Social media’s inverted layer

Social media’s inverted layer

… the heat is on the bottom level

It has been a norm that in the UK we expect public figures to be held to a higher standard than us schmoes. Ordinary folk can make daft statements, fool around, run over the family dog and still be invited to the family barbecue. Public figures are meant to at least hang the dirty laundry behind the house. Back in the Hanoverian era that was not at all the case. Epic sexual libertinage and self indulgence was the mark of the true aristocrat. The Victorians came along later to spoil things for everyone and introduce the discomfiting idea that the personal behaviour of the Royal household, members of the House of Commons and celebrity writers should be something we might seek to emulate.

Twitter governance inverts that. The lesser folk can be pursued and banned for harassment, calls to arms, racially inflammatory statements, generally rambunctiousness. Certain public figures, such as ‘world leaders’ and candidates for high office, can do this rather a lot with no fear of the ban. Twitter effectively defines itself as a public broadcaster for these purposes, with a duty to carry the statements of public figures, but without the duty and accountability of a public broadcaster.  They do not balance Narendra Modi tweets with opposition tweets, for example. When it comes to that part of the equation, Twitter defines its role as marking out an open public square. If you want balance, Q, you will just have to rage tweet your own responses.

Inverted governance is the norm in many places, reflecting a general wariness of the elites towards the masses. Sections of the population are in some instances seen as liable to bouts of ungovernable rages, and an all round threat to the public good.  One of the greatest public sociologists, Christopher Lasch, termed that the revolt of the elites. National elites have more in common with each other than they think they share with our unwashed selves.  Partly because academics are half in, half out of the elites (am I kidding – we are totally part of the elite) we often focus too much on competition between elites. The replacement of one part of the elite by another part may not mean as much throughout society as we are wont to think.

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