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Is Social Media Creating an Insult-Culture?

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Right now, insulting other people is cool. It's the latest trend. Everyone is doing it - even the Prime Minister. In fact, over the last few months politicians and wannabe politicos the world over have elevated it to a fine art.

Recent face-to-face jibes focus on quite personal stuff including the way people dress and whether they're only slightly deluded or have seriously lost the plot. But in the grand scheme of things they're relatively mild compared to what people - and politicians - write on Twitter.

Obviously, Donald Trump deserves his own personal paragraph. Old Don has raised blood pressure across the globe with a seemingly unending tirade of insulting language. He has a huge range of adjectives at his disposal, although his favourites appear to be: dumb, stupid, lightweight, pathetic and sad. On the noun front he also scores highly with wacko, clown, moron, scum, loser and puppet. In fact, his enormous list of Twitter insults now merits its own page on the New York Times.

But before we decide that Trump has won the insult competition, we might want to consider a few others including Boris Johnson's 2013 quote in which he called London Assembly members 'great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies'. MP Simon Burns on Speaker John Bercow: 'Stupid, sanctimonious dwarf'. Nigel Farage on EU President Herman Von Rompuy: 'the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk'. And last if not least, Tony Banks on Margaret Thatcher: 'the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor'.

Why have we started to embrace the insult?

It's so easy to put this rise in insulting language and behaviour down to the decline of western civilisation. Well, it isn't that easy, but many people do it! However, in my view, the rise of the insult is inextricably linked to social media, specifically Twitter.

Let's face it, on a social and local level, it's not like we've suddenly discovered that insulting people actually makes us feel good, albeit for a short period of time before the other party responds and insults us in return. We've been insulting others since we first said 'Johnny smells' when we were six years old and in Primary School. One of the reasons we secretly like insulting others as adults is because it makes other people laugh. And it makes them laugh because we're saying what they think. Enter Twitter stage left.

Social media lets us insult to a wider audience

There was a major problem associated with publically insulting people before the interweb was invented. Effective insulting was a time-consuming business. If you saw a politician on the TV, heard something on the radio or read an article by an 'idiot' in the newspaper, you had to sit down, write a letter, buy a stamp, post it to the newspaper, radio station or TV channel and then wait until it was either published or appeared on a 'Right To Reply' show. If it ever did, of course. Even then, there was usually no reaction so you had no idea whether your insult had been effective, or you'd just insulted for no reason, which, as Morrissey would say, 'is murder'.

However, one day, a bloke invented the internet. And not too long after that, some other blokes invented Twitter. Now, suddenly, you has 140 characters to insult people. Instantly! In real time! So, instead of sitting there screaming insults at the TV - especially BBC Question Time - you could insult to your heart's content to a vast audience who would then either laugh and like your tweet, or insult you right back! The joy!

But why do we love it?

Seriously though, there is something very cathartic about insulting politicians especially. These days, many are robotic to say the least. They are Stepford wives and husbands. They are like the old Action Man toy that used to say 'Dig In!', 'Take Cover!' and 'Enemy Sighted Ahead!' depending how far you pulled the string out of its neck. In fact, as someone said to me the other day: 'I swear some of these politicians have batteries'. And that's why many are such a target on Twitter.

Many politicians on Twitter just broadcast the party line. They retweet their HQ and use their party slogans in every tweet. What with the EU Referendum, at the moment many politicos are 'safer, stronger, better off' like some awful condom advert, and though the Leave campaigns (plural) have not yet decided on a single slogan, or in fact, a single organisation, they are most definitely 'taking back control'.

This sloganisation and depersonalisation of politics, along with the media sound-bite culture and politicians' inability to really listen rather than just patronise, is what ultimately leads to populism - see Donald Trump. But that's a whole different blog post. However, it has also led to the widespread feeling that there's just no point in engaging with politicians.

This is the reason why Twitter is the go-to place for insults. There's no point in writing a huge blog post explaining your carefully considered views, which you know hardly anyone will read - and definitely not your intended target - when you can simply cut to the last sentence and just say: 'It's clear, sir, that you are nebulous pile of poo with no discernible brain cells'. Quick, easy and much more satisfying.

Twitter has both liberated, enabled and constrained us. It has taken public insulting to the next level. It has given us, the people, the chance to express the boundless frustration and various expletives that have, thus far, been confined to our living room. Straight talking is out of the closet and pussyfooting is dead. We can insult from the comfort of our sofa and retweet other people's insults too. We can insult with others or insult alone. It's insult heaven. Long live Twitter!

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