When Piers is emperor, Rome must fall

By Mic Wright on July 9th, 2012

You know Georgia Ford? You know, Georgia Ford from Twitter? Of course you don’t, unless you’re a close observer of minor Twitter storms. Yesterday, during the Wimbledon Men’s Final, Georgia innocently tweeted, asking whether they always held the tournament in London.

It was either a silly comment or a joke, depending on how you want to take it, but soon poor Ms Ford was being hammered by the self-appointed judges of Twitter. It was bad enough that ordinary users were ragging on her, but big names started to join in, massively extending the lifespan of that one marginally moronic Mayfly moment.

Piers Morgan was among the high profile tweeters who hopped on the bandwagon, showing his customary restraint and good taste. He has since apologised for his actions and indicated that he’d like to speak to Ford, but the damage, of course, has been done. Morgan has almost 2.5 million followers. A tweet from him can bring a horde of morons and jokers upon whomsoever is unlucky enough to catch his eye.

Twitter users with significant followings are sometimes oblivious to how highly destructive their power can be. Used well, Twitter can be a marvellous promotional megaphone. But wielded like a networked Nuremberg rally microphone, Twitter can bring legions of odious, orc-like automatons down on anyone who dares question an edict from the Twitterati – or anyone who says something a bit daft.

If you want to try an experiment, say something about violent talent vacuum Chris Brown, as I did when I awarded his latest album zero stars, and you’ll see how vast Twitter followings can bring down vengeance. #teambreezy are united in their vehement love of Mr Brown and their collective disdain for the established rules of grammar, spelling and polite society as a whole. But, you know, other than that they’re great kids, even if they do spend their days being verbally abusive.

Outside of the Twitter elite, there are others who, through patronage by prominent users, or by being good at finding funny links and composing retweetable bon mots, gain a significant number of followers. One Twitter user with upwards of 20,000 is currently at the centre of a controversy including huge amounts of cash originating with his internet pals and the abuse of several women who became involved with him.

By accruing such a large number of followers, the amateur comedian was able to gain some respectability and a small band of fans to defend him and, in some cases, help fund his lifestyle of booze, cigarettes and debt. Twitter gave him that power because his follower count was seen by many as a validating badge that said: “Trust me. I’m a nice guy.” Twitter follower numbers can become the modern equivalent of the Elvis compilation album title 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.

The Kernel will not name the person for now, but his case illustrates a valuable lesson: Twitter persona and human being can be very different.

And so, reluctantly, back to Piers Morgan for a moment, who seems wilfully unaware that a significant proportion of his followers are there for purposes other than adulation. In fact, we’re waiting for his CNN show to be scrapped and we delighted in seeing him given a digital bloody nose by Gary Lineker. But it is also clear that many of that 2.5 million base are confirmed Piers fans and will rain down abuse according to the capricious whimsy of their obnoxious emperor.

Some Twitter users have audiences that would make traditional newspaper proprietors green with envy and which would delight the producers of primetime TV shows. Those big numbers give the Twitter elite the power to speak directly to their audience and to get the attention of companies that irritate them. Look at the case of Independent columnist Grace Dent, and the foolish PR who worked for the firm that represents her but who also tweeted something disobliging about her looks.

For 24 hours, her scathing comebacks had the tweeting classes debating whether she was about to get the foolish lad sacked. Gratifyingly, she didn’t. But she had it in her gift to ruin him.

There is a divide between those with a fairly insignificant Twitter presence and those who have vast numbers of people hanging off their every tweet. It can produce a sort of high-altitude narcissism, in which popular Twitter users feel that they can throw down commandments on how to use the service “correctly”. Said individuals also often lord about their ability to block Twitter users who irritate them, as though it were a function reserved for royalty.

But individuals with significant clout should be more careful about how they wield it. Georgia Ford’s response on Facebook to Morgan’s entreaties says it all:  “This has got completely out of hand now… Piers Morgan and the press are making things 10x worse. There’s absolutely no way I want to speak to him. I am being used as a pathetic publicity stunt on his behalf.”

That, presumably, goes forty times over for the Huffington Post, which published a news story on “the Georgia Ford situation” a mere thirty-five minutes after the whole silly bunfight started, as if she were a cabinet minister caught bonking the diary secretary or an idiotic TV presenter revealed as a racist.

Twitter is, at once, insignificant and very powerful. While the number of people on it is still dwarfed by some other platforms, its publicness and the extent to which journalists pay close attention to it mean that a big following brings with enormous responsibility, whether you’re a third-rate con man or Piers Morgan.