Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


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Published: Irish Tatler, Winter 2016

Oh, shut up

shhh edit
Are you bored with social media? Are you fed up with the moaners, the narcissists, the over-sharers and keyboard warriors who populate your online feeds? The self-promoters who can’t break wind without tweeting to congratulate themselves? Well listen up. I may have found a solution.

Oh, Shut Up! is an exciting new app I’ve just developed. Simply download it to your laptop, tablet or mobile device and, whenever anyone you know posts anything, on any social media platform, it will simply reply “Oh, shut up” on your behalf, leaving you free to go windsurfing, horse-riding and all that other fun stuff you’ve seen in tampon commercials.

These days my relationship with social media could be described as “It’s complicated.” Whereas once my social media friends’ sparkling repartee made me swoon, recently, I’ve experienced somewhat of a seven year itch. Nowadays I can only fixate upon their most annoying habits. Chief among these, the relish with which they take loud offense, on a daily basis, at trivial shit that really shouldn’t concern them.

Until recently in our society, prissy and judgemental behaviour generally earned a person ridicule. One thinks of Mary Whitehouse (“Ban this filth!”), The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy (“Won’t somebody please think of the children?”), and the guy with too much free time who calls Liveline to complain every time someone’s dog takes a shit in his front garden. (“It’s a disgrace, Joe.”)

But with the advent of social media, that playbook flipped. Rather than being mocked or scorned, people who aired trivial grievances about issues that impacted their lives received kudos, in the form of likes and retweets from strangers. Intoxicated, they began to reach farther and farther afield finding new issues to be offended about. Issues, increasingly, that didn’t actually impact on their own lives in any way. Over time, it became a daily ritual.

People began to lose perspective. An Irish writer posts on his own Facebook page about a national tragedy in a manner that is, arguably, a tad misjudged? All hands on Tweetdeck! A Sky Sports reporter accidentally refers to a big Croke Park decider as “the All-England final”? Burn the witch! Some kid in Texas gets sent home from school because his class project was mistaken for a bomb? Code red! Code red! Cancel all leave!

It’s not the rights or wrongs of any one specific controversy that bothers me. It’s the fact that there exists this vast, vengeful, self-appointed vigilante force of online busybodies whose beat is everywhere, whose purview is everything, whose regard for due process is nil, and whose real world expertise is precisely zilch.

Here’s how your average Twitter storm tends to play out in real time…

9.30am. Unnamed employee at Timbuktu Municipal Zoo is reported to have reversed a Land Rover over a penguin.

9.46am. Story goes viral internationally.

10.12am. Twitter users adopt photos of Pogo the Penguin as their avatars. #hisnamewaspogo trends worldwide.

10.30am. Zoo fires employee.

10.46am. The backlash against the backlash begins. The online mob turns on itself. Twitter users whose initial reactions to Pogo’s death weren’t sufficiently on point, or whose tweets weren’t sufficiently sensitive to the needs of penguins, or zoo keepers, or Land Rovers, now become the targets of round after round of further vitriol.

Lunchtime: The Guardian publishes a long think piece titled “We need to talk about the wider standards and practices in the Timbuktu Zoological Department.” No one reads it. The feeding frenzy has abated. The circus has moved on.

That timeline is worth noting. Twitter storms rarely, if ever, happen in the evenings or on weekends. They almost always occur during the working day. And that’s the central irony here. The people who find themselves at the centre of these storms of online criticism are almost always hapless sorts who simply screwed up in doing their job, as any of us might. But the people sitting in judgement on this person are, almost always, people who are skiving off from theirs.

It really is time someone told these people to put a sock in it, to get down off their high horses and learn a little humility. And you know what? There’s an app for that.

December 29th, 2016.

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