Gemma Worrall from Blackpool wrote on Twitter that it was “scary” that “our president Barraco Barner” was tangling with Russia. But the truly scary thing is that someone who thought that Britain had a president, and that his name was Barraco Barner, could so innocently display their rank ignorance for the world to see.
If she had seen Barack Obama’s name in print, it’s unlikely she would have been so gravely misled as to how it’s spelled. But clearly, she’d only ever heard it – perhaps from customers chatting in the beauty parlour where she works, or from a TV set playing in the background.
On the other hand, these things are self-correcting. As her gaffe was re-tweeted worldwide, thousands gleefully pounced, sneering at her error.
Never in human history has it been easier for someone like Ms Worrall to express their thoughts so instantly or freely, without the moderating intervention of someone who might save them from embarrassment. And never has it been easier for others to join in mob nastiness.
I have doubts, too, about the explosion in online opinion, even when it’s written by people who know very well who Barack Obama is and how his name is spelled.
What’s notable is that the volume increases with every week, to the point where it has become almost indigestible.
On Monday I counted 67 commentaries on the subject of Shane Jones’ departure from the Labour Party. These ranged from generally dispassionate comment in mainstream media to partisan rants by bloggers from both sides of the political fence. The previous Thursday, Edwards disseminated 51 commentaries on the same subject.
As political comment proliferates and the tone becomes more trenchant, so the temptation to tune out – or at least to exercise greater discretion about how much of it one bothers to read – increases. The law of diminishing returns kicks in.
In the early days of the Internet, someone cleverly said that trying to keep up with the flow of information it unleashed was like drinking from a fire hose. I don’t know what you’d compare it with now.
Having one’s say has never been easier, but the clamour and static sometimes threatens to overwhelm reasoned debate.
Karl du Fresne blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. First published in The Dominion Post.