It struck me yet again last week how debased Twitter has become. I use it primarily as a news source now, but increasingly, political Twitter has become contaminated by tribal warfare, anger, and even hatred at times. Trump bypasses what is now termed mainstream media (MSM) by tweeting his often incoherent inanities. For a while, it was thought that Twitter's influence had peaked unless a new business model was found to generate revenue. The company's revenue declined in 2017, but so far, for 2018 it has shown significant growth acceleration. This year, revenue grew 21% in the first quarter, climbing to 29% growth in the third quarter.
When I first participated in Twitter discussions properly in 2011, I would have welcome the news of its success. Back then, I was ill, and virtually bedridden for months. Twitter was a lifeline for someone too exhausted for much else. Nobody can see you tweet. It was great fun back then – there were political spats, sure – but its users were not the angry, vicious, tribal commentators who now dominate the platform.
Scottish Twitter is a case in point of the medium's decline into tribal online warfare. Last week, I was reminded again that serious issues unrelated to the constitutional issue that dominates politics in this country, were viewed almost entirely through a sectarian lens. Both sides of the constitutional battle are at it. Not all tweeters, of course, but enough to create and substantially heighten tribal and sectarian conflict. In my view, this Manichean approach to politics began before the 2014 independence referendum. But no senior politician, who was in a position to stem it back then, paid enough attention. It's too late now, I guess, and we're stuck with it.
Is there a correlation between this upsurge in Twitter as a news source, with the decline of the Scottish press? It would appear so, although it remains to be seen if the link is causal. The sad news that Johnston Press is going into administration, publishers of the Scotsman, was a case in point of the sad state of Twitter commentary. Nationalists, a minority it has to be said, but a vocal one, were gleeful because of the paper's editorial stance on independence, despite the writings of fine journalists and columnists.
It would be a sad day indeed for Scottish media if we were to lose the Scotsman. Thankfully, David King, Johnston Press chief executive who will stay on with the new company, reassured staff at the weekend that business 'would continue uninterrupted.' In a letter to readers of the group's titles (including the i and Yorkshire Post) King said the new deal 'safeguards your newspaper and website, continues the employment of all our staff and helps us to have a more stable and secure future.'
Let's hope King is true to his word. But in truth, Scottish newspapers are in decline, perhaps terminal, unless hugely increased investment in journalism is made available. Again, on Twitter, journalists are harried for even impartial reporting on an issue. 'Fact-checking' websites, often dismissing journalists, are popping up all over social media. The root of the problem is that investigative journalism is in decline – not because there aren't excellent journalists out there who can thoroughly investigate an important issue – but that time and resources are not readily available. Attention to detail has become a journalistic luxury.
Furthermore, those who embark on objective fact-checking and investigate matters thoroughly, do not get the credit they deserve. The Ferret is an excellent example – an online investigative journalism cooperative that is independent, reader-owned and transparent. Just last week, they had a detailed story revealing 505 nuclear safety incidents since 2006 with nuclear submarines at Faslane. Now that is an important story so it was picked up by PA, BBC, STV, Sky News, the Sun, Daily Mail and others. Not one of these news outlets, with considerably more staff and resources than the small cooperative, credited the Ferret. I'm not sure what can be done to halt the decline of proper investigative journalism, but as an individual, I continue to buy newspapers, regardless of an editorial position I don't much like, and back-off Twitter unless, for example, to find mainstream copy online, and to read the Ferret.
Finally, Twitter at times can be good fun if you follow the right folk and mute the wrong 'uns. On Saturday, I had a light-hearted chat about the Beatles' White Album – its 50th anniversary, celebrated with the recent release of a re-mastered version that I hadn't yet heard – with musical friends who, I have to say, know a lot more than I do about it. My amateurish view is that it should have been a single album. One of my interlocutors, Gerry Hassan, disagrees with me and is writing about the hugely influential album in SR today. His musical knowledge outstrips mine by a country mile, so I'm looking forward to reading it.
In fact, I had quite the musical week. Attending gigs by Glasgow's amazing new generation of young musicians, is was the panacea to the appalling news cycle. Interestingly, very few of these young people are active on Twitter unless they must do for PR reasons – many of them regard the social media platform as a bit old-fogeyish. Anyway, I attended an evening gig – of the music industry conference, Resonate 2018 – in the terrific venue, Barras Art and Design.
Included in the line-up of bands was the wonderfully idiosyncratic, Carla J Easton, the raw Glaswegian no-nonsense band, Luna The Professor, the superb Lizzie Reid (can't say much more as she is my daughter, so, y'know…) and the fantastic ONR who I hadn't heard of, but can't believe I hadn't.
On Saturday, I was invited to a musician's 21st birthday party held in the Ivory Hotel, Shawlands. It was a joyful occasion – full of talented, creative young people – entertained by their friends, the fabulous Awkward Family Portraits.
It is a truism, of course, to say young people are our future. But this generation of creative souls, and their increasingly apparent awareness of learning from their elders about how not to conduct themselves publicly and politically, gives me hope for a different, better future.