Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

FA planning sinister brain implants

In Satire, Sport on October 12, 2012 at 1:30 PM

St George’s Park, the new £105m national football training centre, is secretly being used to pioneer brain implants to administer to prospective England players, TAY can exclusively reveal.

The centre is intended to be a world-class training facility to identify and train talent at all ranks of English football.

But our reporter, at the launch this week, exposed the shocking true motives for the centre, secretly recording a conversation between two scientists.

While collecting a stray ball from a journalists’ kickabout, he heard voices speaking through the wall and, as anyone good journo would do, listened in, excusing himself from the kickabout when he started to hear scandalous revelations on the centre’s true purpose.

One man speaking on the taped conversation revealed: “The money is just a ruse. Do you really think you need a hundred million bloody pounds to build some football pitches, a canteen and some jacuzzis?! I mean it’s nice, but c’mon…”

He went on to explain to another man, seemingly a new recruit to the project, how the real purpose was for the development of sinister new monitoring of players’ behaviour and lifestyle, with the intention of using findings for behavioural therapy to ameliorate the much damaged view of footballers, football authorities and the English national team.

And, in shocking revelations, he even claimed some players might be subject to new brain implants (which leave football ability intact) that they are very close to having pioneered, which make players less troublesome and more compliant.

The news follows the unveiling of a new code of conduct for current England players – a response to recent scandal surrounding the investigations into John Terry’s alleged racism, and social media hysteria about selection policy

He explained: “Think about it – we’ve been mediocre as a footballing force for so long that people are kind of resigned to that.

“Just get to some quarter finals and unluckily go out on penalties, get the odd big win against the Frogs or the Krauts and, especially with the success of the Premier League, we can just about kid ourselves we’re still a major international force, just perennially unlucky –despite the fact that supposed misfortune would surely have averaged out over THIRTY-SIX BLOODY YEARS [the time since England last won a major tournament]…

“No, what people are really so disillusioned about is this mediocrity compounded with players who are, or at least they think to be, c***s.”

He explained how, as with film stars and rock stars, no one really cares if their heroes are “wankers” so long as they are talented, indeed that it can actually boost the appeal, but the same decadent traits are poisonous when married to the “unrelenting mediocrity of English football we are bombarded with ”.

He added that the success of the Olympics – “decent people doing well” – great as it was, exacerbated the problem.

All Under-19 England players will undergo several “media training” sessions – some personal, some as a team – and a thorough ‘personality test’, under the auspices of beneficial career advice and determining suitable roommates.

But the actual primary purpose of these measures is to determine the extent of the need for behavioural therapy for players, or even brain implants, to ultimately avoid scandal for the FA (apparently not so much the players themselves, though – “if the media wasn’t on our backs like fucking leeches, we wouldn’t really give a shit what trouble some idiot from Salford does”).

The FA declined to comment.


We imagined what the test might look like:

1. Which most accurately describes your leisure activities?

A. Visiting art galleries, watching arthouse films, salsa.

B. Meeting mates, seeing the family, watching TV, playing Call of Duty and FIFA.

C. Getting drunk with the lads.

D. Chirpsing, cotchin’ and getting crunk.


2. Imagine, if you are not anyway, that you are single and in a club with your teammates. An attractive but clearly quite drunk young lady walks up to you and praises you for your performance in your last match. Do you?

A. Thank the young lady and converse with the young lady, finding out what she is like and what she does, but making it clear to her that if she has any “amorous intentions” she will disappointed. This is because you have a rule against that kind of thing when you are “dragged along” to a club by your teammates, due to the “fleeting and sordid” nature of such alcohol-influenced attachments and the perils of the “vulture-ish media and prying eyes of the public” damaging the image of the game.

B. Talk to the girl, end up kissing her and swapping numbers – but making it clear that, while you like her, you won’t take it any further until you’ve seen her a few more times and gained her trust because, “unfortunately”, you are wary of, as a time before, pictures and stories splashed in the tabloids. (Partly a genuine worry; partly a subtle request to her to be discreet).

C. Chat the girl up, end up going home with her (with your trusted cabbie, of course), while demanding several times she doesn’t sell her story to “those fucking scummy hacks”.

D. Start flirting outrageously with her from the off, aiming to be in the club toilets with her within five minutes.


3. Which of the below most accurately describes your views on gay marriage?

A. Passionately in favour. Love is beautiful thing and, in a true democracy, should be allowed to flourish by anyone fortunate enough to be blessed by it.

B. In favour. Don’t see a reason gay people shouldn’t be allowed to be as miserable as the rest of us.

C. Errrrm, ok, as long as they shove it anyone’s faces.

D. Weird. What’s wrong with pussy, man?! And won’t this means that AIDS will spread…


4. Which of the below most accurately describes your views on the EU?

A.  In favour. It has its negatives but the aim of greater political and economic consensus is a noble, and generally beneficial, one.

B. Dunno really. It’s a tough one. I hear it creates a lot of business, but it’s bloody expensive and they have some stupid regulations.

C.  It’s bollocks. Too many bloody foreign bureaucrats meddling in our business, and getting paid loads for it too.

D. The what?! Oh yeah, that thing…errr, I don’t really do politics, geez.


5. Which of the below most accurately describes your current relationship status?

A. Blissfully in love.

B. Single and looking for a relationship if you find the right person OR been going out with someone for a while and it’s going pretty well; just taking each day as it comes.

C. Single; you want to have fun while you’re young.

D. ‘On the prowl’


6. A bloke comes up to you in a club, clearly pissed, fairly aggressive saying you were “shit” last week. Do you…

A. Try to engage the chap in a epistemological discussion on the nature of perception, of which you believe society, and it seems him, has an overly restrictive view.

B. Admit that it wasn’t your best game, but state you will put it right next game.

C. Proudly defend yourself by citing your record of goals and assists record for that season.

D. Declare that the man is “talking shit”, list all your footballing and sexual achievements, and then aggressively question what said man has ever done with his life, while preparing yourself for a possible fight.


7. Football is…

A. A wonderful pastime which brings people together and fosters togetherness and inclusion between different people.

B. Dunno. Never really thought about it. A good game, I suppose.

C. A great sport, and cracking banter with the lads.

D. Something to show your tekkers and pull the honeyz.


8. Your fairly serious girlfriend confesses to you that she has been seeing another man for a while but that it is over, she regrets and still loves you. Do you?

A. Thank her for her honesty and sincerity; state that you are disappointed she broke your trust; discuss reasonably what led to her to the cheating; suggest how, despite no allusions to such from her, her actions represent a statement against the  “oppressive and outdated societal norm of monogamy”; and explore the possibility of an open relationship.

B. Call her a bitch, walk out of the room and say you need some time to think.

C. Call her a slut, leave the room slamming the door, call the lads for an emergency booze up and hit the town, aiming to pull a girl and send your (now undeniably ex-) girlfriend a spiteful picture message of the conquest (if fit enough to prove a point) in the morning.

D. Call her a “fuckin’ money-grabbing whore”, leave the room slamming the door, mouth off about her on several tweets tagging her and her friends (who you have had an eye on anyway) hoping for moral vindication, with a view to bedding said friends and sending your (now undeniably ex-) girlfriend – and everyone else –pictorial evidence of the revenge on social media.


9. Which of the below most accurately describes your diet?

A. I like to cook a wide range of foods from across the globe, so long as there’s no meat. I’m cooking a lot of Lebanese food at present.

B. Just normal stuff really. Try to eat healthy because of the job obviously; pasta, chicken, fish and stuff and I must admit some pizza and ready meals and stuff sometimes.

C. Whatever the woman cooks – or takeaways.

D. “The Holy Trinity” – Maccy D’s, Burger King and KFC.


10. Which of the below most accurately describes your view of the FA?

A. A bit bureaucratic and hierarchical, but generally for a noble purpose.

B. Good, I suppose.

C. Some of ‘em are decent, but a load of bloody jumped-up bureaucrats intruding in our business because they’re jealous they never had any tekkers.

D. Wankers; always complaining about me and fining me cos I speaks my mind and live my life.


11. Which of the below most accurately describes your taste in music?

A. Nu-jazz, pyschadelica, post-funk. Don’t like too much in the charts. World music and classical.

B. A bit of everything really. You listen to Radio 1 on the way to training.

C. Dance and rap mostly.

D. Rap and grime. You do your own raps actually.


12. You have just come in to your club to have a meeting with the manager and are told to wait in the little room outside his office. There is a selection of papers on the table. Do you?

A. Pick up The Guardian and start reading it front to back.

B. Have a quick scan of the front pages, then turn to the back pages and see what takes your interest.

C. Pick up The Sun, have a look at pages 1 and 3, then turn to the back page.

D. You don’t read papers as you don’t “do all that political shit” and “journalists are lying c***s”. Instead you are playing Angry Birds and messaging some ‘honeyz’.


13. Your club offers you a new contract and you think you deserve more than the than they offered. Do you?

A. Consider that money is only a means to an end, you are in a very privileged position, and you are happy with your life, so accept the contract while politely asking if the club can pay an extra £5,000 a week, which you feel you ‘deserve’, to charity in your and their name.

B. Discuss with your agent that it is not great, but that you are otherwise happy at the club and therefore resolve to go into further negotiations reasonably, with the idea that you will ultimately take the contract regardless.

C. Immediately get on the blower to your agent and express your displeasure and get him to say the “bloody pen-pushers” that a lot of other clubs would pay more…

D. Immediately call up the manager and start abusing him for his “disgrace of an offer” and bragging about your talents, tweet about your anger under the hashtag #disgrace, call up that journo friend of yours at The Sun to get the story out to attract potential buyers, and call up Fergie to see what he can offer you…


The results

Mostly As – Obviously a very cultured, politically engaged individual, and likely to deal with the viccisitudes of top-level football, and all the crap that goes with it, with equanimity many don’t possess. Only problem is, he might just be a bit too cultured and intellectual to really get on with his teammates if he makes it to England level.

Mostly Bs – No issues here; balanced in his opinions, level-headed enough to deal with the responsibility and potential pitfalls of fame, but not averse to a few laughs. Normal lad, all in all.

Mostly Cs – A bit gauche for some people, perhaps, but not a bad bloke. Potentially a bit rash in his judgements and decision-making, so could lead to a bit of media trouble, but should be ok with a bit of intensive “media training”.

Mostly Ds – An Ashley Cole in the making. Lobotomise the moron.

Joel Durston


An Inconvenient Necessity?

In Opinion on August 13, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you will be aware of the riots and their aftermath and the way they have been largely conducted over social media, for good and for ill.

I have already explained in a previous article, my idea that short, snappy soundbites that abound on social media sites largely foster a polarisation of public opinion (probably unintentionally). The good in the case of the riots is the proliferation of movements such as Riot Cleanup, Operation Cup Of Tea, Something Nice for Ashraf and Youth Against Violence, which aim to clear up the physical and metaphorical rubble. Alas, as much as these groups deserve more publicity than the bad, they are not nearly as controversial and in need of discussion.

The difficulty is what, if anything, to do about the fact that much of the criminal rioting was organised via social networks. Many rioters instantly (and selectively) communicated to friends the timings and whereabouts of the commotion, thus playing a large part in turning what was initially a small, localised demonstration into widespread civil disorder. In this manner, it is very similar to the Arab Spring, which spread exponentially with the help of social media after an equally particular catalyst (Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, in reaction to the confiscation of his goods and harassment and humiliation at the hands of officials).

While admitting social media can be used for ‘good’, Cameron asserted it can also be used for ‘ill’, such as the London riots which had been “organised via social media”. He also claimed and that the government was “working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”. To this end, Cameron and his cabinet have communicated with social media companies such as RIM (the company that produces Blackberrys), Facebook and Twitter regarding the possibility of shutting down networks in emergency circumstances. All the above responded co-operatively, expressing a willingness to at least discuss the matter. While nothing to this end has been implemented so far (and looks unlikely to in the immediate future given the dissipation of the current riots), the idea is a very real possibility for the future. This is given the companies’ express willingness to co-operate and statements from the Prime Minister, such as: ‘When people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them’. In a similar vein, the government may grant police greater freedom to remove scarves or hoods (so people may be identified by CCTV) and to stop and search.

This topical idea is very contentious because it is so intrinsically linked to the ever-controversial topic of civil liberties. Such curbing, even ‘denial’, of freedom of expression is always met with suspicion and condemnation in many quarters, and this situation is no different. The Open Rights Group – an organisation which aims to raise awareness of digital rights and civil liberties issues – has attacked the idea. Executive director Jim Killock claimed: “Clearly, a service will be used by people for legitimate activities, some of which will mitigate or deal with the problem encountered. In any case, innocent people should not be punished for the actions of others”. He furthered to declare the measures would be abused and generally “seized upon by oppressive governments to justify their own actions”. My posing of the issue on the aforementioned Youth Against Violence Facebook page was also met with disapproval, even vitriol: ‘helllll no’, ‘foolish’ etc. liberate? liberate?

So, on the surface at least, it seems like a somewhat scarily authoritarian idea. I, and I daresay nearly everyone else, is in general agreement with the right to freely express oneself, whether on social media, in person, on the phone or whatever. Indeed, this is a right is enshrined in the cornerstone of utopian governance – The UN Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’. This is all gravy, until it is seen to conflict with other freedoms set forth in the declaration, as it often is in the argument about what views on race/cultural heritage it is acceptable to air. An infamous case of this is the debate over whether BNP leader Nick Griffin should have been allowed to speak on Question Time (he eventually was). Some asserted that he was a legitimate party member with the freedom of expression to air his views. Others claimed that his ‘racist’ views would unduly infringe upon others’ freedoms – variously, rights to freedom of movement, equality, even ‘life, liberty and security of person’ through the supposed increased racial hatred/violence. The latter freedom is probably the most conflicting in the case of the riots.

Look beyond the admitted slippery slope to nightmarish visions of Orwellian societies, though, and Cameron certainly has a point. By nearly all accounts, the riots were largely organised by social media, and with a consequent alacrity and spontaneity that made them very, very hard to effectively police. Moreover, social media companies are suggesting that such widespread censorship is at least technically feasible. Essentially, if we ignore all undeniably sensible considerations of ethics/principles and ‘slippery slopes’ for just a second, the idea is practical and would in all likelihood be effective at quelling violence.

Furthermore, the argument can be cunningly flipped around; since these companies are private, their owners arguably have the freedom to choose when to temporarily shut them down, as they occasionally do for maintenance. I’m sure that’d be in the small print somewhere. Despite this idea, I’d still tend towards the theory that these measures would in principle represent an ‘infringement of civil liberties’ (‘opinions without interference… through any media and regardless of frontiers’ etc.). Nonetheless, I still support these measures….

...or, to censor?

...or, to censor?

Very few would argue these ideas are ideal, but we quite fucking obviously don’t live in an ideal society (nor world). We live in Britain; not Utopia, and a fractured Britain at that. In this undoubtedly volatile social context (the reasons for this are a different argument altogether), I’m not sure we can afford the privilege of absolute freedom of expression. The cycle works both ways, but I do think we need to show responsibilities to gain rights. Frankly, some have not shown responsibility by thieving plasma TVs, burning buildings and throwing bricks. The fact is a minority – a significant one, but a minority nonetheless – have committed acts considered by the majority (including myself) to be reprehensible and exacted upon innocent people. Surely, given this, the greater good is to do our upmost as a society to protect and help decent people and livelihoods such as the late Haroon Jahan and the burned Reeves Furniture Shop of Croydon. If the result for this is having to not Tweet or write typically pithy status updates for a few hours, then, personally, so fucking be it.

Similarly, I view increasingly stringent security and CRB checks as necessary; annoying, but necessary. Being what most would class as a ‘white middle class’ Brit, it is hard to realistically put myself in the position of ethnic minorities being consistently stopped and searched. Alike above, though, I would like to think I would have the sense of perspective to see the police officers were merely stopping me being, to their largely unknowing eyes, statistically more likely to be carrying a dangerous weapon than a white person from Chelsea – to make a crass, but largely accurate, generalisation. This can of course be a vicious cycle, and just one of a very complex web of cause and effects of deprivation, but this is not the debate I’m focusing on here.

I sense many people attacking this idea are usually the same left-leaning people that, whilst generally ruing the riots, rightly or wrongly call for lighter punishment for rioters in favour of forgiveness, empathy and societal change (education, bridging the economic divide, re-integration etc.). I regard this view as slightly over-optimistic and unrealistic, but I do think it is an admirable view to hold (indeed, I would generally regard myself as a liberal ‘Guardian reader’, but in light of recent events I’m coming to gradually regard these views and values as somewhat merely hypothetical). Given this, I see an irony in these undeniably innocent people not willing to pitch in by being inconvenienced in their cyber activities for an hour or two. Maybe it’s the fact that Cameron and the ‘bloody’ Tories are proposing them….

Another objection is the supposedly Big Brother-esque implications of it, for which one only has to look to China for support. I, though, have the faith in the politicians and the parliamentary structure for censorship to be only used when some serious, bad shit is going down. This is fully compatible with my support of the popular view that in a democracy one has to be prepared to be ‘offended’, but not physically ‘harmed’. The other argument advanced in this camp is that the government would have to be sinisterly monitoring social media at all times to see when trouble’s a’brewing. They wouldn’t really, however, because they could be alerted to this by the companies themselves, who all cast a somewhat shadowy yet omniscient eye over the blogospheres. How else do you think those Facebook ads are targeted with such unerring accuracy?!

A wise man once said, “you can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.” I’m not sure this always true, but I think it has a lot of pertinence for this discussion. If in this case, it is the feasible and moral choice I’d incline to say it was, I would most definitely go for peace. ‘Hypothetical simplification’ it may well be, yet I would be perfectly happy to sacrifice for a night virtual organisation of some party, or proffering my two cents worth on things, if there was any realistic chance of stopping some dickhead assaulting just one unwitting bystander or destroying just one innocent person’s business. Wouldn’t you?

Joel Durston

Death in the Multimedia Age

In Opinion on July 22, 2011 at 1:05 PM

Watching real world tragedies unfold as played out by the Tweeting and Facebooking masses is a peculiar modern phenomenon. Trying to condense abstract thoughts, memories and moral judgements into small, virtual soundbites is an odd, even dichotomous, meeting of the ultimate with the transient. As this weekend’s deaths of over 76 Norwegians and Amy Winehouse sheds light on, it seems a phenomenon we’re still getting to grips with. It’s certainly one we’re very divided over.

Obviously, the discussion of what is ‘too soon’ and indeed ever ‘acceptable’ with regards to death has been going on for centuries. But I feel the debate is not only highlighted by the emergence of social media, but it’s also been shaped by it. Firstly, obviously in this ‘connected age’ people hear about the news faster than ever before, so Tweetbookers (amalgamated for ease) somewhat become news sources in themselves. People ‘reporting’ news largely unfettered by editorial rigour or possible institutional bias is either a very progressive, egalitarian idea or a potentially toxic one (or a bit of both). I think we’ve seen a lot to, respectively, support both schools of thought.

Some it seems are so eager to quickly make an ‘insightful’ and/or ‘humourous’ statement through a status or a fan page that they take all nuance out of their opinion, whether unwittingly or intentionally. This then can have a very cyclical polarising effect, as many ‘virtual vultures’ pore over the cybernetic remnants of the passed (myself included), glibly approving and passing on statements due to clever rhetoric or wordplay.

Yes, of course, people point out the supposed flaws in opinions, but these people are always subject to the criticism of ‘troll’, the call to ‘calm down’ and the point that ‘GOD! It was just a joke/statement’. Even, to the rather uncouth internet cliché: ‘arguing on the internet is like running in the special Olympics. Even if you win, you’re still retarded’. Many however, including myself, think such big ethical questions usually cannot easily be reduced to the short, snappy conclusions prevalent in ‘micro- blogging’. If indeed they can be reduced to anyhard and fast conclusions. Therefore many voices of moderation in the middle-ground get lost in the rubble. Such voices understandably decide to resist posting opinion or commenting on other supposedly stupid opinions (lest the potential virtual battle), where they may not do if the same issues arose face-to-face. Or because they are torn on issues, they don’t have the often irrational passion which typifies extreme views.  When such voices do speak up, the general trend is that those on either end of the argument gain some perspective and are brought somewhat back into the proverbial middle; ‘o.k…I see that…’ etc.. I have been called a ‘bloody, woolly Guardian reader’ for it, but I am very much in defence of sitting on the fence. Alike Tim Minchin…

This polarisation was a phenomenon I also found true of the last election campaign in the UK; the majority of statuses regarding it were radically for or against a party, usually against with brash statements such as ‘Cameron/Clegg/Brown will take this country to the dogs!’ The prevalence (22,802,387 Youtube views) and influence of ‘Obama girl’ seems to confirm my hunch that things are even more so over the pond.  With social media to a large extent replacing traditional forms of receiving information (TV news, newspapers etc.), I think this theory is an important one to consider and bear in mind.

I have only come across one opinion saying the incident in Norway is anything other than a ‘tragedy’. This belongs to right-wing, American, religious zealot Glenn Beck. Heclaimed on his bemusingly popular radio show: “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like the Hitler youth, or, whatever (sic). I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics. Disturbing.” Evidently, he’s unaware of the arguable inherent hypocrisy in publicly broadcasting his political views to the masses. This is, too, the same man that likens himself to Israeli Nazi hunters in his fight against progressives (or “Crime Inc.”) such as Obama and Al Gore: “I’m going to find these people that have done this to our country and expose them. I don’t care if they’re in nursing homes.” I will thus give him the dignity of no more of the publicity which he obviously so desperately craves.

No, it is the death of Amy Winehouse which has, in my experience, split Tweetbookers (as with the death ofJackass prankster Ryan Dunn did about a month ago). What separates these deaths from those in Norway in causation is the somewhat ‘ill-advised’ actions taken by the two, however mitigating the circumstances – Amy Winehouse through her drug addiction and Ryan Dunn through crashing a Porsche while well over the respective speed and drink drive limits. (There was a passenger in Dunn’s car at the time who also died). As with Dunn’s passing, it seems that the opinion of the online community over Amy Winehouse’s death has fallen into three general, although overlapping, categories: the RIP-ers, the ‘she deserved it’-ers and the self-styled comedians.

The crowd offering straight-forward, sincere ‘RIP’s, eulogies and dedications are fairly self-explanatory and uncontroversial. Although some argue social media is not an appropriate platform for the expression of deep personal feelings, it would take a very cold heart to decry this group’s undeniably well-meaning messages.

There was then a scale from these posts all the way up to those asserting that ‘she deserved it’. Although Amy Winehouse probably ultimately died from her decisions (the ‘choice’ or ‘illness’ debate is too complex to detail here), these reactions didn’t sit too well with me. It is no doubt a huge grey area, but I thought the stronger reactions in this contingent hinted at vindictiveness, even smugness. The satirical video below even sprang to mind.  Some reacted to this sombre, even tragic event along the personally reasonable lines of sensitively saying it’s a cautionary tale. What purpose, though, can saying little more than ‘she deserved it’ serve, now she is no longer with us to hear, and maybe act upon, these words?  I think this can only now serve to make people feel vindicated in their non-drug abuse. Or even, feel ‘big’ about it, even though I sense this was no one’s main intention. I’m sure the vast majority of ‘she deserved it’-ers didn’t genuinely think Winehouse deserved death (merely that it’s a cautionary tale), but if this is true, I think they should have taken a step back for just a second to ensure they didn’t misrepresent themselves, if you will (more later).

Also, some such reactions, and some people in almost unwittingly setting up a ‘grief scale’ in comparing Winehouse’s death to the Norwegians’, I feel somewhat constructed straw men to argue against. From the impression I get from her interviews and music, Winehouse didn’t really try to portray herself as a paragon of virtue nor actively try and cultivate around herself the ‘live fast, die young’ rock ‘n’ roll cliché (though, I think it is fair to say this largely happened). Indeed, if anything, I think the opposite is true. Most agree the general tone of her heartfelt, Mercury-nominated Back to Black album, written amidst serious drug problems, is plaintive and honest, often painstakingly so. Granted, its most successful single Rehab exhibits a cocksure refusal to go rehab – an attitude now mocked by many, in hindsight I may add. This isn’t, however, typical of the album from a woman who by almost all accounts was prone to extreme mood swings (she herself claimed to have bi-polar disorder). Other songs on it include the appropriately titled Back to BlackYou Know I’m No Good, Addicted and Wake Up Alone, in which she painstakingly describes her usually futile attempts to stay off drugs.

As for the comparison of the events, regardless of one’s opinion of whether this is acceptable and how the events compare if so, none of those who died asked for this moral comparison between what are unrelated events. I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t want it either. Nor I’m sure would those who knew them personally, for whom I can only imagine the predominant emotions are despair and grief. As such, I wonder who exactly people are trying to argue to in claiming ‘Amy brought it on herself’ and/or comparing the two incidents.

The third broad, vaguely defined category of reactions was that of intended comedy; the type which earns laughs in quarters not just for the wordplay of the jokes themselves, but for having the sheer audacity to ‘go there’. The etiquette of this is tricky for me because on the frequent conflicts between political correctness and freedom of expression, notably ‘banter’, I’m usually of the opinion that freedom of expression/’banter’ should win out. Indeed, I have laughed at, been in quiz teams named for and even I think told my fair share of risqué jokes about the dead. As such, I am by not calling for them to be censored, either by authorities or by the posting individuals in question.

This weekend they just really didn’t sit right with me though. People say ‘it’s just light-hearted banter’ and close-to-the-bone jokes is what make humour, particularly ‘British humour’, so great. And I think they are somewhat right, but aren’t jokes braver if they’re told about living people? By which I mean, people who have the capacity to be offended and answer back with words and actions. Late celebrities (or late anyones) are not afforded this opportunity, especially in the minds of many such as myself who see death as having a certain finality. Even worse, if the ‘joker’ or ’judger’ in question does believe in afterlife, their criticism of the dead usually implies that their idea of the dead’s afterlife is not an altogether happy one.

If you genuinely think it is a funny or joyful occasion that someone died who brought joy to millions and in all likelihood did you no direct ‘wrong’, then you’re entitled to this opinion and the sharing of it (although, personally, unless allied with a very convincing, ‘greater good’ utilitarian argument, you’re a cretin). We live in a free-thinking democracy after all, and arguably one which posthumously ‘Disneyfies’ lives of the deceased (particularly recently deceased). The thing is, I don’t think many, if any, do genuinely believe their expressed opinions or their implications. Many of the jokes even hinge on the knowingness of their risqué nature – ‘draw a line under..’, ‘not overdose on..’ these jokes etc.. I think it’s this ‘tongue-in-cheek’ knowingness that renders the jokes – supposedly – acceptable ‘banter’. Maybe it is. Or is it just a ‘shallow search for satisfaction and ‘likes’ and retweets’?

Social commentators often argue that cyberspace is used by many to selectively screen (literally) ‘positive’ aspects of their life (I for one do this), if not project a persona merely tangentially linked to one’s non-virtual life. This view has life almost as a videogame; with the objectives to ‘collect’ more friends (or ‘friends’) and positive feedback like ‘likes’. Maybe we’re not entirely genuine in our views; just feel that’s what we should be doing. All of the opinions I disliked were in fact from those who I consider to be at least ‘decent’ people. I was/am as much part of it as the next. After seeing Facebook exploding with exaggeration in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, I felt so obliged to post something ‘fresh and/or witty’ that this thinking, along with a ‘well done to the captors’, became my very ‘meta’/’dickhead’ status. If we take this phenomenon to be at least somewhat true (you don’t have to), should respect for a recently passed’s life not trump this? I think there’s enough material for banter elsewhere.

Thing is, it’s very, very, easy to share these thoughts now. There is a disproportionate, even unnatural, ease to communicating on social networks to hundreds directly, thousands even millions by proxy (the average number of Facebook friends in the UK is between 130 and 150, much more for the frequent users in the 16-24 demographic). Add detachment, even ‘anonymity’, into the cocktail of this hyper-real, networked world, and you have a medium where relatively extreme views can easily prosper, even if they are not genuine.

For me, the whole scenario is not dissimilar to when someone sincerely and regretfully points out a (supposed) significant flaw in their actions or personality. Bear with me here, people. When someone says in a negative way “I’m so stupid” or “I just can’t do anything”, quite what constructive purpose can it serve to agree with them? None, except a petty ego boost for the mean respondent, I would venture. Now, just as here you would not be expected to reassure the person with outrageous lies, I am not saying that those we did not like/respect in life we should eulogise over in death. However, ‘they deserved it’ comments or jokes about death are as unconstructive as affirmations of one’s own stupidity or inability, and arguably only serve to reflect badly on the person espousing them. The analogy may well be trivial, but I think it is logical. It certainly serves my argument because the social norm in such situations is not to affirm or mock the negative self-judgements. Should it be any different with people who have passed just because they are no longer, physically at least, with us? Shouldn’t we have more compassion than to ‘kick someone when they’re (six feet) down’? The harm may well not be felt directly (especially in the hyper-real worlds fostered by social networks), but I think this makes it worse if anything.

So next time you’re about to post something edgy, maybe think twice about why you are and whether you really believe it, before you hit that ‘like’, ‘share’ or ‘Tweet’ button.

Joel Durston