Friday, May 24, 2013

Beware What You Tweet

Somehow, Sally Bercow managed to secure upwards of 56,000 followers on twitter.  Which made her inadvisable tweet about Lord McAlpine all the more - well, inadvisable.  Lord Tugendhat's ruling appeared today, and he ruled against Bercow and in favour of McAlpine, that the tweet was indeed defamatory.

There can't have been much doubt on the part of anyone who read it that Mrs. Bercow wasn't in fact simply stating a trend and asking a question about it.  "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" asks us to believe something more; it was a would-be cunning way out of being accused of suggesting that McAlpine was a paedophile - the nature of the untrue twitter rumours based on a poorly sourced Newsnight film - by indulging in a bit of nudge-nudge wink-wink gossip.  As such, the ruling is to be welcomed.  If it dissuades Mrs. Bercow from tweeting in future it has probably served a further purpose too.  Her fame is mysterious, and despite frequent denials seems to be based upon the fact that she is John Bercow's wife.  The ruling itself says that Bercow "is well known to the public for a number of reasons. Amongst these is that she is the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons".  Indeed.  It goes on to say that she has appeared on famous television broadcasts, but doesn't stoop to noting that these, too, derive from her position as a famous spouse.  Given that, one can fairly assume that Mrs. Bercow's tweeting career was part of a relentless and successful campaign to ensure constant public coverage. It is good that she - and others - have been reminded of the limits to one's stream of consciousness utterances.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Bible got this one right some years ago, when the author of Ecclesiastes warned against cursing the king or cursing the rich "for a bird of the air will carry your voice" (10:20).  More recently, Robert Bolt's masterly play "A Man For All Seasons" has Cromwell remind the jury in the trial of Thomas More that "there are many different kinds of silence".  It seems we can now add to his list the virtuous silence of the one who doesn't tweet.

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