The 10 golden rules of Twitter

David Aaronovitch

No week seems to pass without some tweeter or other having their handle felt by officers of the law. So if you don’t want to be one of them but you do want to communicate in 140 characters, here are my 10 Golden Rules:

  1. Twitter IS publishing. Putting it out there for others to read is publishing. So don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t be happy to see on the newsagent’s shelf with a picture of you above it.
  2. You think you know the law of libel. You don’t. Nor do any of your friends. I have had grown men telling me on Twitter this week that repeating a libel is not itself libel (it is) or that if you don’t directly say X is a rampant Y, but just hint at it then it doesn’t count (it does).
  3. If you’re an obscure nobody who no one follows, but who wants to say something rude sort-of privately, don’t do it under a trending hashtag. You will bring the wrath of thousands of strangers down on your hapless head.
  4. Some people LIKE the wrath of strangers. They’re called trolls. If you feel yourself bridling at repeated rude comments aimed at you and your cherished views then just BLOCK the offender. They disappear as if by magic.
  5. You are hurt. Wounded. Someone has questioned your talent or integrity. You wish to howl with online pain. Don’t. Those who enjoy your discomfiture will gather like crows around a carcase. Laugh. Put up a smiley.
  6. That brilliant retort you have composed, replete with pungent sexual or violent imagery, which will utterly destroy the Twitter foe who has, despite my advice, so annoyed you? Cherish it. Roll its 140 characters on your tongue. And then, for God’s sake, DELETE IT.
  7. Don’t tweet while drunk. You think it’s clever, and funny, you giggle and dribble at your own brilliant verbiage. But you are opening wide the gates of Hell. Morning will come, cold and clear.
  8. Don’t EVER meet a jolly Twitter companion, even one you’ve been ff’ing (suggesting people follow you every Friday) for months. Not without a police report. I learnt the hard way.
  9. Get yourself a decent avatar (picture) on Twitter. Not that default egg or the eye slicing scene from Un Chien Andalou. For everyone else’s sake.
  10. Lastly, the golden rule, the rule of rules. Never, ever tweet anything about anybody that you wouldn’t say to their face. There’s a REASON why you wouldn’t say it to their face. They might hit you, or sue you. So why would you want to tweet it?


Read more: “The unhealthiest falsehood spread on social networks is that users are living lives of constant glamour and hilarity,” says Libby Purves

Conspiracy Corner | Mossad was behind the al-Hilli family murders in the Alps

David Aaronovitch

A persistent fall-back theory for almost any high-profile unexplained death is that “Mossad done it”. One author, Gordon Thomas, who had a best-seller with his imaginative Gideon’s Spies, has Mossad killing Robert Maxwell and playing a hand in the death of Princess Diana.

On Saturday, the Daily Mail published a long piece by David Jones under the headline: “Was Mossad behind the Alps murders?” Apparently Jones and “a team of Mail reporters” had “spent the past week probing the mystery” of the hitman-style killing of Saad al-Hilli, his family and a French cyclist.

The Mail team discovered that the joint French and British investigation was looking at three broad theories, none of which – as Jones admitted – had anything to do with the Israeli secret service.

However, “experts in the ruthless machinations of Middle Eastern espionage have also presented an increasingly plausible scenario which has not been explored,” the report explained. One of them is “a respected Middle East security analyst, who declined to be named”, but we are not told why he or she is so reticent. The other is a chap called Roger Howard who is not an expert on the Middle East, but does have a book out on, er, Mossad assassinations.

There then follows a cobbling together of an implausible theory for which there is zero evidence about a tryst between the dead family and the dead cyclist, Iranian nukes and a kid-killing team of Israelis; into which terms such as “highly likely” are thrown with no regard at all for their meaning.

But despite (or possibly because of) the stupidity of the Mail’s piece, expect to see a whole lot more on this on an internet site near you. If that anonymous security analyst would like to come forward and change my mind, they should. But I’m not holding my breath.


Jimmy Savile was a “good man”, sexual assault on minors is a “bad thing”, and therefore the girls alone in the dressing room must have meant something else than illegal sex. We tend towards such binary thinking, which may be one reason why we continually hear phrases like “he wasn’t the suicidal type” of a suicide, or “he was a gentle boy” of a murderer.

David Aaronovitch examines the Jimmy Savile child abuse allegations

Why has no Muslim leader in my experience ever, ever, ever mentioned how the British and Americans saved Muslims in Kosovo from genocide?

We now risk global Muslim anger every time a bongo-brain in a Moosejaw shed uploads an idiocy involving something Islamic, David Aaronovitch writes

Whatever else Shakespeare’s dramas had to do, they had to attract a late Elizabethan/early Stuart audience of ordinary people to pay money to go to the playhouse. Shakespeare was a ratings chaser. If punters thought his play too slow, too obscure, too difficult, then he would have failed. So his art was not part of a refined world, but a product of popular culture. I think what I’m suggesting here is that the mass of people — whose wishes are often to be understood in what they choose to spend their money on — actually help to provoke the most dynamic and successful art.

Do you agree with David Aaronovitch? Let us know what you think. David was writing after Peter Bazalgette, the TV producer who brought Big Brother to Britain, was appointed as chairman of the rather more refined Arts Council England (read more)

Most of us, at some point, are prepared to change our minds or to try and accommodate contrary information when it becomes very strong. For me an example would be the case of the Pussy Riot protestors. I think they are brave young women who deserve our support. I am gung ho for condemning their imprisonment. But it has been pointed out by too many people for me to be able to ignore it, that Pussy Riot do not enjoy mass support in Russia, and that their tactics have alienated many Russians. All right. I have to factor that in. It’s awkward but I am not going to deny that I know it.

It’s also time that a few awkward truths were accepted by Assangeite conspiracy theorists and Eurosceptic monomaniacs, says David Aaronovitch

When Julian Assange jumped bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in June, an image came immediately into my mind. It was of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, swinging down from a flying buttress to scoop up the doomed and swooning Esmeralda and swinging back, shouting “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”

More from David Aaronovitch on the WikiLeaks founder’s dash to the Ecuadorian Embassy

Let us permit ourselves a moment of slightly grim irony that it is Ecuador to whom Julian Assange has turned for political asylum. In recent years the government of President Correa has made full use of what are known as “desacato” laws, which make it a crime for journalists to “insult” or defame public officials. Editors and publishers have been sentenced to long prison terms and huge fines for criticising the authorities. This is the country to which the WikiLeaks founder has turned to save him from the despotism of Sweden.

Ecuador will soon decide whether or not to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, who jumped bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19. David Aaronovitch believes the WikiLeaks founder is more fearful of facing rape charges in Sweden than espionage charges in the US

Times Opinion today | Scientology, Eric Sykes, the God particle & the BBC


Eric Sykes was one of those giants of comedy who, away from the TV screen, looked smaller than life,” says The Times

We won’t have a female boss at Barclays, says Camilla Cavendish, because successful mothering isn’t counted as a plus


Scientology is weird, but aren’t all religions? asks David Aaronovitch. And as for circumcision…

State-backed Big Science has been vindicated with the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, The Times says


“We’ll flog arms or drugs or extortionate insurance or dodgy derivatives to anyone with a chequebook,” says Matthew Parris. “Britain plays dirty. We always have.”

General Sir Peter Wall, head of the Army, says a new Reserve force will maintain our military strength as five battalions are axed


Rape charges will no longer be left to lie where the guilty party has already been jailed for murder, says Keir Starmer, QC, Director of Public Prosecutions

The Times says George Entwistle, the new Director-General of the BBC, is a safe choice – but he must stop the BBC swamping the media environment

(Times Opinion, Thursday July 05, 2012)

Ansar Dine and desecrating the shrines of saints | David Aaronovitch

The warriors of the fundamentalist Muslim group Ansar Dine know exactly why it’s necessary for them to destroy the beautiful 15th century tombs in the Malian city of Timbuktu. It has to be done, said a chap called Oumar Ould Hamaha, so that “future generations don’t get confused, and start venerating the saints as if they are God”.

We’ve had our own Ansar Dine in Britain. On May 2, 1643, a group of Puritans pulled down the Cheapside Cross, a richly carved 13th century memorial to the recently dead Queen Eleanor. Apparently the statues of saints might have drawn the impressionable back to papism.

There are no “heritage” or “art” categories in totalitarianism – be it total religion or total politics. The difference between Ansar Dine and us is 300 years of recognition.

Twitter: @DAaronovitch

Read more: Islamists destroy ancient monuments in Timbuktu to defy Unesco

Times Opinion today | F1 in London, Lords reform, immigration & a dead badger

Formula One on the streets of London? Cars hurtling past Big Ben? Yes please – the benefits would outweigh the costs (and the disruption), says The Times

on Immigration

Our ageing population mustn’t have an overbearing influence on the wishes of the young, says David Aaronovitch – for example, the young are more liberal about immigration

“We have imported feudal societies into our midst but ignored the people trapped inside them,” Camilla Cavendish says

on Lords reform

“Surely, concentrating into the hands of three party leaders the power to appoint hundreds of legislators in the next-door chamber is a degree of patronage unprecedented anywhere in the democratic world?” says Laura Sandys, MP on House of Lords reform

Still, voters just aren’t interested in this at the moment, and it’s not as if the Government has little else to do, The Times says


Somewhere high above the Congo, Matthew Parris weeps as a badger dies

Leaves on the line – it’s a serious issue, says author Christian Wolmar. They caused one train to slide along helplessly for two miles

Children with terminal illnesses are being failed when their childhoods end, The Times says

(Times Opinion, Thursday June 28, 2012)

Why would politicians favour the old directly when it comes to welfare and the attitudes of the old when it comes to something like immigration? They vote. That’s why. At the 2001 general election turn-out among 18- to 24-year-old voters was 39 per cent. It was 69 per cent among 55- to 64-year-olds and 70 per cent among those over 65.

Sneak Peek: David Aaronovitch thinks that if politicians pander to the prejudices of the aged, we will end up with more lock ‘em up, send ‘em home, reactive-not-proactive policy.

Which Assange supporter wrote that stupid letter to the President of Ecuador? | David Aaronovitch

A few years back I wrote a column pondering the speed with which effigies appeared on the streets of Islamabad ready to be burned by angry crowds. Then, not long ago, I saw a piece about the students who do indeed prepare a stock of effigies for the day they might be required.

In the same vein I sometimes wonder who sits at home devising petitions to newspapers and “open letters” for various notables of the theatrical and bien pensant Left to attach their signatures to. Like the one to the President of Ecuador requesting that he give political asylum to Julian Assange.

Which idiot actually wrote the letter signed by Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, Naomi Wolf and Noam Chomsky stating that Assange – wanted for questioning on rape charges – was guilty only of the crime of “practicing journalism”?

Twitter: @DAaronovitch

Read more: The WikiLeaks frontman is a suspect, not a dissident

How can Julian Assange escape from the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain?

1. In a diplomatic bag

2. As a diplomatic courier

3. If Ecuador appoints him as one of its representative to the United Nations

These, according to lawyer Carl Gardner, are the only ways.

Times Opinion today | Wednesday June 20, 2012


Legality clashes with morality as David Aaronovitch examines tax avoidance in light of The Times’s outing of Jimmy Carr and Take That

Watergate has brought us a “hysterical atmosphere of constant scandal in which it becomes impossible to discriminate properly between nonsense and wrongdoing,” says Daniel Finkelstein


Alice Thomson jumps to the defence of GPs as the “specialist generalists” we need to dish out specialist services (they’re still greedy for striking, though)

We need to patch up our churches and keep them fit for use by all in the community, says Nicholas Holtam, a trustee of the National Churches Trust

20-year-old Vicky Fowler Thunders about her difficulty finding work experience, let alone paid work

The Times says…

Aung San Suu Kyi “not only represents a better future for Burma, but testifies to the resilience of the human spirit in extreme adversity”

The Government’s Civil Service reforms don’t resolve the accountability question: ministers don’t have enough say over the appointment of senior civil servants

Great things have been achieved since the first Rio Conference on Sustainable Development

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