Last week the Leader of Her Majesty’s opposition in the House of Commons called me twat.  Slight exaggeration David Cameron by saying “that too many twitters make a twat” on live radio caused me to assume that as a twitterer he was regarding me as a twattish person.  This is not a good thing as in all likelihood he will be the next prime Minister.  Now this bothers me for an odd reason beyond the obvious reflection on my personality and that he may well be able to send the Police to my house at any time who knows to be arrested for twat-like behaviour.   It truly bothers me because  I am assuming that David in swearing ‘live’ was experimenting with transparency and authenticity in a political context, he also admitted that he was ‘pissed off’ so I am frustrated because he got authenticity wrong.  There has been a lot of this lately from politics to the media where subjective even insulting views are thrown around in an apparently transparent way while objectivity is put on hold.

Maybe I should explain my thin skin a bit further or you will think I am lily-livered as well as twattish.    In a truly fantastic post by David Weinberger called ‘Transparency is the New Objectivity’ on the JoHo blog the author concisely explained how the ability to connect sources, follow an etiquette of digital accountability and build two-way conversations was creating a new transparency that supersedes traditional journalistic objectivity in a free market press.  I think this is a powerful argument as objectivity is often based on an specific audiences’ cultural perceptions and prejudices indeed it can be manufactured ranging from the readership’s objective support for a Daily Mail campaign to the people of an autocratic regime defending it’s ideology. 

It horrifies me the way autocrats strive to appear objective. For example the way Stalinists went to great lengths to give objective justification to their persecution through forced show trial confessions both in court and in the media.  If you think nobody saw this as objective reflect on many Western left wing writers who were apologists for the trials at the time.  But what Stalinists really hated was transparency hence the way that communications and legal process was tied into a byzantine maze and even private family conversations became vetted and non-transparent.  I do believe transparency is the enemy of this kind of political/social manipulation just think of the nature of governments which seek to limit the Internet and digital access today.   They do it to kill transparency ahead of objectivity. 

But I can’t give up on thinking objectivity still has a role especially in free press in highly commercialized society with multiple stakeholders.   The reason for this clinginess is David Cameron’s experiment in transparency and authentic behaviour which I would see as lazy transparency.  For his views to be transparent he ought to have at least begun a dialogue with a twitterer or even  invited someone who tweeted into the radio studio with him to defend their twatishness otherwise he was just broadcasting a subjective view from a position of influence; so not authenticity but disrespect.  The truth is that transparency requires intellectual rigour and a great deal of effort just the hyper-links and footnotes are enough to stop me.  

While this faux transparency is often revealed and ridiculed around the big issues of the day at a micro-level (even Cameron’s subsequent apology wasn’t enough to stop an avalanche of mockery against him) it is just not worth exposing so increasingly these lazy subjective approaches are seeping into the consciousness. 

It seems a lot people are giving up the impulse to think objectively especially in the digital world it is becoming more acceptable to walk into the pub (or studio) stand on the table and shout out our subjective views with the reference to a friend as a nod to transparency.  The friend often being a piece of self commissioned research or re-tweet.   

The loss of objectivity at this every day level and the growth of this faux transparency is what really made me ‘pissed off’ with the Opposition Leader’s comments. If we lose transparency and the tradition of objectivity then it is a big lose.  Or maybe to be objective he just fancied a good swearing session and it won’t have sounded as good if he actually used the C-word.

*NB:  For those English speakers not regularly exposed to British toilet humour Twat is a British swear word that means either a foolish person or female gentalia.  The choice of the word and it’s  double meaning allows a degree of ambiguity so that the user can  be both risqué but jolly at the same time.

**NB: If any pedant can tell me whether twattish should be spelt as twatish I would be most grateful for their transparency

Jonathan Hargreaves (@Naked_Pheasant)