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Posts Tagged ‘Catharine Lumby’

Sorry, @mirandadevine: @catharinelumby reflects on Twitter ethics

In Catharine Lumby on May 11, 2013 at 12:39 PM

duty_calls

By Catharine Lumby 

May 11, 2013

A couple of nights ago I rang the News Limited columnist Miranda Devine. I had gone to some lengths to obtain her mobile number. I needed to apologise to her in person for retweeting a tweet by Mike Carlton that I did not read carefully enough before flipping it on to the Twittersphere.

Carlton’s original tweet read: “@mirandadevine is ‘embedded’ with the Police Riot Squad, as she puts it. What, all of them at once? Must be exhausting”. What caught my eye at first glance was the notion that the Australian police had adopted the practice, familiar from the invasion of Iraq, of ‘embedding’ journalists. I retweeted it  and less than a minute later, I read my retweet and realised that Carlton’s original tweet included a very offensive sexual subtext that I missed when I first read it. I immediately retracted my retweet and apologised on Twitter.

Like many people who inhabit the Twittersphere, I was working on my laptop while scrolling the Twitter feed on my phone when I sent the retweet. I wasn’t prepared to excuse my retweet as mere carelessness because I knew that there was a real person at the other end of the tweet and my retweet.

Miranda and I are at very different ends of the political spectrum and she has been less than kind about my views in some of her columns – as she is entitled to be. I don’t know her well but when we have bumped into each other socially I’ve been impressed by her warmth and her openness to dialogue. When I rang her she was gracious enough to accept my apology. Others on the right, however, saw my retraction as ‘bizarre’ and implied that I was intentionally maligning Miranda because I thought it was OK to cast a slur on someone with different opinions.  So I copped my own abuse that same day and it behoved me to take it on the chin.

It’s a small story that contains the seeds of a much larger story about the world of potential pain which unfolds every day on social media. Miranda Devine and I are from the same generation. When I started in journalism at the Sydney Morning Herald, in 1987, Remington typewriters were still lying around the newsroom among the computers. At one point in my endless apprenticeship to what was still called a trade, I was assigned to the Letters page. My major task, apart from deciphering the spidery handwriting of Retired High School Principals from East Lindfield, was to call the writers chosen for publication and verify their identity and get them to agree to me editing their copy down to one paragraph.

It seems a world away now. The public sphere has been democratised in ways we could never have imagined before the digital, online and social media era. The media no longer operates one-to-many. Everyone with access to a computer or a mobile phone can have their say – even if they are sitting in a café sending 5,000 angry tweets frustrated that only have five followers. As someone who passionately believes in dialogue – and most importantly civilised dialogue – I love the fact that the public podium has been opened up to everyone. What I don’t like is the level of vitriol and abuse that so often characterises debate.

I suspect many people feel the same way. Neither the Left or the Right have a monopoly on ethical engagement. As a left-leaning  feminist commentator, I have had far more abuse and defamatory comments angled at me from people who are supposedly on my ‘side’ of politics. My problem, perhaps, is that I refuse to take sides. I genuinely care about having a conversation. Read the rest of this entry »