Thursday, May 6, 2010

They're only words ... right?

The big "furore" this week is the sacking of Catherine Deveny as a columnist for a major newspaper for offensive tweets regarding the Logies. The most egregious of these being:

Rove and Tasma look so cute! I hope she doesn't die too #logies
I so do hope Bindi Irwin gets laid #logies

This Deveny character (who I hadn't heard of before today) is supposedly a comedian renowned for being vitriolic and "edgy". So why the controversy?

Rove's first wife, Belinda Emmett, died of breast cancer. So tweet #1 is pretty high on the tacky and tasteless meter.

Bindi Irwin, daughter of Steve Irwin, is eleven years old. That's right, ELEVEN. That makes tweet #2 outright sick.

Now, you won't get an argument from me that the Logies are a joke, not only as an Awards show, but as a supposed celebration of television excellence in this country. This year's Gold Logie winner is still being carbon dated.

The response to Deveny's sacking, however, is interesting. It appears said sacking has nothing to do with her lack of commonsense, judgment or simple decency:

The Logies took place on Sunday night but the newspaper in question, The Age, "only" sacked her on the Tuesday after a public outcry. Apparently this points to some terrible conspiracy as obviously the paper was only swayed by popular opinion. How dare they!

People have defended her right to tweet whatever she wants. Ah sorry, no, that's not how it works. Using social media, indeed any form of 'speech' has responsibilities entwined with the freedoms.

Deveny claims Twitter is the equivalent of "passing notes in class". Others have commented that people wouldn't have been able to read her tweets if they weren't following her (and by following her I assume this means you know she's prone to objectionable gaffes). Well, I would buy that except for the fact she was tacking #logies on the end of her tweets which means anyone following that topic would have been able to read her posts, something she would have been well aware of and, dare I say it, courting.

And now, today, on her Twitter feed, this:

Other people chose to reproduce those two tweets outside of twitter. They created the media storm.

Um, HELLO, how about you take responsibility for the fact that you glibly tweeted offensive dreck and have been called on it!

Words are powerful - they can inspire, incite, motivate, enrage, educate and entertain. As writers we should and must take full responsibility for what we write. Wherever we write it. Just because it's 140 characters on Twitter doesn't magically absolve us of our responsibilities, not as writers, not as decent human beings. How anyone could think the Bindi Irwin tweet, in particular, could be construed as funny or 'satire' is beyond me.

Many companies are now introducing Social media policies that govern how and what their employees post on sites like Twitter. Saying it is only personal when your name, certainly in this instance, is tied to a corporate brand is naive at best, disingenuous at worst.

Words are powerful. Take responsibility for them. Use them wisely.


  1. I welcome her dismissal. Her 'comedy' is typically mean-spirited and unfounded partisan political attacks, which she usually feels no need to defend because they are allegedly "satire". She reportedly stands by her Twitter comments because her "humour is subjective".

    As you mention, Twitter comments with the word "logies" (from a quasi public figure, who is on ABC shows sometimes, wrote for The Age, has been a publicised participant in a range of arts festivals, conferences, etc) are bound to show up in many search engine results. At best, it was tasteless and very inconsiderate to the people mentioned.

  2. Yes, it reminds me of the snubbing of Salvador Dali and his wife Gala - not that Deveny is Dali's bootlace, but neither was Dali sometimes - when they went to a costume party as the murdered Lindberg baby and one of the kidnappers. Their point was art - dada - or some such rationalised nonsense for causing great offence.

    Shock, outrage and publicity was what the Dalis were after and I would suggest the same for Deveny. And shock takes no art, courage or wit whatsoever. The only other theory is that she really can't understand why people are offended in which case that would suggest some kind of perception problem that is severe enough to keep her off the public airwaves.