Two high profile names were in the headlines today as victims of poor taste.
Tory MP Louise Mensch hit out at the abuse she received on Twitter after she refused to support fellow MPs’ condemnation of Rupert Murdoch as unfit to run a major international company.
Mensch told BBC Radio’s Today programme that critics were immoral and misogynistic for describing her as a slut and a whore. Cumbria’s chief constable Stuart Hyde (responsible for e-crime at the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO) described the comments as sexual bigotry at its worse.
Meanwhile, The Sun mocked new England football manager Roy Hodgson. Its headline ‘Bwing on the Euwos’ made fun of the way Roy pronounces ‘r’ as ‘w’. The headline has provoked a debate about the way we treat people with speech impediments. (Topical, with the recent film The King’s Speech about King George VI’s stammer.)
Mensch’s case shows once again how base online reaction can be. Obscenities once mouthed in pubs and clubs now go viral on social media and online forums. It’s deeply unpleasant for anyone affected, but hard to combat. Legal action is one possible approach, but as we saw with the Paul Chambers Twitter joke trial innocent but foolish people can suffer when the law is involved. (Chambers was regarded as a terrorist for making a silly joke on Twitter to blow up Doncaster airport after he was delayed.)
The Sun’s treatment of Roy Hodgson is rather different. In some ways it is worse – a national newspaper, rather than a loutish tweeter, mocks Roy’s speech in its front page lead story. Yet the line between humour and cruelty is a very fine one. Thirty years ago broadsheets routinely made fun of SDP leader Roy Jenkins’ identical affliction. (Anyone remember the song about Jenkins and fellow SDP leader Shirley Williams: ‘If you were the only Shirl, and I were the only Woy’?) More recently, supporters of Roy Hodgson’s firmer club Fulham wore shirts with the slogan ‘In Woy we Twust’.
Hodgson is a fine manager who speaks a string of foreign languages. (Not a skill I imagine the Sun headline writer could match.) He’ll shrug off the ‘joke’. Yet an unconfident teenager may not feel so happy about being mocked for a stammer or other speech trait. We should be sensitive to other people’s feelings.