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Do People Take On-line Criticism Too Hard?

Posted by Andrew at 12:55 AM on November 3, 2009

Over here in the UK, there have been two incidents in the past week of people taking drastic action because of criticism on-line.  The first is that of Stephen Fry, who threatened to leave Twitter after being called “boring”, and the second is of a village council who resigned en masse because of a blogger’s comments.

The link to the two stories on the BBC are here and here respectively but you’ll find both stories reported on most UK news sites (with varying degrees of journalistic rigour!)  I’ll not go into the detail of each story but what I find interesting is that in both cases there is over-reaction and the recipient simply decides that the “effort is no longer worth it”.

As children, we all learn the line, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”, but as adults most of us come to realise the power of words alone: “I now pronounce you man and wife” being possibly the most significant.  However, I find it amazing that a seasoned actor can take to heart comments from someone he’s never met.  Many of us do get vicarious pleasure following our celebrities, myself included, but even the most proficient of them does sometimes deteriorate into the humdrum.

Stephen’s medical condition probably had something to do with it but I find the actions of the district councillors even more astonishing.  Did these people go into local politics because they thought it would an easy or pleasant job?  Did they expect that arranging the Summer Fete would be the height of their work? None of the news stories that I read suggest that the blogger has done anything other than post inaccurate and offensive material and appears to be single individual.

So what’s going on here?  There’s no doubt that the Internet has allowed celebrities and politicians to interact more closely with their fans and constituents.   But have we reached a point where the closeness has become unhealthy, too personal, with the voice of the one outweighing the thousands of others who do not have complaint?

Perhaps the medium has to take some of the blame.  It’s much harder not to feel slighted when the text message comes in on your phone while you are at home.  I have to take complaints in work every now and then, but I’m sitting in the office at work.  As I walk out the door, I leave the complaint behind and return home.   It seems to me that the line between the public role and private has become too blurred, especially with Twitter.

As for the councillors, my advice would be not to read the blog.

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