why the words hurt less than the sticks and stones, as well as why there were fewer sticks and stones. There were certainly fewer knifings and drive-by shootings, that's for sure.

Irrespective, the one place where torrents of abuse need not lead to hospitalisation is online. Because there is no 'Knife You Like A Coward While You're Trying To Talk Yourself Out Of A Fight'™ app, as surely as there is no 'Pummel You In The Side Of Your Head'™ app. Tweets don't hurt like sticks and stones, but when they become annoying, they can be avoided as surely as I can go through life avoiding reality television shows and the 'celebrities' they produce.

When it gets too much, turn the phone or the computer off, step away from the spotlight and talk to someone else about something else. (And by that, I don't mean 'sell your story to 60 Minutes'.) We all can take more responsibility for the stuff we do in life, on the television and online.


By all means, respond to this blog post if you must, but rest assured, I will not read your comments until after I've called the ambulance, been hospitalised, had my stomach pumped, been assured that downing a massive jar of Jelly Belly jelly beans is not fatal (hasn't been ever before, no reason for it to be now) and started to prepare for my 60 Minutes interview.

If you are truly troubled by things in life and talking to friends and family doesn't help, try health care alternatives. Start with your GP, Parish Priest, community leader or LifeLine. Meanwhile, don't send tweets like these: