There was a little bit of a commotion last week when an account on twitter called @OfficialGlitter started getting a lot of attention.
I think the sum total of my involvement initially was to tweet that I thought the disgraced pop star was dead. But lots of people were talking about this account, which to all intents and purposes appeared to belong to Gary Glitter, who rose to prominence in the 1970s as a singer, and then again in the late 1990s for offences connected to child pornography.
He was then imprisoned in Vietnam in 2006. If you need more background on this stuff, JFGI.
More than 17,000 people started following the account, including a number of high profile celebrities and public figures. There were plenty of negative opinions voiced but a lot of people tweeted some very positive comments to, and about, the account – which they believed to be the real thing.
It was not.
According to the person, or people, behind the fake account the whole thing had been a “social experiment.” A Tumblr page laid out an attempt at explanation, citing the main reason to be to demonstrate just how gullible some people are online. It also made the point that there is nothing to actually prevent a convicted peodophile from setting themselves up on twitter, and no way of being able to tell real from fake.
I think the first time I wrote about the internet and child pornography was in 1997. So this issue is nothing new to me, and I sometimes think I’ve got a more highly-tuned sense of caution than most people when it comes to internet fakery and staying safe.
One extract from the blog says: “Apart from the thousands of negative and abusive comments I got whilst impersonating Glitter, it amazed me and deeply disturbed me to see a shocking amount of positive, encouraging and supportive comments that people were giving to a convicted child rapist.”
And this is where the really good stuff started to happen… in the wake of the big reveal.
The too-cool-for-school brigade appeared en masse to vilify whoever was behind the fake account. The majority of them were the usual empty vessels that can generally be relied upon to be seen struggling to elevate themselves by dint of pushing others down.
But there were some more influential figures joining in, including journalists from leading UK newspapers. Their weighty contributions to this debate tended to be of the “my cat is also a social experiment” type.
For me this kind of backlash is an example of one of the worst aspects of the British psyche. Someone tried to be clever. They weren’t, perhaps, as clever as they thought they were. It matters not if the point they were making was a good point. They were trying to be clever and here, in the UK, that kind of thing will always get you shot down.
Usually by people who wouldn’t recognise an original idea if it dribbled out of their coke-damaged nostril and landed in their breakfast one morning. Or, worse, by those who are actually more than capable of solid, rounded, interesting arguments and opinions but who don’t want to be seen being intelligent, and would rather than stick to being arch, reductive and on the unpleasant side of cynical.
It’s easy to sneer and mock. I find it a hugely unappealing character trait.
I care far less whether there are holes in the explanation offered by the originators of the fake Glitter account (such as how old the account was, whether events overtook them, etc) and more that as a result of their actions someone somewhere may have started to think about the importance of not being so gullible, asking questions, being sceptical.
The issue of keeping children safe online is important.
If you disagree, you are an idiot – or you have a vested interest in children not being kept safe.
Either way, I don’t wanna be in your gang.