Last Thursday morning, I got called some names I haven’t been on the receiving end of since I left school. Actually, the expletives weren’t the hurtful thing – it’s that they were attached to the word ‘racist’.
For a morning, I was repeatedly accused of being exactly that. And it all came down to something that – I now acknowledge unwisely – I posted on Twitter. It really isn’t a very nice feeling.
I’d seen on the news that, ahead of the Euro 2012 football tournament, UEFA President Michel Platini had reacted to the news that a black footballer, Italy’s marvellous Mario Balotelli, had threatened to walk off the pitch mid-game if he was subjected to racist abuse from a crowd (Poland and Ukraine, which are hosting the tournament together, have been accused of having the most racist football fans in Europe). Platini had told the media that if a player did what Balotelli was suggesting, he should be punished by the referee with a yellow card. Now, at best this was just the most graceless interpretation of the rules of football I’d ever heard, but at worst, this was Platini basically saying ‘racism is part of football, deal with it.’ It felt like a massive shrug of his suited shoulders on a really important issue, and it made me mad.
I recognise that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I also recognise (now), that the things you post on twitter can be mis-read. So what I posted that morning was not smart:
‘Michel Platini is right. Racism’s just a part of football. These black players are taking liberties wanting their basic human rights respected.’
Funny stuff, right? Well, I guess if I delivered that line to you, with the right emphases, you’d probably smile or at least recognise that I was attempting to make a point through humour. You would realise that this was sarcasm. Not so however, if I tweeted it…
Because the words ‘Michel Platini’ were trending at the time, a LOT of people saw that tweet. The majority of people – I think – understood that I was making a point AGAINST Platini’s attitude. However, a considerable number of people didn’t read it that way. And they got angry. And they told me so.
‘Moron’ and ‘Neanderthal’ are two of the names that I’m prepared to repeat. Most of the others weren’t in that category.
Meanwhile, lots and lots of people were spreading the tweet around. I have no idea whether the 100 or so people who retweeted the message did so because a) they liked the anti-racist sentiment, b) because they wanted to show all their followers what a racist pillock I was, or even c) because they agreed with what they perceived to be a racist sentiment(!) What I do know, however, is that the fire was well-and-truly stoked.
My heart raced as I read through my Twitter replies. To every offended person – many of whom were black – I fired off a genuine reply. Most were generous and gracious in their responses to me, although agreed that I’d expressed myself poorly. One man in particular refused to engage with my apologies – and I’d clearly made him very angry indeed. At this point, I began to wonder how many people had clicked to report me to Twitter…
Eventually, the anger subsided (and in fact, that very same day, this happened); every day since I’ve dealt with one or two aftershocks as people come across and mis-read the message late. Incredibly, I even had an email from Nick Ferrari’s LBC radio show yesterday, asking me if I’d go on and defend my position (I didn’t).
I’m sorry that I sent that tweet. It wasn’t particularly clever, it was born out of anger – which rarely ends well, and it was poorly expressed. As a result, I’ve learned a few lessons:
- Sarcasm and twitter do not always mix. Unless you’re going to make use of the dreaded emoticon, it’s hard to make crystal clear to your readers that you’re not serious. On which note…
- We should all heed Poe’s law, which states “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” This Internet wisdom was coined by Nathan Poe on a Christian website in 2005, and do you know what? He was right.
- Twitter is not always the place for biting political commentary. Or indeed, putting your point across clearly.
And most importantly…
- Think before you tweet something that might cause offence. That’s not really for you – it’s for me. People are sensitive, and that’s often not a fault.
Michel Platini was a plonker for communicating himself so poorly. For one morning however, I made exactly the same mistake. Is Platini a racist? Who am I to judge? For a while there, people were levelling that very accusation at me.