Calm down, dear!

This week seems to have been the week of the moral panic. Moral panics, according to Wikipedia, are:

‘in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tension and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its center is taboo’

A moral panic is characterised by:

  • Concern – There must be awareness that the behaviour of the group or category in question is likely to have a negative impact on society.
  • Hostility – Hostility towards the group in question increases, and they become “folk devils”. A clear division forms between “them” and “us”.
  • Consensus – Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the “moral entrepreneurs” are vocal and the “folk devils” appear weak and disorganised.
  • Disproportionality – The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.
  • Volatility – Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared due to a wane in public interest or news reports changing to another topic.

In the good old days it was the main stream media who ‘operated as agents of moral indignation, even when they [were] not self-consciously engaged in crusading or muckraking’.

Now though, we have social media to take that role. This week has seen the lady at the centre of ‘My Tram Experience’ and Jeremy Clarkson both demonised by what can only be described as mob rule.

Not everything surrounding the woman at the centre of My Tram Experience can be written about due to various laws relating to legal proceedings (and to that end, because I don’t fancy a fine for contempt, comments will be moderated), however, folk simply took what on the face of it appeared to be a racist rant, screamed and hollered about it – including putting out her name and address over social media, and invoked British Transport Police into taking action. She is currently remanded in custody for her own safety until a further hearing next week. Cue crowing from the mob that action not only had been taken, but action they approved of. Bad person in prison: job done. It’s that simple, right?

Moving swiftly on, Jeremy Clarkson then filled their whining void by making stupid comments about strikers. A man famed for making controversial comments makes controversial comments: shock.

The mob stepped up to the plate, shrieked their horror, Unison stepped in, and the BBC apologised. As did he, sort of (here).

Unison scored a spectacular own goal by putting out a press release (here) calling for his summary dismissal, and stating they were seeking legal advice as to what action they could take. David Allen Green wrote about that here.

It used to be that comments such as the ones we have seen on Twitter this week were confined to the pub. People would express their outrage, have a pint, and frankly, got over it – especially as each pub would have the wise old grey chap in the corner who would quietly express a contrary view, and urge them to think about the subject matter in hand.

But now, these comments are put out over Twitter. Herd mentality kicks in, the mob expresses their outrage, the outrage increases. The contrary view is not heard, indeed it is trampled upon, with scorn and vitriol poured over those who dare express it.

But what is hugely concerning is that authoritative bodies are taking notice of the mob, and taking knee-jerk action. Because social media is instant, they seem to believe their response needs to be immediate to quell the furore. Gone are the days where action was a considered, measured response, starting with the question of ‘Do we actually need to do anything at all’ and only if that was established in the positive, ‘What action do we need to take, and when’.

That is leading to poor decision making. I would suggest that in response to anything that kicks off on social media the first action should be to wait at least 24 hours, to see if sense prevails and becomes heard, as it so often does. Otherwise we run the risk of constantly kowtowing to mobs, who will come to expect an instantaneous response from an authoritative body. In short, we are running close to the risk of mob rule. Do we really want that?

28 thoughts on “Calm down, dear!

  1. I don’t think you need worry unduly about contempt over tram woman: she’s been remanded in custody for pre-sentence reports, from which I infer she’s already pleaded to whatever she was charged with.

      • Wiggy – reports today (Wed 7th) say she DID originally plead NG – court adjourned for her to prepare papers(?) – then recalled after lunch & said there has been an ‘error’….

        Anyway – the Bench has now decided to give her 1 month in (protective) custody for ‘being outed on Facebook’. As it seems they are taking the threats seriously, one can only hope some of the Tweet-mob get rounded up.

        • There was a second hearing yesterday, at which she did enter a not guilty plea, and yes, bail was refused on the basis of her own safety.

          I understood reasons for bail refusal were not allowed to be reported, hence my stance in the post, but I have been told since that when it is for the reasons of own safety that can reported – she was remanded at that hearing for her own safety too. The papers were that at the original hearing, the case was adjourned for a psych report to be prepared :)

  2. Milly, as lawyers, we both know that every story has 2 sides ;-) and we have to hear both to make a judgement. And it is rarely the case to hear the “other side” – especially with this mob rule we’ve been living under lately.

    As for Clarkson’s case – the same hypocrites who decried the prank by Russel Brand and Ross. Just a prank and the moral champions of this country, incensed by the rabble-rouser gutter press always ready to pass judgement on everything. Bunch of hypocrites.

    As for Unison, that was indeed an own goal – but they are simply taking a leaf of the rouble-rousers moral brigade that infest this country.

  3. You’re right of course. The problem is a variation of the orator’s direction – poor argument here, so SHOUT.

    The big difference between now and then (moan in pub time) is the speed of communications. Then you could moan in pub and be heard by a dozen people. Or you could write to the papers and be published, perhaps, several days later. Or if you were an MP you could ask a question which might be reported some time.

    Now it’s instant, and widespread. But that doesn’t mean it makes any more sense, as you say above. In fact it probably makes less because it’s not been thought through. It seems progress isn’t only in one direction.

  4. As a proponent of the right of an individual to express an opinion, I’m beginning to feel decidedly old fashioned.

    In the UK there appears to be a gradual erosion of the right not just to free speech but to free thought. It is highly disconcerting.

    Leaving aside the fact that Clarkson did not appear to be making a serious comment, the interesting thing about his case is what duty of care the BBC has beyond ensuring that its programmes comply with the laws of the land. I would be the first to defend Clarkson’s right to express his opinion; but the BBC holds a privileged position in our society, and therefore I also accept that the public can expect certain broadcast standards and parameters, particularly in the early evening. So a more useful debate might be an attempt to articulate/codify those parameters and the processes by which the BBC will (a) enforce them and (b) deal with breaches.

  5. Getting more like the States every day. People “rush to judgement” (a popular phrase since the days of the OJ Simpson case) without thinking or digging for facts, and it then becomes a real problem when putting a jury together since it’s almost impossible to find jurors who haven’t already formed an opinion.
    Watching from afar, I cannot believe that anyone even gave Clarkson’s comment the time of day. I mean how many times have we, or a close one said something like “They should be hung, (hanged?) drawn and quartered..”
    A sad day for the UK….

  6. We now live in, as previously mentioned, an instant society. Things like ‘tram experience’ and Jeremy Clarkson are on the internet for all to see with amazing rapidity and promoted/advertised through social media to such a degree that they become (if you dwell in the 21st century) unavoidable.

    I found out about the tram experience through Twitter but heard about Jeremy Clarkson on PM on Radio 4. It seems to me that there is a significant qualitative difference between the two. Clarkson is a right wing buffoon – everyone knows he is a right wing buffoon and pretty much everything he says on the TV, radio or papers is right wing buffoonery. It was a case, I think, “Oh, there goes the buffoon again!”. I was annoyed by his nonsense but no more than that. The sense of outrage manifested by Unison is silly. I agree that they have only succeeded in making themselves appear petty and vindictive. If it was Boris Johnson saying something crass and idiotic (and lets face it, that’s his default position) people just ignore him.

    The tram experience woman was, to my mind, of a different order. I just kept watching the child on her knee – he seemed to take it pretty much in his stride and was remarkably calm – Poor, doomed individual! Her foul opinions, voiced so loudly and publicly directly at the subjects of her misplaced and unreasonable venom, are probably not the isolated opinion of an idiot. This kind of inflammatory nastiness is seething away just under the surface of a section of society which, frankly, makes me nervous. Sanctions against her seem to me to be entirely justified, although I’m not sure custody is appropriate.

    I suspect that knee jerk reactions to this kind of thing are here to stay. A little more reason and thought from the media may assist in quelling overreaction but if the Leveson enquiry so far is anything to go by, then it seems that large sections of the media are just as bad.

    • I formed the opinion watching Tram Woman that she was ill, and perhaps someone who through that had her inhibitions lowered – remembering of course that while unpleasant, it is not unlawful to hold those views.

  7. Well done for saying this. It appears that only lawyers are rising above the frothy mouthed mob. Compassion and tolerance seem strangely absent in cyberspace.

    • Man alive, we’re all buggered if it is left to lawyers to save us ;) . In fairness, I follow a lot of journos – all of whom were saying similar things. Thanks for the comment.

  8. There is never two sides to a story! There are always three sides. There is your side, my side and the truth! Anyway – I just can’t understand why people get so “offended” by things which have absolutely nothing to do with them. For example – Ross/Brandgate – how many thousands of people complained about a comment which was not directed at them, or about anyone they even know? How many white people have been “offended” by the lady on the tram? Can a white person truly be offended by a racist remark? I can understand how people might be appauled by her comments especially in this day and age, coupled with the fact that she had a small child on her lap. But offended? And how was Clarkson’s comment “offensive”? Clearly the comment was in jest. He’s not going to actually shoot people. I heard some twerp on C4 news yesterday (I think he was a QC?) saying that one couldn’t tell what he meant by those comments – well he was hardly serious was he? He also said parents were having to explain to their young children what “execution” meant, and that it was totally inappropriate for the comments to be made before the watershed. Well this twerp was speaking yesterday afternoon – so if children didn’t know what it meant the night before, they might be asking questions now!

    I just can’t stand how people get so offended so easily about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them – and have no sense of humour. Frankly, I think they should be shot.

    • @njohnston1275 – Wrong – ther are only TWO sides to any story – mine – and (my view on)the truth.

      Insofar as YOU differ – it is self evident you are wrong, and shouldn’t be allowed to confuse people by saying anything. This is fundamental to the Principles of “Free Speech”
      For further details – see Kipling – “One View of the Question” (1890)
      If they desire a thing they declare that it is true. If they desire it not, though that were Death itself, they cry aloud, ‘It has never been.’
      (Has anyone seen my box of Dried Frog Pills?)

  9. Here we go – again.

    Police appeal for calm as vigil for one-month-old baby with every rib broken turns ugly
    Man, 35, and woman, 33, arrested and bailed
    Police attend candlelit vigil which saw house damaged
    Over 100 gather outside property in Gravesend, Kent

    One of those involved in the vigil said they had gone to a house where they believed a man arrested in connection with the incident was staying with his family after he was released on police bail.

    Read more:

  10. What frustrates me is that the video clips of Clarkson available on the web are all carefully redacted to misrepresent what he was trying to say. I actually saw pretty much the whole of the clip last week on the BBC. What he was doing was exactly the same as a major complaint repeated on Private Eye – the BBC is always required to be “balanced”, even if that seems completely inappropriate. He made a remark which seemed mildly approving of the strikers and then chose to mock editorial demands for balance by saying something so extremely against them that it was absurd. The trade unionists seem simply to be airing their own limitations in that the earlier fragment of the conversation was too much for them to follow. Shame really.

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