Fear and loathing in the odd world of the Twitter hashtag

A week or three ago I committed some thoughts on twitter to hard newsprint via this column. Which would probably have annoyed it. But then getting annoyed is what social media is all about.

Getting rid of the bile of life in letters to the editor or in a privileged column like this every week is all very well but what if you get annoyed a lot? Like I increasingly seem to do (I put it down to living under a Tory government rather than advancing age but it could be both).

Be a non-stop old groanbag at home and you'll probably end up in the divorce court.

Adopt the persona of a grumpy old man in the company of your mates too often and you'll fetch up a lonely, grumpy old man.

Take up the role of a modern barrack room lawyer round the office water cooler and you'll soon be drinking alone.


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Anyway, there is simply too much trivia to tragedy going on every minute of every day to be able to engage real people in conversation about it all.

So let's hear a fanfare of trumpets for social media as the private refuge not of the sad and lonely but of the don't want to be sad and lonely. A sort of private puseometer; a valve for letting off steam safely.

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Until technology advances sufficiently for an Apple itele to bite back, yelling at even a high definition plasma screen will continue to be frustrating.

Reading my late father's diaries some years ago made me realise the extent to which people – especially people on their own – vent their unrequited spleen in this way.

Enter then, the world of the hashtag.

I understand there are plenty of red-bloodied rows going on in the ether whenever Strictly or X-Factor are airing (please be assured, I do not participate in them).

I prefer and recommend the effing and blinding of the virtual community tuning in to Question Time (or #bbcqt in the tongue of the hashtag).

Last time, among kindred and contrary spirits, one favoured thread was around excessive executive salaries and the sufficiency of panellist Justin King's right royal �900,000 a year ('Grocer Jack' is the boss of Sainsbury so 'there's no danger of him having to go on strike to preserve his pension').

Another explored the aloof demeanour of fellow guest and right wing Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan.

A campaign encouraging Hannan to bid for the Tory party leadership as a ploy to return Labour to power proved popular.

There is generally no nasty anonymous vitriol, just a few jolly getting-it-off-your-chest japes rounded off this time by someone wondering what energy secretary Chris Huhne was driving at (it wasn't him, it was the wife; ha, ha).

Humour can diffuse ire. With everyone having worked up a head of steam about a teenage burglar's lack of remorse and insistence on blaming his stupid victims for their lax home security, I signed off that night with: Off to bed; must remember to lock up.

Politics is never far from my real and virtual debating chamber but on this particular blackboard for brickbats you can get a better class of graffiti.

Earlier this week, I especially liked the reaction to Michael Goves' last ditch effort to dissuade teachers from taking part in yesterday's public services sector strike. His po-faced accusation that the teachers were spoiling for a fight and that their action would inconvenience parents drew the repost that inconvenience was indeed the point. The launch of an adjectival tirade followed, variously dubbing the education secretary (yes, oh ironic joy, the education secretary) a mendacious, pusillanimous and black-kettled fool.

I also enjoyed the deep litter thinking of the wag who responded to my 140 character shorthand that local MP Elizabeth Truss had used this very page on Saturday to urge British people to aspire to jobs in a chicken factory and thus reduce the need for migrant workers.

We're stuffed, he wrote. All the chicken factories are now in Thailand.

If politics doesn't float your berating boat, there's always football. Managers' and pundits' comments on Match of the Day (#MotD) draw some nice invective that's a bit too rich for Canary Call or the Pink 'Un message board.

Like this week when QPR manager Neil Warnock reckoned Saturday's game was one that his team should have won. A detractor suggested the Norwich fans' least favourite football boss should take part in a Highland Games event. At least that's what I thought was meant.

It also works for participatory sport. Too puffed to respond to the bloke who yelled: 'Come on granddad, you can make it,' as I passed the 12-mile mark on Sunday's Norwich half marathon, I posted his cheek on a tweet. A supporter soon replied along the lines of: 'Bet the lazy man whose mother and father aren't married was standing still at the time. Well done mate.'

If the arts are your bag, BBC's The Review Show has its own online version of north London dinner party twaddle about 'palpable transcendence bordering on the apocryphal' and 'twisted parables for the twitter age' to have a pop at.

None of this will, of course, mean anything much to those of you who wouldn't, like me, have been better off being born of the genus phylum porifera with jellied mesohyl for brains. With no nervous systems, we depend on maintaining a constant flow through our bodies to sustain life. A sort of SpongeBob SquarePants.

•This article was first published on December 1, 2011.

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