Monday, 30 November 2009

Cybernats - the woad slips but no surprises

And we're back... Whitehall 1212 was offline there for most of a fortnight because, well because I took a break from the journalistic day job and went on a circular trip from Westminster to Iceland and all points south.

The journey included Pinewood Studios (where I was the voice of a Pictish warrior in a Roman Epic); Glasgow where I helped the city restaurants hold the recession at bay; a musical expedition to St Kilda courtesy of Alyth McCormack and finally to Bethnal Green, where Point's answer to Van Morrison - the Gaelic singer Iain MacKay - held the stage in York Hall. Afterwards we got a torrential soaking walking home from the pub which made it all feel very circular and Hebridean indeed.

Lots of adventures, and a few political lessons from Reykjavik and Scotland, which I will write about in the coming days.

Getting back online after what seems like a lifetime , and shovelling out the todhair from the inbox, I see that a bigger todhair-storm than the Referendum proposals has hit the SNP. The exposure of one a senior aide to cabinet secretary Michael Russell as a cybernat.

Mark MacLachlan quit as constituency aide to Constitution Minister Mike Russell following the revelation, which appears to have delighted but not surprised most of Scotland's journalistic community.

Cybernats, a bit like cybermidges, are a depressing part Scotland's media moorland but MacLachlan's unmasking at least puts an end to the big lie that these poison keyboarders were rogue Nat males rather than, as we all suspected, tax-payer funded character assassins.

No one is immune from them but for the most part they can be swatted away like the midges.
Realising what was ahead when I started penning a column for the Sunday Herald I got my retaliation in first. The extract contains some useful advice from a female friend.

Sunday Herald 19 August 2007

"The anonymity of the web is one of the more depressing features of the internet age. Try catching up with the future of Scotland on any newspaper readers' forum and you'll end up wanting to take a shower.

The flipside of Alex Salmond's "big conversation" on the constitution is like wading through slurry on a foot-and-mouth infected farm yard.Online, the debate is swamped by the "Wha's like us" faction of nationalism that brooks no criticism o' the oppressed Scots nation and does its best to engage in the most derogatory language possible, anonymously and preferably in a Scots accent. It's the online equivalent of being sat blindfolded in a Lochgelly pub on a wet October night with 15 bar-room bores talking simultaneously.

You begin reading a string in the hope it's penned by teenagers with a loaded sense of irony. Midway you cling to the notion of a clever, single-scripted satire but finish in the depressing knowledge that the authors are serious and beyond parody.

This army of cyber woads is tireless. Look at the timings, they hover around newspaper websites at midnight competing to be first to hurl abuse at whatever a political editor has laid out for them.

A generation ago, Scottish local newspapers were notorious for elevating the poison pen letter to an art form, printing vile allegations on letter pages under nom de plumes or "name and address withheld". In print, most have cleaned up their act but that hasn't drained the peatbog, the Pantone 300 ink brigade has been reborn online.

When I read online comments on the London or indeed Californian newspaper sites contributors sound informed and even courteous to each other. Why is online Scotland cursed by kilted keyboards with cyber Tourette syndrome where serious debate is reduced to how much you can make yourself read like a bad imitation of a James Kelman character?

One of my friends has a remedy. When the playground bile gets to boiling point she posts a comment to stall traffic. She just types: "Do you boys not have girlfriends?" It shuts them up, until they remember that online no-one can see how empty your life is."

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