We always seem to remember where we were and how we learnt
about the death of an iconic figure. It is engraved in my memory that it was on
a Sunday morning on a now defunct local TV news station, Channel One, where
first I learnt of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
When I recount how I learnt of the death of Margaret Thatcher though, I will
have to say that it was seeing a photograph of a bottle of champagne being
popped open and reading the words "ding dong, the witch is dead". The
poster, a television executive, helpfully linked to a YouTube clip from the
Wizard of Oz, where I watched the Munchkins sing celebrating the death of the
Wicked Witch of the West. It was only by reading the comments below the link
that I realised that one of the most iconic leaders we have ever known had
Lady Thatcher has been the first major British figure to have died in the
age of Facebook and Twitter. The first person whose death has become the
immediate subject of debate, despair and celebration and a person whose death
in my eyes has revealed a darker side to social networking.
While on the TV news or on news websites, we have seen glowing tributes
Tweeted by politicians of all flavours, if my own social network is anything to
go by, the majority of the content being posted is particularly negative if not
offensive. Yes, many of my friends are upset that she brought us Section 28, an
effective ban on homosexuality being discussed in schools, others are upset at
the miner's strike, others the hunger strikes, the Falklands and a myriad of
other issues. However most of what I have seen has been downright offensive.
Bars have posted about 'dead Thatcher' parties, an off licence announced a
special offer on champagne, George Galloway quoted from an Elvis Costello song
about dancing on Thatcher's grave, students tweeted about applauding the news
at NUS conference while a Facebook campaign has been mounted to take 'Ding
Dong, the Witch is Dead' to number one this Sunday.
Social media is in a literal war, between those who have either admired Lady
Thatcher or at least would rather show respect to a political opponent and
those who are positively gleeful at the death of an individual. Sure, it is
about the death of an extraordinarily divisive figure, loved and loathed in
equal measure during her tenure as prime minister, but the negative posts are
matched only perhaps by the death of Osama Bin-Laden.
The posts have exemplified to me, someone who is a digital native not some
sort of luddite, the rather instant, reactive and I believe rather crass
culture that has been cultivated by the spread of social networking. A culture
where people write things from the comfort of a keyboard that they never would
say in public, where they click "like" at the death of someone
they've never met or when they dispense with reasoned political arguments about
an individual's legacy and in reality make themselves less human.