Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bully for you...

One of the nice things about doing this blog is that I do get some very supportive comments; often from people I don't even know.

'Course, they're not always supportive, but that's fine: if anything, I'm a little surprised I've attracted so little opprobrium so far – I have been pretty glib about a subject about which people are somewhat sensitive, although I suppose that as I do have cancer myself, I also get use of the subject-specific Get Out Of Jail Free Card.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about post-radiation fatigue, about being tired and being tired of being tired. It wasn't particularly controversial, but it pulled in my first negative comment on the blog's version – along the lines that the commenter was himself too busy to be tired, with a subtext of "pull yourself together and stop whining". Fair enough: I'd spoken, someone spoke back, and it was published. Fine by me.

Doing anything in public these days is an interactive process, or should be: if I open my laptop and let my keyboard rattle, I can only expect to get a reaction, and it needn't be a positive one. I'm cool with that, and I don't even get paid for doing this: I do it to amuse, to raise money for the Beatson, and because I'm a great big show-off. In the paid part of my career I've attracted much worse, including abuse, legal threats, and the offer of a kicking from a now quite-famous TV comedian (which I might tell you about one day if I can work out a way of doing so without having to see a lawyer).

Anyway, if you do make your living by being in the public eye, you are absolutely fair game: you use the media, you need to be prepared to be slagged off in the media, and be aware that these days, the media is everywhere and accessible to everyone. That's the Deal.

Or No Deal, as weirdly-coiffed TV buffoon Noel Edmonds seems to think.

Edmonds, you see, has declared himself "incredulous" to find that someone set up a Facebook page called "Somebody please kill Noel Edmonds". Now, this is the man behind Crinkly Bottom, Mr Blobby, and endless TV practical jokes, so we know he has no actual sense of humour but, still, you'd have thought someone in the self-satisfied talent-vacuum's entourage would have taken him aside for a minute and explained that a Facebook page of this nature is really just the online equivalent of screaming at the telly, with a cuddly social dimension thrown in, and not an incitement to murder.

Apparently not. The precious 70s throwback felt he was being cyber-bullied. He considered going to the police, he claimed, but told the Mail On Sunday (privately, I assume?) that he didn't want to ruin some young person's life with a criminal record and decided instead to confront him face to face. So, using just the bare resources available to a multi-millionaire media star, Edmonds hired an online security firm to track some daylight-averse PhD student down to his university, which he then contacted demanding a meeting with this hapless soul in exchange for not going to the cops. The poor sod apparently turned up terrified, with his girlfriend and sister in tow, to humbly grovel his remorse to the beardmeister.

The thing is, we're living in a time when the media and the public are effectively merging. We can all publish, we can all broadcast – social media has made it possible. But there remains a kind of celebrity who thinks he has the right to use this media-public amalgam to pick up all the praise and cash it brings, but can back off with a wounded expression when his two-headed benefactor wants something back.

Take charming, floppy-haired commercial sex enthusiast Hugh Grant. I'm not suggesting for a minute that just because he has used the limelight as much to promote his own ends as he has been forced into it, it was OK that he had his phone hacked by the tabloids. Just that he can't occupy any kind of moral high-ground without skidding off it in a cascade of his own slime. He's done the Deal.

As has the far less obnoxious but still quite self-centredly whiny Radio Five Live presenter Richard Bacon, who got to bring a bit of non-journalism to BBC Three recently in which he spun an hour's telly out of confusing some offensive Facebook material directed at him and his family with the genuine problems of real-life cyber-bullying and RIP trolling.

Bullying is a serious matter which makes thousands of teenagers truly miserable and causes deaths each year; cyber-bullying is that perennial problem on a different platform and is no better or worse for being electronic. RIP trolling is the weird practice of putting abusive messages on tribute pages to the dead, and is simply cruel to the vulnerable. The hurt feelings of an overly-precious radio presenter don't really compare to either.

Which brings me back to Edmonds. Who exactly is the bully, here? The student who posts a joke Facebook page about killing a intensely annoying but ultimately irrelevant public figure, or the very rich man who uses the threat of law and cyber-security companies to track down and terrify that student, force an apology, and then take the tale to the press himself?

I think the online community has already come up with the answer to that. A quick search on Facebook this afternoon reveals that while a page called "Noel Edmonds fan page" has 84 likes, another called "Noel Edmonds is a Twat" has 322.

Actually, it now has 323. I couldn't help myself.


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