This article was first published here in Australian Presbyterian
Laura Tingle and The Twitterisation of Society
This week I was reminded of just what a cesspit Twitter is. So what? Those of you who are on Twitter or know it, will be well aware of what is involved. Others will think it doesn’t really matter. After all, only one in 5 of the 68% of the Australian population who are on social media, are on Twitter. Facebook has 16 million users, Twitter 4 million. Although 40% of Twitter users only use it less than once per week. And Twitter has a high drop off rate – 31% in 2018. So, does it really matter what is said on Twitter? Why should we be concerned about it?
Let me tell you the story. I noticed a tweet from someone called Laura Tingle which referenced an article she had written which implied that Kevin Rudd, had played a part in procuring more and earlier Pfizer vaccines for Australia. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-11/kevin-rudd-australia-covid-pfizer-vaccine-supply-senior-execs/100284902?utm_campaign=news-article-share-control&utm_content=twitter&utm_medium=content_shared&utm_source=abc_news_web
I didn’t know who Laura was and just tweeted in response the correction that Pfizer offered, denying this report. Laura responded. And then the floodgates opened. Laura has over 192,000 followers and many of them were unhappy at my intervention and expressed that unhappiness in no uncertain terms.
The Twitterisation and Politicisation of journalism.
Much of journalism has ceased to be about reporting news. And journalists like Laura Tingle are more political propagandists than they are news journalists. This was an article full of anonymous sources with a leaked letter from Kevin Rudd. The clear implication of the article was that Mr Rudd and anonymous businessmen were the people really responsible for bringing forward ‘millions of Pfizer vaccine doses”. Ms Tingle is a noted opponent of Scott Morrison and clearly saw the opportunity to have a dig at him by using Mr Rudd – who, going by his own Twitter accounts, seems to have a personal vendetta which seems to border on obsession with Mr Morrison. One disturbing aspect of this is that Laura Tingle is employed by the ABC and as such is bound by law to be non-political. For the ABC’s political editor to take such an overtly partisan, political stance is something that borders on the illegal and is certainly unjust, dishonest and immoral.
With the advent of social media, internet conspiracy theories, and multiple sources of fake news, it is more essential than ever that traditional media retain a degree of objectivity and political neutrality – especially when it is paid for by the taxpayer. Sadly, instead of traditional media being a mediating force for social media, it seems as though it has worked the other way round. Journalism has become more like Twitter – political, emotional, abusive, and dumbed down.
Truth and Logic are Trumped by Feelings and Personal Politics.
Pfizer’s statement was clear –“”Recent media reports suggesting that any third party or individual has had any role in contractual agreements reached between Pfizer and the Australian Government are inaccurate. The only two parties involved in these agreements are Pfizer and the Australian Government. Pfizer is committed to delivering 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Australia over 2021. All discussions on supply and procurement with the Federal Government are led by Pfizer representatives in Australia.”
But rather than admit an error in her story Laura Tingle responded with this simple tweet: “No one has suggested Kevin Rudd was involved in “contractual agreements”. Yet the article she had written included the letter leaked from Kevin Rudd speaking of how he discussed “current contractual arrangements” and how he spoke of the needs for a ‘further formal contractual request’. Given that it is impossible to get vaccines without contracts, Laura was of course writing about Mr Rudd being involved in contractual arrangements. The attempt to avoid the message of her own article by playing with words is embarrassing. It reminds me of the time when a minister denied that he had said a fellow minister had committed adultery. What he said was technically true, he had not used the words ‘he has committed adultery’, but he had said, ‘he had an affair’. Spot the difference! This kind of dishonesty and manipulation is appalling. But apparently on social media you can get away with it – and even be admired for it. Laura’s disingenuous tweet was liked or passed on by more than 2,500 of her followers.
Remember that Laura is a respected journalist who was the political editor of the Australian Financial Review and is currently a chief political correspondent for the ABC. The fact that someone in such a senior position, paid for by the taxpayer, is prepared to be ‘economical with the truth’ to this degree, is profoundly disturbing.
Twitter is the New Mob
Twitter likes to claim that it is opposed to hate speech, but they use those words in an Orwellian sense. Misgender someone and you are banned. But you are perfectly free to abuse and mock those who do not share the ‘progressive agenda’. In my conversation with Laura Tingle and her followers I made no mention of religion or anything to do with Christianity. Nonetheless I received a significant amount of anti-Christian abuse. Ie. “”Evangelist” ???? Says it all really Have to use some Sky Fairy as a crutch to get you though life – pathetic You will believe anything”. And there were the usual conspiracy theorists – “Are u working with the PMs church? If yes, why wouldn’t u declare a conflict of interest in this convo? & are u vaccinated? If yes what vaccine”. I don’t blame Laura for these, but I do blame her for not disavowing them. Politicians (and Laura is really a politician who uses journalism to further her own political causes) of both right and left, need to be careful about feeding the Twitter mob and using them as attack dogs.
Unlike the mostly anonymous keyboard warriors who bravely spew forth their venom, I don’t hide behind anonymity. But I’ve had to change my Twitter description from “My name is David Robertson and I am currently working in Australia with Sydney churches as an evangelist“. The word ‘evangelist’ essentially triggers a whole load of people who then think it gives them the right to pour forth their anti-Christian hatred – and I can do without the hassle. But let’s return to the original question.
Why does this matter?
Apart from the disturbing revelation about that state of some journalism in this country (reflected in other countries as well), there is a deeper concern. Twitter is inhabited largely by our cultural elites – politicians, journalists, celebrities, and academics. Many of whom seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking that Twitter is the real world – and therefore they base their views and policies on what they get from the platform.
For example, have you got the impression that the English football fans have a significant problem with racism? Why? The media headlines, and questions in parliament are all based upon a lie. It is true that some black England players were disgracefully attacked on Twitter. But do you know how many? Gareth Southgate, the intelligent and balanced England football manager, noted that 70% of offensive tweets were from abroad. BBC Newsnight reported that in a survey 59 Instagram abuse accounts were from abroad and 5 were from the UK. The campaign group, Hope not Hate, analysed 585,000 social media posts and found that only 2,114 were negative (0.36%), and of them only 44 (0.0075%) were racist. So on that basis, the UK is described as a systemically racist country! The irony is that those who really are racists get a lot of free PR and encouragement from the virtue signalling politicians who just can’t be bothered thinking for themselves or examining the data.
The trouble is that this kind of data is rarely used. We are simply given a binary choice – either you accept that English fans are deeply racist, or you are a racist; either you accept that Kevin Rudd got lots of new vaccines or you are a Morrison apologist who is also probably a far right fascist!
The lesson for us in the Church is this. Don’t take your reality from social media (or increasingly mainstream media) and don’t be intimidated by the mob. I have changed my Twitter profile, not because I believe that Australians as a whole are systemically anti-Christian, but because a significant number of those who inhabit the surreal world of Twitter – are. As the media world becomes more like Twitter, those of us who know the reality of Christ, need to ensure that we get our truth from him – and not allow ourselves to be deluded by a world which seems to be in the grip of the Father of Lies. We must learn to put on the armour of Christ, and not fight with the weapons of this world. The rulers of this earth conspire and band together against Christ. But the One enthroned in heaven laughs. (Psalm 2).
After I wrote this article I came across something similar from Douglas Murray – https://unherd.com/2021/07/how-twitter-ruined-everything/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups=18743&tl_period_type=3&mc_cid=037766631d&mc_eid=a7c8301289
Murray sums it up neatly – “Twitter has become not just a megaphoning platform, but a distorting one, and the distortion continues to have a toxic impact on real life.”
From a Christian perspective this article from Carl Trueman is excellent for helping us get the wider picture – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/live-marxs-world-now/