Last night I was somewhat surprised to see Douglas Carswell, the only UKIP MP, on Newsnight again commenting on Inheritance Tax; a subject that I don’t really remember UKIP campaigning on in the election. This made me wonder why he was asked to take part in that debate as I’m sure I’ve seen him on Newsnight a few times since the election, more times that you would imagine for a single MP when there’s 649 more to choose from. So I wrote a tweet asking why UKIP gets so much coverage when UKIP has such a small share of the house of commons.
Surprisingly I got a retweet from Douglas Carswell himself. And then it started, a flood of responses from Carswell’s followers. It began pretty much immediately after the retweet and was continuing at 12.00 today. Now they were all very polite, essentially, though some might have been a bit forthright. But their point was, largely, all the same: that Carswell is the only representative of 4 million people who voted UKIP. And I find myself agreeing with that point as Caroline Lucas is the only representative of over a million Green voters in the UK. I don’t see Caroline Lucas on one in four of the times Carswell is on Newsnight. At one point I suggested we could have a quarter of Caroline Lucas at the same time.
My tweet generated more replies than ever before (even more than the one last week when I said I was happy to pay for my TV license despite only watching online). So for the last twelve hours my Twitter app has been busy with hundreds of replies from people, all making the same point, and I’ve not been able to see tweets directed at me for other purposes.
This reminds me of the technique used to temporarily attack web sites known as Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS. In this case many computers are linked together, automatically, to send continued log in requests in such numbers that they overwhelm the web site so that the servers can’t cope with the traffic. Of course my Twitter account wasn’t shut down but it did stop me seeing other messages that I only discovered later.
Douglas Carswell could have replied himself about the 4 million voters and I would have been forced to agree, as I feel the same way about the Greens. But no, he told all his followers with the, implicit, invitation for them to become involved. This is the internet equivalent of shouting someone down.
Twitter can be quite a brutal place, as I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks and I suspect I’ve touched a chord in each of these cases. Poor old Mary Beard suffered terribly just for not being glamorous enough, Caroline Criado-Perez had rape threats for campaigning for Jane Austen to appear on £10 notes and Stephen Fry takes frequent breaks from Twitter when the abuse gets too much. Granted it is all too easy to lose your cool and forget that you’re in a public place (an argument for gun control if ever I heard one). However, I think there’s a difference when a professional politician could reply with a single fact that he represents 4 million voters and end the debate there, but instead that politician knows he has an angry mob at his disposal and invites all 36 thousand of them to become involved.
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