Petition or Pitchfork?

Online is a funny old world. Social media can often be the fastest 'news' source around and most days I am guilty of checking it before the more standard news sources. We all know by now (I hope) that just because a story is in the paper, in print, it doesn't necessarily follow that it's true. And most of us are aware that fiction can be slewed to fact and vice versa, but oddly we seem happy to trust 'real people', those faceless strangers we meet online.

Twitter is a great place and I really enjoy talking to people there. I'm opinionated (no really!) and so are many people I follow. Opinions are great but some days it seems we forget that opinions are not fact. A huge group of people seem to find that with the advent of 'instant news' via social media, that their opinion, and the facts of a matter can be just as instantly determined.

Wait for all the facts? Don't be silly, I have seen what twitter said and so now I know! In fact there was an article in the Sun/Guardian/Times/Mirror and they agree so it must be true. And  now I am sure that xxxxx is guilty. And that xxxxx is innocent and so next I shall ask, nay demand! that everyone agree with me and grab pitchforks to attack the guilty and sign a petition to protect the innocent!

This was aptly shown his week with the Jeremy Clarkson 'fracas' affair. Currently the BBC, his employer, are looking into the facts. Yet over 300,000 are so sure of his innocence that they have signed a petition while equal numbers malign him and demand his sacking. 

I wasn't there, I know this may shock you, but I don't know the details of what happened. So I will wait and see.

Petitions and pitchforks are a simple analogy for this failure to stop and think. Both have proper useful functions but either, grabbed in haste, make you look foolish when all the facts are revealed. I'd like to think that even in an instant age of fast moving social media we can still use our brains, can still stop and think before we act.

Christopher Jefferies is a man who experienced pitchforks, fuelled by media and misinformation, let us not forget him, let us not be too hasty to be sure that we are right, let us gather facts and make decisions based on them.

Instant social media interaction is fantastic fun. But it should not replace courts and juries, nor a bit of thoughtful common sense. A tweet is just a tweet, it can be a fact or not, I'm not saying you should never act on a tweet, I'm saying you need to use some thought, check, check other sources, don't grab the proverbial pitchfork or sign anything until you are sure, and even then ask yourself is this the best course of action? Don't fall into the 'outrage trap' that can blur a true view of things in its red mist.

The one thing that social media can be great for is asking, asking the questions, keeping a story in the public eye. Never feel you need to keep silent about an important issue. Shouting at those in power, demanding answers can be a vital role of the general public, we have power in our numbers.  Do you have all the facts? If you don't have all the facts, demand them.

But put down your pitchfork, close that online petition page, think about why you have decided your course of action.

Art by DD and me ...she did the angel and devil


  1. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly. This is wonderfully put, and I love the analogy. We were always taught about critical thinking when researching topics (unbelievably, I did learn something in uni!). What is the quality of the evidence? Where is the source? If this level of thinking is applied to most stories you read in the media, you'll probably (rightly) come to the conclusion that most stories are a load of old tosh!

  2. Pitchfork: that siren social media button saying Press Me Now!
    Angel: Your spot-on words of advice - Stop and think!

  3. Angela Kay16/3/15

    Most of the 300,000++ to have sided with JC are doubtless avid followers of Top Gear, eager to jump to their hero's aid, whilst a goodly proportion of those most vehemently calling for his sacking may well be the regularly offended owners of Peugeots or caravans. People take sides so quickly.

    Perhaps it needs the detachment of those who consider motor cars to be functional metal boxes, designed to get one from 'a' to 'b', who see things most clearly.


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