Is it just me or is everyone getting more pissed off? asks Will Mapplebeck
They certainly seem to be particularly furious on Twitter these days (writes Will Mapplebeck) where our own version of the US Culture Wars appears to be taking place.
Take the Oxfam/Save the Children scandal which, depending on your world view, is either evidence of a media conspiracy to cut foreign aid or proof of the moral bankruptcy of liberal values. Let’s be clear, the alleged use of prostitutes by some people in the aid industry is abhorrent and deserves thorough investigation. It’s a shocking betrayal of why those people were sent out – sometimes at taxpayers’ expense.
But in the land of Twitter the Oxfam scandal became a political and ideological football with facts and reasoning in pretty short supply. There was a lot of heat, but not much light.
The quality of debate isn’t helped by the conspiracy theorists, either. After The Times published the original allegations, I began to see Tweets claiming the entire story was timed to undermine the Government’s under-pressure commitment to the Foreign Aid budget and was also an act of revenge for Oxfam’s strident stance on global inequality. Some even claimed that Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg, an unlikely puppet master of world affairs, was responsible since he’d handed in a petition on foreign aid just days earlier.
Meanwhile, as these scandals are prone to do, it got much worse as charity subscriptions were cancelled, global ambassadors resigned and a phalanx of bosses appeared shame-facedly in front of MPs to proffer one million apologies. And then the scandal spread to other charities, for example Save the Children, where it ultimately resulted in the resignation of Brendan Cox, widow of murdered MP Jo Cox from the board of several charities connected to his late wife.
I had no idea that Mr Cox was such a divisive figure until I read the tweets following his resignation. It turns out that to some on Twitter he is not a grieving widow, but an enemy of the state and a disgusting virtue signaler who deserves everything he gets. News that he had admitted inappropriate behaviour and had later resigned from the board of charities connected with his late wife was treated with undisguised glee by some.
The trouble with all this anger is that we ultimately forget about the most important thing: the people whose lives have been affected. The culture wars use events, often those that involve abused women or dead children, as mere props for a wider battle. It’s symptomatic of our times, but won’t lead to a sensible or measured debate about the issues we face.