Paul Simon's '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover' predated social media, so the lyrics don't refer to exiting a relationship via SMS, iMessage, BBM, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or any of the myriad others. Something like 'It's not you, it's me. Hope we can still be friends', which so conveniently comes in at under Twitter's 140 character limit.
This thought struck me when I was reading about the stormy Twitter row between Ben and Kate Goldsmith. They both come from aristocratic backgrounds (she is heiress to a Rothschild fortune, he is the son of a billionaire financier), and have been married since 2003. Recently he accused her of having an affair with a New Orleans rapper called Jay Electronica (whose real name disappointingly is Timothy Thedford) after an alleged domestic row, using Twitter as the medium. She responded in kind and the invective became increasingly shrill. Eventually it looked like calming down when they communicated the thought, via friends, that "Twitter is not the best forum to be near when you are feeling emotional", and tweeting themselves that there would be no further comment. But Mrs Goldsmith couldn't resist one more twist of the knife by changing her Twitter name to her maiden name KateRothschild, and lambasting critics over the weekend. I see no early reconciliation for this marriage, to the detriment of the parties concerned and their children.
Playing out conflict in a public forum has become increasingly easy because of the new media, but this does not reduce the toxicity to a relationship of spinning, leaking, name calling and so on. For example only two weeks ago the Germans leaked information that Eurogroup executives had agreed that each member state should draw up a national plan to cope with a Greek exit from the Eurozone. This was subsequently denied, but not before it made the headlines across Europe as the first indication that a Greek exit was being officially considered by other Eurozone countries, and it considerably raised the political tension in Athens as a result.
And earlier this week journalist Valerie Trierweiler, current partner of the new French President Francois Hollande, tweeted support for an election rival candidate after her husband indicated support for Segolene Royal, his former partner and father of his four children. She has subsequently been told by the Prime Minister amongst others to keep her nose out of it.
Maybe parties to a dispute do it because they feel the need to be put their case, to defend themselves, to be vindicated, to vent their frustration, and maybe to try to alter the balance of power. What they actually achieve is mainly negative, and in many cases leads to a permanent breakdown in communication, let alone negotiation, and more often than not the end of the relationship.
And doing it as a joke doesn't make it better. Two years ago UK citizen Paul Chambers heard that his flight might be delayed by bad weather and tweeted "Crap. Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your sh*t together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" Airport officials picked up the tweet, and he was arrested, charged and fined £1000; as a result he lost his job. A few days ago he failed to win an appeal to get his conviction overturned, although there is to be a fresh trial because the two judges disagreed with each other on some of the points of law.
Maybe the judges should have tweeted their differing views before announcing their decision The new trial will have three judges, so that there will definitely be a majority opinion.
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