Five and a half years ago, Jack Dorsey created the latest in a spate of social media phenomenons: Twitter. A worldwide forum for people to air thoughts of 140 characters or less, Twitter instantly provided easy access to celebrities and commoners alike – think Facebook, but without the awkward friend requesting etiquette. Yes, with the click of a button, you could be regularly updated with the musings of whoever you’d decided to follow.
Last week, I took part in a podcast discussing a tweet from Stephen Fry that scandalised the media. Fry, widely considered a national treasure, tweeted the following after being grounded during a flight: ‘It’s at times like this a man considers taking up smoking again. Possibly with heroin, crack and MDMA mixed in & all washed down with vodka.’ This caused furore amongst many, with people branding Fry inappropriate for expressing an apparent (although clearly sarcastic) advocacy of illegal drug use. I had intended to post the podcast here, but due to technical problems with the recording, I have gone for a less hi-tech blog post instead to discuss this divisive issue.
Whilst I understand Fry’s comment was on the slightly taboo side, I found it somewhat irresponsible of the British newspapers to take his contentious statement and publicise it to an even wider audience than it was initially shared with. The 3.3 million people who follow Fry pale in comparison to the 24 million people who read the Daily Mail Online every day, one of the many publications who wrote a story about the actor’s outburst.
Not only this, but public outrage that someone deemed so precious to the British population should experience frustration seems entirely misguided. As I stated in the podcast, if someone like Russell Brand who is almost applauded for his reckless behaviour had posted something similar, it would have been ignored, or made far less impact than it has coming from someone who maintains a respectable public image. But because he’s Stephen Fry, he is subjected to far harsher scrutiny, and unfairly so. Yes, Twitter is a public forum, but no one is forced to follow what he is saying and they do so entirely by their own volition. If they want to hear Fry’s musings, that means hearing the good, the bad and the ugly, and experiencing a glimpse of his personal feelings. Being a celebrity does not mean being happy and charming one hundred percent of the time, and to express sardonic comments in times of distress is not something that should even require excusing.
Perhaps the problem with celebrities on Twitter is that they do not have the privilege of the filtering system provided for them by their agents. After years of being indulged by someone who monitors the appropriateness of their every comment, the site is an insightful look at the unadulterated thoughts of those in the public eye. And it is incidents like this which prove the extent to which celebrities have been molly coddled and are now unable to distinguish what is better left unsaid in a public forum.
Ultimately, Fry was not wrong for posting something clearly intended as humour, and those who found it in any way offensive would be advised not to follow people on Twitter if they find the views of others disagreeable. People may feel that the site allows them closer to celebrities insomuch as they have a direct line through which to contact them, but if anything, this cyber relationship is illusory and forges a link between people which does not exist. Twitter is a platform for private thoughts on a public stage, and whilst people should be mindful not to offend, they should also be allowed to voice their thoughts, however socially provocative.