“I’m a social media manager who hates social media”

A very, very quick blog post about this brutally honest and deliciously forthright cri de coeur: “Anonymous: I’m a social media manager who hates social media“. Well worth a few minutes of your time to read.

Sample quotes:

I hate being part of this machine. I hate helping these platforms grow – these spaces that fail to deal with fake news and abuse, and that are contributing to so many people having poor mental health.

These are all the kinds of things you’d probably expect to hear from a middle-aged man – the sort of old git who loves to get on his high-horse about, well, anything that disagrees with his world view.

But – surprise! – the person writing this article is actually a millennial. Moreover, a millennial who also happens to be a social media professional with more than a decade’s experience.

Crossing The Divide: Communicating with the Comms Crew


I’m just back from a fascinating and thought-provoking day at Woburn House Conference Centre in London where I had the pleasure of contributing to Making An Impact: Marketing and Communications in Higher EducationI’ll quote directly from the blurb for the conference:

 Making an impact: Marketing and communications in higher education will bring together communications, marketing, external relations and digital professionals to discuss the particular nature of university marketing and communications, to draw inspiration from outside the sector, and to examine case studies to help you progress and enhance your own marketing and communications strategy.

At the start of the academic year, the conference organisers, Universities UK, invited me to present and run a breakout session on the upsides and dark sides of social media in academia. I was delighted to have been invited, but what I found rather surprising, if not a little disconcerting, when I scanned down the list of hundred or so delegates this morning was that I was apparently the only academic attending.

Now, I realise that, as is clear from the blurb above, the conference was pitched at those in higher education comms, marketing, and external relations. But still. A conference on core aspects of HE that was largely academic-free is symptomatic of the troublesome “us and them” divide that increasingly exists between those “at the chalkface” and our marketing and comms colleagues at the “centre”. Although I’ve been fairly — or unfairly, depending on which side of the divide you fall — scathing of the more corporate aspects of HE branding, I of course fully recognise that we academics need the support and guidance of our colleagues in marketing and comms. But that runs both ways; there has to be mutual recognition of each other’s expertise. I hope that more academics will get involved with this type of conference in future.

Despite initially feeling like a stranger in a strange land, however, I got a great deal out of the conference. Robert Perry‘s opening presentation on “influencer mapping” was fascinating. Perry made a strong case for the much greater online influence of the individual academic over that of the institution, which chimes with our experience with Sixty Symbols (and Brady Haran‘s other channels): the lack of a corporate “sheen” in connecting and engaging with an audience is almost essential.  As a fellow geek, I was also intrigued by the “connectivity mapping” that Perry presented in the self-styled “Geeky Bit” part of his presentation.

Next up was the engaging and informative Sian Griffiths, Education Editor for the Sunday Times, who was interviewed by Michael Thompson of Universities UK. This was a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from the unhelpful defensiveness of a certain breed of  university press officer to whether unconditional offers for university applicants are a good idea. (As an admissions tutor, the latter certainly piqued my interest.)


Closing the morning session, we had Kirsty Walker, Director Media Relations, University College London and Beth Button, Campaigns Manager, Universities UK on the #MadeAtUni campaign. Georgina Munn’s tweet below captures the core rationale for #MadeAtUni. (Georgina is Customer Success Manager at The Access Platform (TAP)).

At this point I had not imbibed caffeine for a good ninety minutes, so rushed to grab a coffee before the palpitations kicked in. (Again.) Then it was up two flights of stairs to the Boardroom for a session on crisis management from Will Marsh, Head of Media at Bristol University, and Tom Sheldon, Senior Press Manager for the Science Media Centre. Universities UK worked Will hard for the conference — not only did he co-present this session but he and I jointly delivered a breakout session after lunch (see below). Will discussed the tragic student suicides that have happened at Bristol University over the last two academic years, describing just how he and his team dealt with the issues with sensitivity and insight. (Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail did not exactly cover itself in glory in its coverage of the tragedies. Handling intrusive tabloid coverage was a recurring theme of Will’s talk.)

Tom Sheldon similarly made mention of tabloid hyperbole in his presentation…


Despite being very much of the “glass half-empty, fallen on the ground, crushed to bits…and we’ll never get the wine stains out of the carpet” persuasion, I was hugely encouraged by Tom’s slide below:


In case you can’t read the text above, the headline message is that 90% of the UK public (via the MORI Public Attitudes To Science survey in 2014) trusted scientists working for universities to follow the rules and regulations of our profession. That is remarkable (and, from certain perspectives, rather at odds with attitudes to academics across the pond).

Will and Tom’s Q&A had to be curtailed so we all could go to lunch. Will and I made our way back to the Boardroom for our session, “Communications professionals and researchers: Collaborating for success”. I discussed my rather polarised relationship with social media. Working with Brady Haran on Sixty Symbols, Numberphile (and, very, very occasionally, Periodic Videos), and with Sean Riley on Computerphile, has completely changed how I think about not only public engagement but teaching in general. But I’ve also written about the deep downsides of social media engagement both here at Symptoms… and elsewhere.

The key message I wanted to get across to the comms/marketing audience in the room (who kindly listened to me drone on for twenty minutes or so) was that it’s a mistake to think that there’s an adoring public out there waiting for academics to enlighten them about our most recent world-leading, pioneering, game-changing, cutting-edge (add buzzwords ad nauseum…) research. As ever for this type of presentation, I asked how many in the audience had heard of GamerGate (just five hands went up) or Anita Sarkeesian (three hands raised). This is a concern, given that this was an audience of (social) media professionals. My slides are below.

Will’s presentation focussed on just how a university Media and Communications team can collaborate with academics who have been targeted on social media (and beyond) due to research which is perceived as contentious. Remarkably, one especially contentious area of research turns out to be work on chronic fatigue syndrome. Will, depressingly, discussed how Bristol academics have received death threats due to their work in this area. (This article in The Guardian, which Will cited, highlights one example of targeting of a Bristol researcher.)

There is, of course, no silver bullet solution to protecting academics from the adverse consequences of engaging publicly. (The related issue of just where the line is drawn between professional and personal online activity was something that was raised in the Q&A session following our presentations.) Will made this point repeatedly for very good reason throughout his talk. Regardless, however, of just how we respond to each crisis, what is essential is that there are always good lines of communication and a strong professional relationship between the comms/media team and the academic staff.

For all of these reasons (and many more), next time I attend a conference on marketing and communications in HE, I sincerely hope that, as an academic, I’m not in a minority of one.

Update 09/11/2018: I’ve just scanned this week’s Times Higher Education over breakfast and read Charlotte Galpin‘s insightful and timely article on academics engaging via video: “Video must not kill the female stars of public academic debate“. Her article certainly resonated with me — Galpin echoes a number of the points that Will and I raised during our breakout session yesterday:

Live streaming, live tweeting, posting and podcasting of academic events has become a standard part of universities’ dissemination strategies, and I had been asked to participate in this one just months into my first lectureship. Yet, it is not clear that the wider implications of the practice have been considered in any depth.

My university has been supportive, but it also expressed surprise over my Daily Express experience, and reassured me that nothing like that had happened before.

It beggars belief that a university can express surprise at the type of backlash Dr. Galpin received. This lack of appreciation of just how toxic and aggressive it can get “out there” is troubling and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. For one thing, Galpin’s article should be on the list of required reading for all HE media and comms professionals. Anita Sarkeesian’s TEDx talk should similarly be part of the learning resources for Social Media for Academics 101…

Bullshit and Beyond: From Chopra to Peterson

Harry G Frankfurt‘s On Bullshit is a modern classic. He highlights the style-over-substance tenor of the most fragrant and flagrant bullshit, arguing that

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says
only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye
is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

In other words, the bullshitter doesn’t care about the validity or rigour of their arguments. They are much more concerned with being persuasive. One aspect of BS that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves in Frankfurt’s essay, however, is that special blend of obscurantism and vacuity that is the hallmark of three world-leading bullshitters of our time:  Deepak Chopra, Karen Barad (see my colleague Brigitte Nerlich’s important discussion of Barad’s wilfully impenetrable language here), and Jordan Peterson. In a talk for the University of Nottingham Agnostic, Secularist, and Humanist Society last night (see here for the blurb/advert), I focussed on the intriguing parallels between their writing and oratory. Here’s the video of the talk.

Thanks to UNASH for the invitation. I’ve not included the lengthy Q&A that followed (because I stupidly didn’t ask for permission to film audience members’ questions). I’m hoping that some discussion and debate might ensue in the comments section below. If you do dive in, try not to bullshit too much…



Beware The Troll

I very much enjoy reading Kyle Baldwin‘s “Apples and Bongo Drums” blog and thought I’d reblog one of his posts here. I was a little spoiled for choice, however. (I recommend you visit Kyle’s blog and read his other posts). After some umming and ahhing, I decided to go with his “Beware The Troll” post from July. Let’s just say it resonated.

Over to Kyle…

Beware the Troll

Kyle Baldwin, July 25 2016


Once, Trolls were purely mythical creatures that lived under bridges and ate unsuspecting would-be bridge crossers. Or, if you prefer Tolkien mythos, Trolls were great big dim-witted creatures that can only be defeated by a combination of Hobbit stall tactics and sunlight petrification. Either way, it’s safe to assume that when these myths were being written, the total sum of actual death certificates that read “Cause of death: Troll” was nil.

That’s not quite true anymore.

If you’ve ever wasted a few hours scrolling through the YouTube comments section, and been left wondering where it all went wrong for the human race, there’s a good chance you encountered an internet troll or two. If you haven’t, then here’s a brief outline of what an internet troll is: an awful human being. More specifically though, it is someone who constantly posts in online forums with no purpose other than to disrupt conversations, provoke arguments, or just plain bully. They may hardly sound like the world’s biggest problem right now, and may even sound mostly harmless, but sometimes they’re a more insidious pest than my description does justice.

For example, Jessica Laney, a 16 year old Floridian girl, took her own life after being on the receiving end of online bullying, which included messages telling her to go kill herself. There’s also Charlotte Dawson, 47 year old New Zealander and TV presenter who committed suicide after years of online harassment – harassment carried out under the Twitter banner #diecharlotte. These are just a couple of highly publicised examples, but cyberbullying related deaths are becoming increasingly common, to the point where they no longer make headlines. One study shows that suicide ideation is strongly linked with cyberbullying, and we’ve not even touched on how many cases of clinical anxiety or depression can be linked back to online abuse. The exact numbers for cyberbullying related long-term mental health issues is unclear (unsurprisingly), but it is very well documented that bullying leaves permanent scars, and according to one study, as many as 43% of students will get to enjoy being cyberbullied during their lifetime.

If you thought lone trolls were a nuisance, you clearly don’t know much about 4chan. This is a little dark corner of the internet where trolls like to meet up, hang out, pick a target, and make casual rape threats (amongst other things). It’s a misogynist’s paradise, it’s a mob, and it has a way of achieving its goals through “hacktivism”. Wonderful.

LutherTo be fair, for the most part trolls are just people who get a kick out of causing a bit of mischief by derailing a conversation, or by mildly irritating people with political bait. But there are also those who take it many steps further, and the internet is the perfect platform for all their trolling desires. Further, comments sections seem to bring out the utter worst in people in ways that would never happen in the non-virtual world. Why does this happen, and is there any way to prevent it? … Other than the brand of anti-troll vigilante justice Luther endorsed, of course.

What feeds the Trolls?

In 2004, John Suler coined the term the “online disinhibition effect”, which, in a nutshell, states that people are willing to behave differently online than they would in reality. This isn’t really a single effect, but rather a collection of different factors and psychological effects that add up to make trolling inevitable. List time!

  1. I am no one. Probably the most obvious factor is that commenting is often completely anonymous, and anonymity gives a sense of security against any reprisals. You might be able to find a mister B. Kaldwin and give him a piece of your mind, but Prince_RobotIV? Who even is that guy?
  2. I am invisible. This is similar to the above, but also adds the fact that the form of communication – text – does not deliver tone, facial expressions or emotion. They are just words on a screen that could be interpreted a hundred ways, and concern over appearance is lost entirely. Further, a troll can pretend to be any age, sex, race or species he/she/it wants if it serves their purpose better. Not only do you not know who or where I am, but you don’t know what I am. And that gives me power.
  3. LOL BYE. The fact that conversations online are asynchronous – one can leave and come back to a conversation at any time – lowers inhibitions by allowing a person to go away and take all the time they need to think of the perfect cutting words. It also gives the troll the opportunity to blurt out something and not worry about a reply until they’re ready to log back in. Very unlike real life. This also means you can throw in an inflammatory remark on a popular YouTube video, grab a box of popcorn, and watch the ensuing mayhem.
  4. You’re who I say you are! This is a slightly abstract aspect, and is the most subconsciously active of the list yet. When you read a comment, although you don’t see, hear or smell the person on the other end, your brain automatically assigns characteristics to them. Usually, for some reason, people imagine that the commenter is male, white, and less intelligent than you. This is particularly the case in political arguments, where as soon as a disagreement begins, you imagine the other person as the pure stereotype of your political nemesis, and slowly, but surely, you begin to feel vindicated in displaying your ire.
  5. Want to play a game? Suler observed (alongside criminal lawyer Emily Finch studying online identity theft) that many people see the online realm as a form of escapism, and interacting with other commenters is nothing more than a game. Games have no real consequences, so what’s the worst that could happen? That girl won’t really think I want her to kill herself! That would be mental!
  6. You’re in my world now. This is kind of obvious when you think about it, but surprising to the uninitiated – the hierarchy of the online world follows its own rules. Even if you know the status of a person in the real world, it has little bearing on their perceived status in online communities. Instead, in the online realm, their online following is what gives them authority in chat rooms. To put it simply, a vocal twitter user who has many online followers but no power in reality, has more “cyber power”, and is feared as an authority figure in cyberspace over a prominent politician who only occasionally tweets (and especially if the tweets are of his own name – I’m looking at you Ed Balls).

Add all these effects together, and you get a worrying reduction in social inhibitions online. Politicians are still debating how to grapple with this surprising consequence of giving everyone a cyber-voice, and we’re left with the question:

Do we just accept them?


The good news is that research suggests that trolls are in the vast minority. The bad news is that YouTube comment algorithms create the perfect troll feeding grounds. When you leave a comment, there are two ways in which it will find its way to the top of the pile – lots of thumbs up, and lots of replies. It is far more heavily weighted in favour of number of replies, though, and this is the crucial factor that makes trolls so visible – people can’t help but to reply to a comment they strongly disagree with.

The simplest solution would be to just learn when people are trying to get a rise out of you, and ignore … but that’s really difficult. Replying is reactive (as opposed to the far more passive ‘thumbs up’ option), and trolls, almost by definition, exist purely to illicit reactions in others. They’ve found their craft, honed their skills, and have become very adept at it. No matter how many times I hear the phrase “don’t feed the trolls”, when I read something outrageous, I just can’t help but want to send a snarky “Oh YEAH? Well let me tell you, sir/madam, that I think your specific politics are WRONG!”.

Trolls get the most replies, their comments find their way to the top, and suddenly they seem like they are the majority – we’ll call this troll-bias. Recently, a few YouTubers have begun requesting that their viewers leave a “+” reply to all comments that they agree with, to offset this troll-bias. It’s a clever response, and it does indeed seem to already be making comment sections far more pleasant places.

With regards to other forms of cyber-bullying, there aren’t easy answers, sadly. Forum moderators can take comments down, but usually they act after the harm has been done, and as Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed highlights, no number of moderators could hold back the tide of hateful comments that come with the Twitter mob.

Stricter laws should be implemented, I think. It’s not okay to tell someone to “go kill yourself” – no amount of free speech rights should leave the door open for that kind of behaviour. The online world though is multi-national, so how do we ensure safe spaces when laws aren’t always universal? It’s also, as I pointed out above, almost entirely anonymous! The ever-watchful, and infinitely creepy NSA might be able to automatically respond to a person openly asking Facebook how to build a dirty bomb (not that they ever do!), but a local police force is not going to be able to do much about a string of hateful comments coming from 4chan/b/.

School bullies have existed for as long as there have been schools, and, so far, no one has figured out how to stop them from growing like weeds. Now, our school bullies have the internet at their fingertips, and the online disinhibition effect in their heads, and it’s a bit scary. So what do we do when a troll doesn’t even recognise his victim is a person? Teach them.

Lindy West, an online activist and vocal feminist, was accustomed to online abuse – anyone who writes about feminism is an easy target for the more misogynistic trolls out there. But then one day, a specific troll took a different tactic than the usual rape/death threats, and decided to impersonate her dead father. Sickening, right? Usually, she would follow her peers’ advice and ignore the trolls, but this time and she decided to write a piece about it. The troll read the piece, realised there was real person on the other end of his abuse, apologised to her directly, and changed his ways. The troll decided he’d had enough and came out from under the bridge.

The answer, then, has to be in education. First educate police forces to take online abuse seriously (because they are often woefully inadequate at this so far), and educate youths to understand that not only is bullying a crime, but the people on the other end of comments are just that – people. They’re not tropes of your political nemeses, this isn’t a game, and you are not absolved of all responsibility by your anonymity.

And if that doesn’t work … Well, there’s always the Luther approach.

Note: the author of this blog in no way endorses vigilante justice.

Trollface image attribution: By Azzy10 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Trollface.png.

Luther (Idris Elba) image attribution: By DFID – UK Department for International Development – https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/15418120205/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35853981

Where Two Tribes Go To Roar…

(…or Why I Left The Twitter Trenches)

I was warned by colleagues and friends not to do it.

“You’ll definitely regret it”.

“I know what you’re like — you’ll get drawn into far too many pointless arguments.”

“Where are you going to find the time?”

In the end, I lasted a little less than 18 months. I deactivated my Twitter account last Sunday.

And breathed a huge sigh of relief.

No more petty playground barbs, ad hominem slurs, or tweenage memes (in lieu of any type of coherent argument) clogging up my timeline.

No more logging on to find fifty or sixty notifications, scrolling down the list and finding my faith in humanity chipped away just that little bit more.

And, in particular, no more of the spinelessness and hypocrisy of that particular subset of Twitter users who spend their time cravenly slagging off others from behind cosy anonymous cover. (More on this below – it’s a theme about which I’m just a little…obsessive).

I’ve received a number of e-mails asking why I deactivated my account. Some have thought, quite reasonably, that I left Twitter because I’d been “driven off” by Louise Mensch following a number of ‘debates’, i.e. slanging matches, on the subject of the Tim Hunt furore (and related themes).

No, I’ve not been Mensch-ed. Indeed, while I may vehemently disagree with the vast majority of what Mensch writes and deplore her vacuous vitriol, in one way (and one way only) I recognise a kindred spirit in her. She is obsessive. Even those who, unlike me, are on the right-of-centre of the political spectrum and could thus be considered to be Mensch’s allies have pointed this out: she spends an inordinate amount of time on Twitter, tweeting at a phenomenal rate and arguing seemingly continuously. (Of course, it’s rather easy to maintain a high tweet bandwidth if your wit and insightfulness too often fail to rise above the level of “LOL!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!” but, then, Mensch is a columnist for The Sun — lowest-common-denominator bile and boilerplate are her newspaper’s stock-in-trade. It’s perhaps unfair to expect incisive insights/pithy Twittery from Mensch when her day job doesn’t require it.)

Nonetheless, Mensch’s tenacity and obsessiveness resonate with me; I am not the sharpest tack in the box but I can be single-minded, pig-headed, and, yes, obsessive. Those are qualities which, while not always the most laudable or attractive, are very helpful in science; Edison’s 99% perspiration maxim is especially apposite for scientific research. (On a slightly tangential point, I should note that, in my opinion, Mensch is invested heavily in the Tim Hunt furore (and other debates/arguments/slanging matches) because she genuinely cares about these issues. I don’t agree with her position but I think she’s genuine in her vitriol. This is not to say that there isn’t some aspect of self-promotion in her proclivity for Twitter but it seems to me that she’s in a different category to, for example, the self-aggrandising, unprincipled, hate-for-hire, human detritus that is Milo Yiannopoulos.)

In contexts other than scientific research, however, Mensch’s level of obsessiveness can, at best, be rather unseemly and a massive waste of time, and downright unhealthy at worst. What does anyone gain from the type of playground name-calling that is the signature characteristic of so many exchanges on Twitter? And I don’t mean just the spats with Mensch (although I’d imagine these account for a non-negligible percentage of the total); too often when the Left and the Right collide, the level of debate on Twitter descends to the gutter in the space of a remarkably small number of characters. Of course, the Left and Right  — and warring internal factions within both the Left and the Right [Note that the recent appalling sexism of some affiliated with a particular faction of the Left is one area where I do agree with Mensch] — vociferously disagree with each other in so many other fora (both real-world and online). But the 140 character/rapid response format of Twitter is particularly ill-suited to fostering any type of intelligent, thoughtful, or simply courteous debate.

I should stress at this point that I am certainly not suggesting for one femtosecond that I am any type of paragon of virtue in this context. I have certainly descended to Mensch’s level on a number of occasions (and one example is mentioned below). But that’s the point — being dragged down to that level is one damn good reason to quit Twitter.

There were two key catalysts, however, for my decision to leave Twitter. The first of these was an exchange with a Twitter user with the wonderfully witty and inventive handle of @SlagOffTwits.  @SlagOffTwits is one of that rather well-populated tribe of Twitter users which claims to be protecting freedom of speech and the opportunity to offend whomever and whenever they like. But they, errmm, “slag off twits” behind anonymous cover — an utterly dishonest, totally spineless, and amusingly hypocritical way to behave.

As I told @SlagOffTwits (and have repeatedly told others who similarly lack the honesty and basic decency to put their name to their slurs), I’m more than comfortable with being slagged off online. Indeed, I’m very used to it. I’d prefer if my points were met with coherent and thoughtful arguments, but if you can’t quite rise to that challenge I’m more than happy to listen to your slurs.

But here’s the rub. Slag me and others off openly and honestly. Have the backbone and integrity to put your name to your slurs. Otherwise you’re not even the playground bully — you’re the bully’s weaselly friend who cowers in the background.

So I explained this all to @SlagOffTwits and their responses followed the same tediously evasive and inconsistent pattern I’ve encountered so many times before…

[Edit 12:43 09/12/2015. I guess I should point out that in the following I am paraphrasing @SlagOffTwit’s and others’ arguments — they are not direct quotes. ]

“You’re not engaging with the arguments — you’re using your criticism of anonymity to scupper debate”.

No, that’s demonstrably incorrect. I have engaged with each and every one of your points. And each and every one of the points raised by others with whom I disagree. I don’t block or mute for precisely this reason. It’s entirely dishonest of you to argue otherwise. I can engage with each of your arguments and at the same time point out how spineless and dishonest it is to slag off others from behind anonymous cover.

“I have a perfectly good reason to be anonymous”.

Which is? Are you writing from a location where you’re under an oppressive regime? Are you likely to face the death penalty for what you write? If not, then explain just why it’s OK for you to “slag off twits” from behind anonymous cover. And, no, the fact that you’re frightened of how your place of employment might look on your views and/or your behaviour online is not a justifiable reason. That’s pure cowardice. Stand behind your views. (I may disagree vehemently with Mensch but at least she’s willing to keep her head above the parapet. (A very long way above the parapet…))

Strangely enough, I’ve not had any type of credible answer — from any of those who hide behind anon cover while screaming “freedom of speech…we’ll offend who the f**k we like…don’t be so sensitive” — to my question asking why their anonymity is necessary. They seem to get very defensive, touchy and, um, sensitive when I raise the matter.


“Your Twitter account isn’t verified. You could be anyone. Hypocritical for you to focus on my anonymity when your account isn’t verified”

It is very difficult to get a Twitter account verified if you are not a public figure. The likelihood of my getting a verified account is therefore slim to none (as no doubt you know). But that doesn’t mean that I can’t verify my identity. Here’s a link to a short video where I verify that this is indeed my account.

“But your Twitter account isn’t verified”.

I sent you a link to a video where I verified that it was my account and that my affiliation is the University of Nottingham. Moreover, here’s my University of Nottingham phone number. You can check online that this number is indeed the office phone number for Philip Moriarty. Give me a call.

“But your Twitter account isn’t verified”.

OK, this is getting tedious now — you’re dishonestly ignoring the responses I’ve given. As I’ve said, I can just as easily verify it via my University of Nottingham affiliation. Just phone the number.

[@SlagOffTwits departs from the usual script…].

“I’m now going to set up a false Twitter account in your name to show you how easy it is to have an unverified account. And I’ll tweet from it”.

I know full well just how easy it is to set up an unverified account. Please don’t insult my intelligence. In any case, I’ve told you how I can verify this account. It’s entirely dishonest and reprehensible of you to set up a false account in my name simply to evade my points about your cowardly use of anonymity. The fact that it’s very easy to set up any number of false accounts/sockpuppets and to steal an identity does not make it ethically defensible to do so! In fact, that you would stoop this low highlights your inability to defend your anonymity using credible arguments. It significantly strengthens my point that those who slag off others from behind anonymous cover are fundamentally dishonest and cowardly.

[Around about this point I accused @SlagOffTwits of being one of Mensch’s acolytes. That was unfair both to Mensch and @SlagOffTwits and I retracted the statement and apologised to Mensch. As I said, I’m no paragon of virtue when it comes to Twitter spats].


I have participated in quite a few online debates over the years. One of the first, on the physics and possibilities of advanced nanotechnology, was over a decade ago and stretched to over 50 pages of discussion (although, technically, it was via e-mail, followed by posting of the documents online). This got rather heated in the later stages but I implicitly trusted my opponent, Chris Phoenix, to debate in good faith; I was entirely confident that he and I were of the same mind when it came to basic values like the importance of honesty and intellectual integrity in debate. The language was robust, sure, but Chris and I were never dishonest with each other. And, in the end, that debate with Chris — despite us being very much on opposite sides of the fence — was exceptionally productive in that it led to a £1.7M grant on the fundamental issues underpinning computer-controlled mechanochemistry. 

Similarly, in a variety of other debates, I have implicitly trusted those with whom I’m debating to argue their points honestly and not resort to grubby dishonest tricks like sockpuppetry, identity theft, or setting up false accounts, despite our sometimes very strong differences in opinion. And generally, I find that my values align with those of my opponents. But not when it comes to @SlagOffTwits and their tribe. There is a fundamental clash of values with regard to the central importance of honesty, intellectual integrity, and basic decency in debate. It is a monumental waste of my time to debate with someone who sees nothing wrong in dishonestly setting up a false account in order to evade questions about…their dishonesty.

Yes, there are many great things about Twitter, as this compelling post from Paul Coxon points out. And yes, I could in principle just block @SlagOffTwits and their ilk. But unlike many of those who claim to be all for free speech, I don’t block or censor. I value free debate. (Fascinatingly, Louise Mensch is all for freedom of speech…as long as she’s not being criticised. The…let’s be charitable and just say “cognitive dissonance” here is intriguing). Moreover, in my experience there any very many on Twitter who share @SlagOffTwits’ lack of honesty and integrity in debate; I know that at some point they’ll end up in my timeline and I’ll get drawn into another pointless spat with them because their dishonesty winds me up so very much.

So that’s one reason why I left Twitter. But the much more important reason is the following…

While I was involved in that spat with @SlagOffTwits discussed above I overheard the following exchange between my six year old son, Fiachra, and his big sister, Niamh:

Fiachra (whispered): “Niamh, why does daddy look so grumpy when he’s typing on his laptop? Does he not like working on his laptop?”

Niamh: “Oh, he’s on Twitter again. He’s always grumpy when he’s on Twitter.”

’nuff said.



(added 11/12/2015. 19:00)

Following an exchange in the comments thread below, @SlagOffTwits tweeted the following. Note that nowhere in the post above, nowhere in the comments, or nowhere online have I suggested that @SlagOffTwits “bullied me off” Twitter. I certainly mention bullying in one of the comments below but there has been no accusation that @SlagOffTwits “bullied me off” Twitter. It’s precisely this type of dishonesty that makes engaging with @SlagOffTwits and his/her ilk so infuriating.


EDIT (16/12/2015) Coda to the coda. Because the Tweet above is a direct link to the Twitter account, rather than a screenshot, I’ve just noticed that @SlagOffTwits has recently changed his Twitter profile picture from a cartoon to what appears to be his actual photo. Kudos to him for doing this. We need more of that type of honesty on the web.