Mudslinging on twitter

mudslingingShe is considered the most influential female rapper of all time. He is has less sheen than a dog-eared copy of The Ragged Trouser Philanthropists. But it turns out that Nicki Minaj and the Labour leader hopeful Jeremy Corbyn have one thing in common. Both have shown this week that twitter thrives on good old mudslinging.

For Minaj it was personal. What started with a tweet about the exclusion of her video from the VMAs turned into a frosty exchange that dangled racial and gender issues above a fan-charged pressure cooker. The intervention of Taylor Swift demonstrated the ego of she-who-brought-Apple-to-its-knees, and PoVs offered from Katy Perry to Piers Morgan ensured that this (non)issue spread out from social to old media – and back again. But despite invoking sensitive themes the end result was a mélange of misunderstanding. Rather than functioning as a forum for exploring points of view twitter seems to exaggerate difference due to an economic style that can be tone-deaf to nuance or irony.

The fame of Minaj & co of course raised the exchange above the average online spat. But as the case of Corbyn shows, a man who only a month ago was little known outside of North London Marxist reading groups, there are other factors at play. On Wednesday the parsimonious socialist even managed to out-trend the launch of the new Bond film trailer.

It doesn’t matter that Corbyn himself is not a particularly active presence (4 tweets so far this week). As the ‘big beasts’ of Labour queue up to warn of the dangers of a Corb-win the energised fight back of #JezWeCan kicked in. Both sides spurred on each other’s vehemence without taking time to meet the other half way. Soundbites, such as Blair’s call for Corbynites to have a heart transplant, inspired similar levels of ire from the candidate’s supporters. Within minutes slurs against the former PM’s lucrative contracts and property deals began trending, showing once again the fascinating toxicity of Labour’s most electorally successful leader.

Leaving aside the dubious polling, the final leg of the campaign will – as with the Scottish referendum – likely see the triumph (just) of the pragmatic status quo against Corbyn. But like the referendum the damage will have been done. People who have had their vote wrested from them by fear will in future be tight-fisted with their goodwill. Twitter as always is the ground on which these thwarted hopes were most vibrant. The site of course is far from representative of the public as a whole- about 2% in fact. For the purposes of historical record this discrepancy makes it so dangerous. The tweeted history of the Scottish referendum is one of nationalist point scoring and HMG dirty tricks.

What we take away from both the Jezzbollah insurgency (as Blairite hysteria puts it) and the clash Minajerie is that being heard on social media if often a bruising business. Other stories have had their seconds in the sun –literally in the case of the Liz Heil scoop – but it is the spats and rifts that really sustain interest. The argument itself doesn’t need to advance as long as more figures are drawn in to declare their colours. The irony is that for those who stand against Corbyn or think that Minaj is, to quote Morgan, ‘a stroppy little piece of work’, wading into the argument is counterintuitive. If they really wanted to neuter their antagonists they should simply take their beef offline.

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