How a hashtag hoax offers a sobering counter to romantic optimism about Twitter

Opinion: #endfathersday campaign was aimed at discrediting feminism

‘After a few initial prods and pokes, virtually all the opponents of Father’s Day seemed to have retreated into the digital mist. The mob had lit their torches and advanced to the burning windmill, but Frankenstein’s creature was nowhere to be found.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘After a few initial prods and pokes, virtually all the opponents of Father’s Day seemed to have retreated into the digital mist. The mob had lit their torches and advanced to the burning windmill, but Frankenstein’s creature was nowhere to be found.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 07:36

Oh, those Women’s Libbers! They’re always burning their brassieres and throwing flour at Bob Hope. Then they expect you to pull the chair out for them at dinner. What do they want, at all?

The latest example of boiler-suited feather-headedness involves a disgraceful hashtag on this Twitter thing. Last weekend, as decent dads looked forward to breakfast in bed and a new pair of slippers, the Femi-Nazis launched a campaign to abolish Father’s Day forever. Users of the microblogging site were invited to click #endfathersday and confirm that, as perennial instigator of domestic violence, the patriarchy (meant literally, in this instance) deserved no such celebration.

Before too long, various men’s rights nuts were logging on to point out that this was an utterly typical and entirely unsurprising emanation of the women’s movement. Meanwhile, sensible feminists – and fellow travellers – turned up to argue that only the most unhinged extremist would support such a campaign. The unlikely alliance handed out quite a drubbing to the hashtag’s supporters.

Hang on a moment. Where were the originators of the campaign? With whom was the unholy axis arguing? After a few initial prods and pokes, virtually all the opponents of Father’s Day seemed to have retreated into the digital mist. The mob had lit their torches and advanced to the burning windmill, but Frankenstein’s creature was nowhere to be found.

Hoax

The hashtag was, of course, a hoax aimed at discrediting feminism and stirring up division among those concerned with social justice. The campaign seems to have been suggested on 4chan, an anonymous “imageboard” site, and then propagated via invented and falsified Twitter accounts. “Instead of Fathers Day we need Castration Day” was one of the more notorious messages from a fictional user. By Sunday evening, the hashtag had become a genuine phenomenon.

There is grim news here about the continuing attempts by reactionaries to put women back in their boxes. You don’t have to believe the more fantastic scare stories about these largely ad hoc movements to feel a little nervy about the state of the digital polity. It’s a rough playground out there.

At least as interesting, however, are the lessons about what drives debate on social media. If the evangelists were to be believed, the rise of Twitter opened up the possibility for conversations on topics large and small. Nation would speak onto nation. Lion would make peace with lamb. Something else that sounds like a line from Shelley would happen to boot.

The #endfathersday fiasco offers a sobering counter to that long-forgotten romantic optimism. Thousands of people carried on thousands of conversations with thousands of entirely imaginary antagonists. One imagines a vast public house peopled with drunk maniacs shouting uselessly at dartboards, jukeboxes, fruit machines and other inanimate entities incapable of meaningful reply.

Debating with void

How did so many people fail to notice that they were debating with the void? The sad fact is that people whose interest in speaking is significantly greater than their interest in listening take up too many seats in the online forums. The point at which I stopped attending the comments beneath my journalism was the point at which I realised that about half the criticisms could be answered: “I didn’t say that. I didn’t imply that. I don’t think that.” (Many of the rest were splendid, by the way, and I hurrah you for your continuing support.) We really do love the sound of own fingers tapping on the keyboard.

Oh well. There is nothing new here. Humans have always treated personal interactions as a class of informal sport. Only very saintly people enter arguments with the notion of putting forward thesis, listening to antithesis and forming synthesis. We do so to hammer opponents into silence and to revel in the timbre of our gorgeous voices.

You don’t agree? Well, who cares what you think? Who even listens to what you think? Go and create a hashtag if you’re upset about it.

Why soccer is too left-wing

Every four years, when the World Cup strikes, certain ancient arguments get an airing in the media. Do France and Russia have the only national anthems worth cheering? If Dunphy is Statler and Brady is Waldorf then who is Giles? You know the sort of thing. Over in the US, of course, the chatter concerns that nation’s continuing lack of interest in the beautiful game.

More than a few American pundits have come to a conclusion that would greatly baffle certain British inner-city “firms”: soccer is too left wing. Such is the red-state antipathy that, last week, the Washington Examiner, a right-wing periodical, published a piece entitled: “Conservatives shouldn’t hate soccer just because Europeans like it.”

The game’s rules are, it seems, “like the constitution”. It’s a “strict meritocracy”. Apparently, it’s also less bureaucratic. We suspect the author has yet to meet Sepp Blatter.

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