Long time coming: Camilla Long vs. Twitter

Or 'How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bullshit..."

When I started this newsletter, I set myself a rule: Play the ball, not the person. But I am slackening that slightly today. I have to admit that this edition is more of a sliding tackle with studs up than it is a tactical challenge that wins the ball and improves my stats for assists.

I don’t want to assist the kind of bullshit I’m writing about today, which fits in two categories of bullshit that I’ve become so tired of discussing:

  1. Twitter

  2. ‘Cancel culture’

Camilla Long is a Sunday Times columnist who has learned how to play the outrage machine like a discordant violin. Her latest red meat for blue bores is about her being ‘cancelled’ by Twitter for ‘wrongthink’. Only almost every assertion in her piece is unmitigated horseshit.

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To begin at the beginning, as a famous piss-artist once had it, here is paragraph one of the screed:

So it was the knock on the door for me last Monday, after 48 hours of slashing hell on social media. It’s funny how, even after 11 years on Twitter, I never thought I’d get marched off the site. You spend decades creeping around, hoping to avoid the gun to the back of your neck. But then one day tou feel it and it’s only moments before you’re disappeared never to come back again.

The editor should have thrown the column back at this point. For all her past allusions to Nazi-ism, this is arguably one of the most offensive paragraphs Camilla Long has ever committed to ink and pixels. When I think of journalists struck down by a bullet, my mind immediately jumps to Lyra McKee, my beloved friend killed by a shooter on the streets of Derry. Then it moves to the 12 journalists already killed this year. A columnist should not use this stuff so cheaply for rhetorical flourish.

Check Twitter and you will find that Camilla Long’s account is still there. Her whole column is about the quite usual experience of one tweet, reported by many people as being offensive, getting her account locked. The answer? Delete the tweet. It’s one of the few actually functional moderation efforts that Twitter has instituted. But to Camilla Long this was censorship, the jackboot on her neck, the Luger at her lugholes:

Twitter took my column down. Yeah, that actually happened. Never mind that it had been printed in a paper nearly 200 years old. Twitter, 14, knew better. On Monday, I received an email saying it had removed my tweet because it could incide ‘widespread panic, social unrest or large-scale disorder’ thanks to my view on Covid.

There is a fallacy in logic called Appeal To Authority, and that’s what Camilla Long commits in the above paragraph. It’s irrelevant how long The Times and Sunday Times have been in print. They have not been the same paper for that entire period — on a basic level its possible to split their histories into pre- and post- Murdoch eras — and any individual edition of a newspaper is the product of the team producing it.

Another way to look at it is this: Twitter is 14. Do we think 14-year-olds have nothing to say about the world or no valid opinions? If that’s so, you’d best chat to Greta. Similarly, while Camilla Long acts as though Twitter specifically penned that line about “widespread panic…” for her, it is boilerplate language sent to anyone that does not comply with its policy on information around Covid. Twitter has rules. It has applied those rules in this case. But, again, Camilla Long sees something sinister:

Twitter seems to me to be trying to be a publisher rather than a platform, but without the skill or apparatus — or, in fact, the balls to deliver this. On Wednesday, it lokced a number of Jewish users out of their accounts because they had used the Star of David in their profile pictures: Twitter’s computers thought they were antisemtic.

Remember, this is the woman whose previously weekly column — the catalyst for the Twitter situation that has provided such rich column fodder this time — appeared beneath the headline LIGHTEN UP, FACEMASK NAZIS. I WAS HAVING MY NAILS DONE, NOT FILING MY WAY OUT OF JAIL. Could it be that this week’s deep concern about antisemitism has something to do with last week’s quite casual use of imagery about oppression and genocide?

Yes, yes, I know, I know: She doesn’t write the headlines.

Camilla Long isn’t really upset about Twitter users being angry with her, or Twitter itself forcing her to pull down one tweet. She’s delighted. Her columns are doing their job: Making people upset. It’s a living, I guess.