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Sweary’s Jaw: The Bluebird Of Snappiness

Posted September 12, 2012 by Lisa McInerney in Ramp Specials

Was anyone surprised when Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat, a celebrity tweeter for whom unflattering @replies had become an obvious bugbear, deleted his account last weekend?

Our own Graham Linehan had this to say.

So Moffat has left Twitter, shortly after asking how to limit the @’s he saw. Another victory for snide, pathetic bullies with zero class

— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) September 9, 2012

Famous tweeters get as much stick via the bluebird as they do praise. This much we know, all of us.

There’s been lots of interesting discussion over the past few months on various sites, blogs and forums about the conduct of celebrity tweeters when interacting with their less-than-adoring public, the potential damage that their sphere of influence can do, and how much of a ribbing their stature requires them to take. Specifically, how celebrity tweeters should react to direct criticism lamped at them through the @tag: ignore, engage or snark back. The general consensus seems to be that celebrity tweeters should engage with constructive criticism, and ignore anything deliberately inflammatory. Take a public bollocking in the line of duty, as it were.

The most abhorrent celebrity behaviour is the encouragement of fans – direct or implied – to round on individual keyboard warriors who tweet such criticism, and notable celebrities who have used their Twitter privileges for retaliatory evil are Ricky Gervais, Noel Fielding, M.I.A., and Graham Linehan.

Like fat, bored spiders lying in wait for dim midges to cross them, they retweet the offending messages and ask their fans to give the antagonist hell on their behalf. 

Gervais and Fielding are the worst and most prolific offenders, with both directly encouraging fans to flame the minnows who dare take a cheeky pop at their lordships. Like fat, bored spiders lying in wait for dim midges to cross them, they retweet the offending messages and ask their fans to give the antagonist hell on their behalf. Many of you will know Gervais as someone with consistent and outstanding achievements in the field of pillockry – he doesn’t understand the difference between ‘edgy’ and ‘hateful’, he’s thin-skinned and petulant, and he is no more able to ignore a negative review than a JCB rolling over his foot. Fielding’s carry on is slightly more surprising, as his persona is much more affable. One might argue that his role as abusive ringleader on Twitter is all the more insidious precisely because he wraps it up in disingenuous lols.

Graham Linehan comes under fire for being rather too precious about his public availability on a public platform, broadcasting Block rampages against those who send derogatory messages his way. He’s also over-fond of the term ‘troll’, liberally applying it to everyone who speaks out of turn, rather than to those who are being deliberately offensive just to get a rise out of him.

M.I.A overstepped the mark even more drastically than any of these three, though, when in 2010 she posted on Twitter the phone number of a journalist who’d written an unflattering piece about her and encouraged her followers to harass her liberally. While the article in this case was needlessly snide, encouraging fans to badger the journalist simply made M.I.A. look like… well, a bit of a gobshite. ‘She’s a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative’, shrugged the journalist, when contacted for her thoughts on the outburst. That in itself seems generous; M.I.A.’s reaction was less provocative than it was a silly tantrum.

The problem is the disparity in the sway held by the celebrity, and by the person annoying them.

So the celebrities’ reactions to negative contact doesn’t exactly paint them in a flattering light. The major problem, of course, is the disparity in the sway held by the celebrity, and by the person annoying them. Say you have someone with a couple of hundred followers tweet a nasty comment to Ricky Gervais. Is it right for Gervais to pay heed to this at all, and unleash his armies on this inconsequential attention-seeker? It really isn’t.

There’s another side of the coin, though, and one we really have to consider before we make out all tweeting celebrities to be little more than unscrupulous cult leaders.

Celebrities are people too.

That means that celebrities go off the deep end sometimes. They get oversensitive, they lash out at criticism, they overcompensate with hahas and lols and they throw their weight around. It might not always be right, but let’s face it, it’s understandable.

Some people, baptised anew in anonymity, just decide to be cunts. They see someone else’s work, and maybe they disagree with some element of it, or maybe they just see an open door they can barge through, jaw flapping and middle fingers raised; whatever it is, they’re compelled to make contact and lavish abuse on an artist just for sharing their planet.

But what of the other kind of tweeter, the one who contacts the celebrity with valid criticism or a genuine invitation to productive debate? This is the major complaint when it comes to Linehan’s behaviour: that he doesn’t distinguish between people who want discourse and people who want destruction.

Here’s a thought: who said they were entitled to discourse?

What possesses a person to send an artist unsolicited criticism of their hard work, anyway? 

Celebrities aren’t special, and nobody benefits from being surrounded by yes men. But that doesn’t mean that every Tom, Dick and Harry who has an opinion about this artist’s album, or that writer’s show, or this actor’s role is entitled to open a line of communication with the creator so they can tell them all of the ways it could have been better. And yes, Twitter works best as a two-way street, but there’s a difference in the kind of quiet country lane most of us are used to, and the fucking autobahns celebrities inhabit.

Imagine how many @replies a prominent tweeter gets in a day. You assume that your one polite-but-disapproving message deserves a reply, and that the celebrity is bound by a sense of obligation to the market to engage with you, genuinely, about a process you likely know nothing about? What possesses a person to send an artist unsolicited criticism of their hard work, anyway? What kind of self-important eejit sends Steven Moffat a sarcastic comment about how shit he is at his job and then expresses shock when Moffat reacts with peevish dismay?

No, celebrities aren’t better than us, but that doesn’t mean they have to talk to us, especially when we have nothing nice to say. Hell, no one has to talk to anyone if they don’t want to.

It’s careless at best when celebrities retweet nasty comments in an implicit directive to their fans to defend them, but reading a barrage of insults when all you want is a little indication that you’re doing something right must threaten to drive even the sweetest celebrity insane with rage. It might not be right – celebrities should just ignore the criticism, like all of us internet types learned years ago – but it isn’t exactly an alien reaction either.

With all that in mind, it’s difficult to frown too much on Rihanna’s classic comeback to an opinionated unknown who chose to open a line of dialogue to criticise the star.


The prattishness of Gervais and Fielding is distasteful, and both deserve a boot up the bum from their nearest authority figure for their Twitter carry-on. But expecting celebrities to turn the other cheek just because the world is watching? It’s a noble expectation, but it ain’t a likely one.

About the Author

Lisa McInerney

Lisa’s soul is so damn sensitive, she has to invent and occupy parallel universes just to spread herself evenly. This is also known as being a frustrated novelist.

  • Sinéad

    I actually feel sorry for celebrities in this situation. I remember a lot of people saying when Tubridy left Twitter that he’d been getting an absolute barrage of abuse in at replies. The idea that people feel they can comment on you or what you do, no matter how public a figure you are, is just ridiculous. Celebrities are usually celebrities because of their work and by logical extension of how the rest of us are treated, you should be allowed to be a person outside of your work. I would go cray if I started getting comments about my job online while I’m just mooching on Twitter trying to make the world care about an instagram of my dinner. I guess I wouldn’t set myself up for either though – if I were some famous type I’d just set up a twitter account as ‘Mary’ and tweet normal things and be done with it. If you want to use it for profile, there’s a certain amount of shit to be put up with. If you just want to mooch on Twitter and have the chats, be anonymous, plenty of regular people do it.

    • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

      Good point, but then again, why should a public figure have to split themselves into two to enjoy Twitter like the rest of us?

      Granted, a certain amount of abuse has to be expected, but it doesn’t mean it’s ok. People who tweet abuse at celebrities need a slap. If you wouldn’t go up to Steven Moffat and call him a talentless hack to his face, why should you do it on Twitter? Ugh, and then the insincere shock when the celebrity reacts badly…

      Best course of action is for the celebrity to just ignore it; there’s no getting away from that. But when they do snipe back, we shouldn’t automatically condemn them.

      (Having said that, Gervais, Fielding and M.I.A. really did deserve the flack for their carry-on. There’s public spatting, and there’s being an enormous diva)

      • http://twitter.com/ElleEmSee Laura

        The only time I have actually approved of public ‘flaming’ was when Tom Daley RT the abuse that lad gave him about his Dad only because that same lad was relentlessly torturing people he knew about horrific, traumatising events that had happened to them.

        • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

          He was a terrible little prick, alright. In his case, I reckon the arrest was justified as he’d made actual death threats to various celebrities AND people from “real life”. Little bugger either needed help OR needed to realise that Twitter isn’t some sort of parallel universe where you can do whatever you like.

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