Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Heightened passions on Twitter - in defence of @pennyred

Giving away as little detail as possible “otherwise I'd have to kill you”, columnist and socialist activist Laurie Penny posted a job opportunity on her blog for a researcher to help her with her upcoming book.

By tweeting a link to the job description, in what may seem like an inoffensive use of social media to promote an offer, she sparked the fuse of right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes, who pounced at the chance to launch a vicious attack on the journalist.

A combined Twitter following of over 30,000 users witnessed yesterday's contemptuous exchange, which prompted emotional responses from supporters on either side.

And although I have no doubt that this made for an interesting Tuesday morning for the thousands of people sitting in front of a screen retweeting the spat, no one appears to have realised that had this occurred as a shouting match in an office, not only would they both have lost their jobs, but Fawkes would have been quite rightly villainised and reprimanded for his despicable lack of respect for a fellow journalist.

Having been a victim of cyberbullying myself, I am quick to condemn the actions of anyone cowardly enough to frantically bash away at a keyboard with the sole purpose of demonising someone else, which Fawkes undoubtedly did in his blog post 'Sexist Laurie Penny Exploits Unemployed, Pays Staff Below Minimum Wage', claiming that it was hypocritical of her to offer £500 for a month's part-time work.

What Fawkes seems to ignore is that the reality of the journalism and publishing industries make it as easy – if not easier – to fill such a position calling it an 'unpaid internship'. Had Penny not “passionately disapproved” of such tactics, she could have saved herself the money and got the work done anyway.

Putting aside the merits of the argument – unarguably initiated by Fawkes – the reaction on Twitter was perfectly encapsulated by media lawyer David Allan Green, who posted: “*munches popcorn whilst watching @guidofawkes and @PennyRed *”.

Despite Penny's relentless defence of her arguments, the insults kept coming, both on her Twitter stream and her blog.

The government defines bullying as including “abuse, physical or verbal violence, humiliation and undermining someone's confidence”. Yet there is no mention of cyberbullying other than in relation to teenagers.

Whether Penny felt humiliated or victimised is besides the point. A personal attack on the character of a person in front of tens of thousands of people is not an attitude that would be tolerated in any other walk of life.

Social networks are not soap operas with scripts of 140 characters, but interactions of real people in real time. Tragically, our society seems to have quickly become conditioned to see usernames as anonymous entities with no feelings or personalities behind them.

Luckily, Penny seemed unperturbed by the exchange. Let's just hope that next time Fawkes wakes up in in a particularly venomous mood, he doesn't choose to pick on someone with less of a thick-skin. Then again, maybe that's the only way we will ever wake up to the pitfalls of our abhorrent lack of sensitivity when it comes to online communication.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Loud and Clear

Dear Readers,

For no particular reason, my blog has now been subtly rebranded from Today Through My Eyes, to Loud and Clear: Today Through My Eyes.

It came to me in a flash of “inspiration” during my last week of an unpaid internship at the New Statesman which I have worked day and night (well, maybe not day and night, but definitely all trading hours) at a shoe shop in order to afford.

You will be pleased to know that my talents for envelope stuffing and transcription have been greatly nurtured, so if anyone is in the position to pay actual money for such services please do contact me immediately. Alternatively, if you would like to donate to charity, my bank details are available on request.

Much love,

Sirena xxx

Friday, 7 January 2011

Pick a future. Now!

When I was fourteen I wanted to be an astronaut. Actually, I wanted to be a journalist pretty much since I learnt to spell my name but that could have been plausible. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I walked into a class full of 14-year-olds and the girls said they wanted to be Lady GaGa and the boys Christiano Ronaldo.

As much as I would discourage such role models, aiming high and pursuing dreams – as far-fetched as they may be – is a crucial part of being young.

By the time you're 16 (and it wasn't that long ago for me), the pressure is mounting. Every day is a whirlwind of responsibilities, commitments and decisions you don't want to have to make.

This is why I have always opposed the UK education system which forces teenagers to decide st such as age, ruled often by hormones, to pick a path and stick to it for the rest of their lives.

Former education secretary Estelle Morris suggests that if students take their GCSEs at the age of 14 rather than 16 they will stay in school longer as they will have four years, rather than just two, in which to specialise.

I was never forced to make that choice, because I went to school in Spain, where you take around seven A Levels, four of which are obligatory subjects. For your other three you can choose between four groups of modules: arts, science, social sciences or humanities. Like most other people with the math skills of a linguist, I opted for humanities.

At the time, the idea of studying Ancient Greek, Latin and Art History seemed about as interesting to me as spending my Saturday nights writing political commentary. But I was sixteen, what did I know?

In retrospect, the Spanish system – despite the bitterness I felt at having to study subjects I hadn't the least interest in at the time - has stood me in good stead, giving me a thorough grounding in core subjects which I may never have chosen.

The idea that at sixteen you are prepared to narrow your choices down and completely limit your future is preposterous. But the idea of doing it at fourteen is a joke.

School is not supposed to be fun. It’s hard work and often tear-jerkingly dull, but once we’ve experienced what it means to study all different types of subjects, we will be ready to make a decision about a university degree based on a true understanding of our own talents and weaknesses - rather than a teenage whim.