Sunday, 2 February 2014

Do U even twitter bro?

New Zealand commercial radio is a strange and lawless place. Our Prime minister adores it and is far more likely to be answering questions about whether he prefers vegemite or marmite on a classic hits breakfast show than he is discussing charter schools on our chronically underfunded yet vaguely intelligent public broadcast news programs. Breakfast shows offer listeners the chance to win divorces, wives (not at the same time) and drivetime noodleheads appear in Pride parades after losing bets on-air. As you can imagine many of these professional journalists have their own twitter accounts, and I enjoy not following any of them on my timeline.

This evening, a young purveyor of opinion by name of Polly Gillespie, whose twitter bio invites us to listen to her on the breakfast show on ZM, as well as her columns in that august organ Women's Day, tweeted
Now, twitter is a strange and terrible beast. You only have 140 characters to get across your thought. This thought, hashtag and all, looks racist. If I need to unpack why then you're probably reading the wrong blog.

Naturally, the idea of someone hating on Asians wishing to visit New Zealand's most famous beach that isn't ninety miles long being espoused by a national radio presenter is rather concerning and I could help but wonder what her employers ZM and Women's Day might think about this. The more I read her feed however, the righteous leftie anger turned to a kind of pitying rage. When called on her missive by the twitter populace, her responses ranged from:

(apparently tweeting racist things is fine if you're a fan of reality TV)

(because the best way to react when being called out is with smilies and referring to social media buttons as twins)

(because calling out racism makes you creepy weirdo. Like that Mandela guy)

Over the course of many emoticons, kisses and indignation later it transpired that our heroine had been watching Piha Rescue and was concerned about the perceived high number of Asian people who seemed to need rescuing on the show. Her tweet was actually a suggestion that all visitors to our shores should be properly educated in surf safety lest they require the services of the brave men and women of Surf Rescue.
This fascinates me because the woman is a professional journalist. Regardless of how quality you may consider those outlets to be, she has at some point I am sure attended at least a couple of night classes on writing things and then saying them out loud to people. Surely, surely at some point the idea that using something like twitter to make a comment that absolutely does not work out of context (and barely works within it if I'm honest, but I'm trying to be nice) was discussed and it was explained why it would be phenomenally stupid to do so?

As I type this Ms Gillespie (Wife, mummy, dork) is describing her detractors as "crazy" (oh dear) and retweeting all the other watchers of Piha Rescue who, like, totally got what she meant. At present neither ZM or Women's Day haven't said whether they think their star presenter/columnist is actually very racist, or only slightly racist and very naive, but I'd hope they'd at least be having a please explain meeting tomorrow morning.

There's a lesson here for all of us, regardless of whether we earn our crust being a professional minor celeb or merely use twitter to post pictures of cats. Your 140 characters ARE your context. If you don't want to sound like a racist, don't write something that looks racist.

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