I really do think that it’s time we had an Apology Amnesty: a day when nobody was forced to grovel because of a careless remark or a throwaway comment, usually completely harmless but in the one-eyed view of assorted pressure groups the biggest affront to society since a policeman miraculously discovered the word ‘pleb’ in his vocabulary
It used to be bad enough as it was. A TV programme would attract hundreds of complaints from people who hadn’t even seen the programme. Successive Top Gear complaints spring to mind. (Tell me, how many people with severe facial disfigurements really watched Jeremy Clarkson compare an ugly car to the Elephant Man and then felt compelled to individually contact Ofcom?) An offending newspaper cutting would be emailed around the world in a froth of outrage, usually being a piece from the Daily Mail passed on by people who swear that they never buy the Daily Mail. But Twitter has made things worse, much worse.
Under its relentless eye, anyone can find something to be offended by in a matter of mouse clicks. There is no escape for those making the midnight mistake of tweeting whilst in drink. No allowance is made for the quick, jokey reply which, on reflection, might have been a tad ill-advised. And even mainstream media is finding itself exposed to a tide of instant indignation within seconds of a momentary slip. Kay Burley was (unfairly) being burnt as a witch in pixel form within seconds of her interaction with the grieving residents of Machynlleth. Gary Lineker, previously seen as squeaky clean, had to quickly apologise after saying that a goal celebration by two Muslim footballers saw them “eating grass”, when in fact they were thanking Allah for either divine intervention or a dodgy linesman.
Even I’ve had a run-in with the company Twitter Police, after harmlessly commenting to a friend that some regional newspapers had been badly let down by short-sighted management. The next thing you know, an alarm has gone off and lights are flashing in a bunker somewhere and I’m getting a phone call telling me that my comment might “reflect badly on the publishers of the Evening Beast”, presumably because our own management is similarly myopic. (Here’s a tip. Don’t do as I did and just laugh mockingly down the phone at them. They don’t like that and before you know where you are, they’re threatening disciplinary proceedings and all sorts of mental torture.)
Of course, this does raise the question of how many people we are employing to police the thoughts of our staff, and how do they do it? Are there top secret teams that monitor the outpourings of known dissidents (and, God knows, there are plenty of those). Is it based on some kind of keyword alert, a bit like GCHQ operates? If I type the words “chief executive”, “ huge bonus” and “utter wanker” into Twitter, will I get the metaphorical six o’clock knock?
Still, it’s good to know that while there might not be any money for us to employ a couple of senior reporters any more, resources can be found to protect the reputation of the wrecking crew.