Trial by Fury?

Posted on November 15, 2009

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Yet another esteemed commentator has jumped on the bandwagon of condemning the ability of the internet to whip up feelings amongst the general public about one topic or another. Dominic Sandbrook, an historian who I greatly admire, has used his column in the New Statesman to speak out against the opportunities offered by the internet for ‘trial by fury’.

He suggests that blogs and Twitter are the new purveyors of ‘mob violence’, and complains of the difficulties in distinguishing between spontaneity and co-ordination through this medium. Admitting that many people would have been offended by Jan Moir and her thoughts on the death of Stephen Gately- the stock example for many at the moment, it seems- he asks the question: “But how many read her column only after they had heard about it on Twitter, and how many complained only after they had read the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker?”

So what? If the internet allows social networking sites and commentators to highlight ignorance and prejudice and quash it, then I for one am pleased. I have gone into this before, and do not intend to again. Sandbrook, Cohen et al should give the public some credit, and allow them to make up their own minds, rather than demonise the circulation of news and opinions on the internet as a chance for troublemakers to whip up a stir about irrelevant things. In aiding the spread of information and opinions, and offering people the chance to make up their own mind, the internet is a valuable democratic asset. It is tenuous at best to compare it to the ‘blood-hungry mob of ancient Rome’. Calm down, man.

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Posted in: Issues, Media