Sometimes someone will notice something on Twitter and comment on it. 'Jesus, have you seen this? Horrible.'
'Wow,' someone will reply. 'That is unpleasant.'
'I agree,' says someone else. 'Not nice at all.'
Soon lots of people agree that this thing is awful - usually because it is - and it becomes a 'Twitterstorm'. This is a brilliant satire of that process. The tweet there that resonates most for me at the moment is the fake tweet by 'Reasonable Clive':
'The @PricehoundUK thing looks bad, but maybe we should wait for the full story to come out before grabbing the pitchforks.'
This always happens. People certainly can jump to conclusions and grab pitchforks, but people are also attracted to a backlash, and a backlash to the backlash, and so on. They're contrarian. Sometimes they have skin in the game, too.
A variation of Reasonable Clive's tweet that I've seen a lot lately is something I'll call 'Thatmuchology'. The tweet - sometimes stretched to a blog article or even a newspaper column - usually goes something like this:
'I guess I just don't see why it's such a big deal.'
'What is so terrible about this? Someone tell me because I'm just not seeing it.'
'From what I skimread, I don't think that shows anything and fwiw big deal anyway. Happens all the time. #justsaying.'
Or this variation I've just seen:
'I'm not sure taking the piss is exactly a crime (thoughtcrime or otherwise).'
That tweet refers to yesterday's revelation that Daily Telegraph columnist Dr Brooke Magnanti has spent a year using a fake identity on Twitter to spout bile and spread venom about other journalists, most of them female, and to big up her own work. The viciousness of the account is staggering to behold. Or, alternatively, she was just taking the piss and let's shrug it off.
This rhetorical device, is, of course, a straw man. Nobody is saying Brooke Magnanti committed a crime, or a throughtcrime. And people rarely specify precisely how big a deal they think something is. If someone is mildly upset about something, you can always dismiss it by pretending they are unjustifiably furious about it.
'God, someone just trod on my toe and it really hurt - bastards!'
'Hmm. I guess I just don't understand why this is such a big deal to you. There are other things going on and this happens the whole time.'
By exaggerating how significant people find something, you can then pretend it is completely insignificant - and usually you can also not bother to argue why you think it unimportant enough to dismiss in this way. You can just adopt a world-weary, jaded tone and claim the outrage is over the top. But perhaps people are at the right level of being pissed off.
This happened a lot with Johann Hari's plagiarism, with Stephen Leather and Mo Ansar's sockpuppeting, and it's happening at the moment with Fareed Zakaria's plagiarism. It will continue to happen with Brooke Magnanti.
It's a crap rhetorical device. Not that crap. Just crap enough for me to write this in a futile attempt to persuade people to not employ it. Now feel free to be mystified as to why I'm so angry* about this.