On racism, context and political correctness

Yesterday I doubt many people would have heard of Nick Sowden apart from his friends and Brisbane student politicians, today the story of his racist tweets is leading the media bulletins and the LNP has acted quickly and expelled him from the party. What a change a day makes. If he ever had any dreams of entering politics those are likely dashed, and his name will forever be connected with his racist tweets because of the internet.

Last night when I saw his tweets by following the #obama730 hashtag I was the first to retweet it to a larger audience and quickly wrote last nights blog post to get the word out as soon as possible. I then tipped off various media organisations to try to get the story in the msm.

I thought maybe it would get a small mention in the Brisbane media and the LNP would quietly act, I didn’t know how big the story would become.

Today Nick himself and a few defenders have come to different levels of defence of his actions, claiming that he was “taken out of context” and that he was actually parodying extreme right wingers and political correctness. He claimed that the tweets were meant not for a wider audience but for people who knew him and his unique sense of humour. I don’t agree with this for a few reasons.

Regardless of his intention his tweets were meant to get a wide audience. If you followed the stream you can see he made the first Obama/monkey joke only to his followers, when this fell on deaf ears did a similar tweet with the #obama730 hashtag so that it would be viewable to everyone who reads that stream. When responses to his unique brand of humour were less than impressed, he didnt try and explain that he was actually sending up racism. He actually retweeted the abusive tweets he received and one of the last tweets before he shut down his account said “All too easy” suggesting that he was intentionally trying to troll for a reaction and wasnt just tweeting to his friends.

I can sympathise with the issue of context. I have never met Nick and wouldn’t know him for a bar of soap, but looking through his previous tweets with various sexist and racist remarks it is hard to think of him as anything but a racist. Liberal blogger Tim Andrews knows Nick and claims that the remarks were taken out of context and that the Liberals shouldnt turn against themselves so quickly. Another tweep who also knows him personally also claims that he is not a racist but just has a very poor sense of humour.

In my view even if he was trying to be funny he shows such poor discipline and judgement that any political party is better off without him. Can you imagine the damage done to the LNP if this was happened close to an election?

A blog called Shiny New Coin did a post on the subject that is well worth the read. It’s true that we adapt our language when we are conversing with different people. Among close friends I will say something designed to get a reaction that I would never say in public. Because my friends know me they know when certain comments are serious and when some aren’t. Perhaps Nick is used to saying things amongst his friends purely for shock value but does not really hold those views. Perhaps he felt relaxed on twitter like he was just talking to his friends and tweeted outrageous things without considering of the wider audience that can view every tweet. Maybe.

Even IF if was a joke gone wrong, I still believe that it is completely inappropriate behaviour for a member of a broad-based political party to say in a public forum.

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15 Responses to “On racism, context and political correctness”

  1. Tim Andrews Says:

    I think you raise a fair point, but where do you draw the line? So many of us make jokes on Twitter that people understand in context – what happens when people blow them up?
    I mean, I can name numerous Labor friends who have called for the nationalisation of all the means of production for instance. Sure, it was a joke, but taken out of context, saying Labor staffers are calling for communism in Australia can be rather negative.

    People are idiots. They make mistakes. We shouldn’t destroy a young kids political life because of an ill thought out post that that was little more than a failed attempt at humour.

  2. Evie Says:

    Bernard Keane’s blog on the subject is also a good examination on when and where humour is appropriately used for sending up the kind of people Sowden has belatedly tried to claim he was imitating: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/thestump/2010/04/16/in-defence-kinda-sorta-of-nick-sowden/

    As I said in the comments there though, all precedent would indicate that this was a defence only adopted by him when he experienced troll’s remorse. There are good trolls and bad trolls. Good trolls are clever and are adept at satirising/mocking stupid viewpoints without always having to put a big “DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT SERIOUS OR LITERALLY MY VIEWS” heading over the top, and 99% of the time they are able to explain and stand by their statements if a bigger furore is made. Bad trolls are not intelligent enough to convey the humour in what they say and will experience ‘trolls remorse’ and try to backpedal. Sowden is resorting to claiming that it was a joke when it was just bad trolling to begin with.

    Excellent work on the scoop, by the way!

  3. Evie Says:

    @Tim Andrews How old is he? I can’t immediately find the answer, but by the time I was 18 I had enough moderate intelligence to know what was a racist term and what was not. While I do agree that everyone says stupid things and should be given the opportunity to repent for it, I think once someone gets past the age of 18 they lose the “kid” excuse. If you’re old enough to legally do everything else, surely you’re old enough to take responsibility for the things you say? Where does *that* line get drawn?

  4. Anon Says:

    One issue, you say that his first tweet fell on deaf ears so he tried again with the hash tag. If you check the twitpics, they were tweeted within the same minute..

  5. cosmicjester Says:

    @Tim Andrews The nationalisation of the means of production is hardly as offensive an idea as racism is to the average person. Whenever privatisation comes up most polls show the majority of the public is against privatisation. I dare say many of the left of the Labor Party would support the nationalisation of key assets, and even in the coalition I think Barnaby would support some nationalisation.

    Not saying I agree with nationalisation but I dont think it would get the same response that this got.

    At the election Peter Garret got in trouble for an off the cuff remark. He claimed he wasnt serious, but the lesson is if you represent a political party watch what you say. And in the new media world where every little comment can spread the globe like wildfire, people need to think about what they say.

    The downside of this is politicians are so paranoid of a small soundbite being used against them that interviews are usually filled with catchphrases and non-answers.

  6. cosmicjester Says:

    @anon I am not sure of the exact difference in time betweet the two tweets, IIRC there was about 2 minutes between them. The nature of twitter and especially a live tweeting of a current even is that responses happen fast, the stream of the Obama interview was especially manic. 1 minute or 2 minutes is standard and it is my view that he intentionally tweeted a similar thing with the #obama730 hashtag to get a reaction. I cant prove that of course, thats just my view.

  7. Supermercado Says:

    Putting the media onto some stupid kid is pretty pissweak I reckon.

  8. cosmicjester Says:

    Except that he’s not a kid, he’s 22. I think it was his behaviour that was pissweak myself.

  9. Supermercado Says:

    I don’t disagree about his behaviour for a second, but to take the comments from a Twitter thread being read by – to be generous – a couple of hundred people to the mass media just to bury an absolute nobody seems pointless to me.

    Telling him he’s a racist cunt is one thing, and you’d have a point, but the way people have reacted to the whole affair has an unpleasant tang of bullying about it. The one thing he’ll learn now for sure is never to attach your real name to your tweets if you’re going to try and attempt pissweak ‘edgy comedy’. If he’d been called ChunkyLover69 this wouldn’t have gone any further than a bit of back and forth banter and abuse – now because he was dumb enough to put his name to the comments he’s ended up in the press and as public enemy #1 to the self appointed consciences of the internet.

    He deserves a whack, not to have his face plastered across the front page of newspaper websites. I’d rather see everyone dedicate their takedown skills to exposing the sort of arseholes that patronise Stormfront and related racist websites, because they walk amongst us in big numbers and just because they didn’t give us their name on a platter so we could Google them and find out what Facebook groups they’re left alone.

    The kid, and 22 is close enough for me, will look back in the future and probably have a laugh about the whole thing – especially having the PM comment on it – but the punishment well outweighs the crime right now.

  10. cosmicjester Says:

    As I said I didnt think the story would go as far as it did, and I wouldnt have taken the action that I did if he wasnt a member of a political party. I dont want racists to represent me in parliament and I dont want racists to be tolerated in the major political parties. If that requires using the internet and the media to shine a light onto someones intolerance then so be it.

  11. Bron Says:

    The one thing I definitely agree with Supermercado on is I too wish people would devote more time bringing down scum who frequent Stormfront and other racist websites.

    But, of course, it’s harder because they’re anonymous. What to do, what to do? Infiltrate?

  12. Bron Says:

    Myself included, I should add. If I had the time and patience and the fortitude to hang out on Stormfront, I would. But I don’t.

    Walking contradiction.

  13. SPORTOLOTICS Says:

    Well you learn something new everyday. Sitting in my ivory tower I was only vaguely aware of groups like Stormfront.

    How utterly repellent.

    But as Bron says, much harder to do anything about than a fool who posts his racism for all the world to see. Perhaps the treatment dished out to Nick Sowden, while a trifle unfair, will contain a message which filters down to those others.

  14. Bron Says:

    Happy to show you more racist forums, blogs and websites, Sportolotics! They’re truly repulsive.

  15. SPORTOLOTICS Says:

    Please do Bron. Always interested to see what”s out there.

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