Tweets, Text and Trolling

The recent dreadful events surrounding Caroline Criado-Perez @ccridoperez and abusive tweets has now reached the UK Parliament (see here). It’s a sad story and represents a dark undercurrent to the way some humans choose to communicate and act. Although clearly not in anyway the same league as the dreadful comments made to @ccriadoperez a number of recent twitter conversations have given me reason to reflect on what people say, and the context in which they do it.

Sir Bruce Keogh was recently quoted in the Daily Mail that the NHS should emulate the retail model of high street chains Dixons and PC World. This comment didn’t go down particularly well to some on twitter leading to a very interesting tweet from one of his clinical fellows

To some, the content of the Daily Mail needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. I suspect many were willing to the give the NHS Medical Director the benefit of the doubt.

But what about this example? Emergency Medicine in the UK has recently been described as being in crisis with a serious shortfall of trainees completing trainees leaving many rota unfilled.  I was amazed to find a headline in a scottish newspaper “Doctors avoiding hard work in A&E” [and it’s not because the papers still haven’t worked out it’s Emergency Medicine not A&E!]. The second paragraph reads,

The claim from David Caesar, clinical director for emergency medicine at NHS Lothian, that young life-savers are lazy has thrown the harsh working conditions they face again under the microscope.”

The bold is my emphasis, but the term rankled with many, see the comments, and lead me to say this.

A reasonable response was:

But my concern was how much was spin, versus some underlying truth.

Often the problem with twitter is the originator of a discussion isn’t on the discussion to defend themselves. The doctrine of  “be careful what you say” has been blogged, commented on, and researched numerous times over the last century. I am not covering new ground here but twitter has opened the ability to respond, in a public manner, in a striking way.

So I have paused to reflect to my response to this tweet. First I have no idea why I used “Alan” in my tweet. I don’t really know Alan, we have certainly never met him. Did calling him by his first name somehow balance the antagonistic nature of my response? And was my response antagonistic – I was not alone in my opinion…

To his credit Prof. Alan Maynard responded but I came back with:

In the cold light of day this is a harsher response than perhaps I had originally intended. I still posted it though, in the wake of a ‘storm’ about communication and trolling on the internet my reflex was to go straight for the jugular. I am fairly certain my actions do not constitute aggression or violate any law (and I note did immediately post a tweet saying this wasn’t directly aimed at Alan). This does not let me off the hook though. Could I have approached things in a different way – I am fairly sure I could. Could I have done so in 140 characters  though? (waiting for the research that the character limits encourages a more direct, and potentially more aggressive approach)

The abuse received by  @ccriadoperez was unacceptable but from a small minority of twitter uses. However maybe everyone should remember the words of Laurence J. Peter:

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

4 thoughts on “Tweets, Text and Trolling”

  1. Thanks Damian. I wasn’t annoyed at the ‘run the NHS like PC World’ line which was clearly the journalist’s take and not Keogh’s. What bothered me most was the assertion that somehow or other we should be aiming to make healthcare cheaper in the same way that the specification of computers goes up whilst their price goes down. Mr Moore, from Intel, recorgnised in the 60’s that computers were going to get better because it was possible to make better and better processors,,, twice the processing power every two years.

    I’ve been struggling since to figure out why he chose this example to talk about how to improve healthcare.

    I note that in the same interview he was also asked about the Pulse survey on GPs charging. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/sir-bruce-keogh-raising-quality-reducingcosts-why-running-the-nhs-is-like-selling-pcs-8735619.html

    I tried to get to the bottom of that survey by discussing it with the editors and then made a storify of the tweets after it became a ‘story’ http://storify.com/amcunningham/how-representative-our-pulse-survey-s-of-gp-opinio

    We all make mistakes sometimes. As always the best we can do is reflect and learn.

  2. I think I’ve found/am finding the reverse: using Twitter is making me more careful in how I say things. It’s difficult to convey nuance in 140 characters or less; and I’m more aware that it’s a public bulletin board. I’m still stumbling my way through it, but I think it’s got potential as a great training ground for juniors who often aren’t heard in person to trial out how to convey their thoughts

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