STOP PRESS - Since writing this blogpost and taking the action I describe below, it has been announced that the Gary Glitter Twitter account was a fake, set up as 'a social experiment to highlight the dangers and safety of children using the social networking sites and to discover and question public morality.' You can read the author's explanation here. I'm not convinced that they've achieved what they set out to do. Also, Twitter wasn't the right platform. However, it was interesting to see what it brought to the surface and, for me, it was genuinely disturbing to see so many people following the account. The validity of the account was not the issue for me. The issue was public morality and the cult of celebrity that, apparently, caused mass selective amnesia for at least 18,000 people.
I'm pretty liberal. I champion free speech. Had the Glitter account been real, he was quite within his rights to use social media to re-join society and plug his album. Whether or not you believe in 'second chances' or fresh starts, it was legal and lawful for him to do so. The experiment was supposedly a wake-up call to us all that some social media sites have no restrictions on who may join. The inference is that there should be a blanket internet ban on convicted offenders. Personally, I'm not entirely comfortable with that. I have worked with genuinely rehabilitated offenders who used their experience to stop others going along the same route. Would their access be restricted or cut off too? Most use of the internet is for lawful and suitable purposes. Why would I object to a paedophile ordering their shopping online? The other fact, of course, is that paedophiles with any brains don't use large and very public platforms like Twitter. They hide in the shadows on password-protected forums and chat groups. However, I would argue that some - a very few - offenders should have restrictions placed upon their use of the internet as a preventative measure to stop them from harming or distressing others. I am talking about a small population of proven serial offenders; paedophiles, racists, sexists, homophobic and religious haters. I'm not talking 'Nanny state' erosion of our rights. The only rights that would be infringed are those of people who have abused those freedoms. I see this as no different to the way we use restraining orders for domestic abusers and stalkers. Or should they be allowed to wander up and down in the street outside their terrified victims' houses because it's their right? We are all entitled to free speech but shouldn't that right be, at the very least, closely controlled or monitored if a person abuses it? We deprive people of their liberty when they commit crimes against society and individuals. What's the difference? Discuss.
All of that aside, the big issue for me was WHY people chose to follow the account, fake or not. I did what I did because I wanted people to ask themselves why they did it. I don't have the answers. Of course I don't. But please have a read and let me know if you agree or disagree with my small protest.
In this past couple of hours I have, with no small degree of sadness, stopped following 74 people on Twitter. The reason I did so is that they made the decision to follow an account that purports to be the official Twitter account of disgraced rocker Gary Glitter. I'll say sorry to those people now but I am not sorry for taking this action. I felt that the situation absolutely demanded it.
The account named 'OfficialGlitter' appeared back in November and, from what I can discern, ticked along slowly for several months. Then, on the 16th January, the counter number for followers suddenly started rising at a meteoric rate. In less than 24 hours it had topped the 10,000 mark. As I write this, the counter stands at over 18,000. As this is a man whose career was pretty much confined to the Glam Rock 1970s, one can only assume that the majority of followers are people who know him best as a convicted paedophile.
Now, it may be that he has reformed, repented and may never commit another such offence. If so, good for him. It is also true that he has served his time, done his penance and should be allowed the freedom to make a new life for himself. I have no issue with that either. If the account is genuine, he's even planning a comeback album called Still Shining.
However, what I have a huge problem with is 18,000+ people following him on Twitter. To put that into some perspective, actor Brian Blessed has 7,644 and comedian Graeme Garden has 11,418. I single these two out because they are also both relative newcomers to Twitter and both are hugely popular. And yet it's taken them a few weeks to reach these figures while more than 18,000 people made a conscious decision to click on the follow button for the Glitter account. I had to ask myself why and, if the account is genuine, what is the message that this sends?
I suspect that the lure of celebrity coupled with the kind of rubber-necking we see at road accidents has made people push the follow button. Here is a man who, even though he may be completely rehabilitated, was guilty of crimes involving innocents. It's the most horrible of crimes; it preys upon the weak and the gullible and the easily-led. Paedophiles are clever, resourceful. They commit their crimes behind locked doors often relying on the child itself to cover their tracks. Sometimes the children don't really understand what's happened to them. Very often they are sworn to secrecy with abhorrent threats of 'Mummy and Daddy won't want you any more'. Now, I'm not saying that this particular individual did any of that. We all know what he was convicted of. What I am saying is that I've had to interview the victims of child abuse. And it broke my heart every time. We can never ever allow ourselves to see these kinds of crimes as anything but the most vile attacks upon the weakest and most helpless members of our society.
However, by taking someone who has been convicted of paedophilia and putting them up on a platform, bolstered by a wave of apparent public support, we are saying, 'It's okay son. All forgotten now.' Every click on the follow button - unless the follower is a GENUINE fan - validates this person. Just how many of those follows have even heard his music?
All the excuses about 'I just want to see what he tweets' smack of corpse in the road voyeurism. And do you really think that he would ever use such a public platform for grooming or contacting young people? Of course not. Every person who says 'I only follow him so I can reply to his tweets' is handily ignoring the fact that you can look at his tweets without following. And as for the argument 'It's just a bit of fun ...' Well, I'll let make your own conclusions about how that makes me feel.
I'm sorry if you are one of the people I've unfollowed today but my conscience cannot deal with the fact that someone who follows that account also wants to follow me. I don't want to be included in that demographic. I can't say I wish the man well but, as I said, he's done his time and can move on. He can reboot his career as a musician and re-enter society. But I will not be party to anything that glorifies him or which helps make him into the kind of 'bad boy ' celebrity we see so often these days. We now live in a society where being famous is somehow more important than being good. Our TVs and magazines are full of celebs who are thieves, adulterers, racists, drug-users, gold-diggers, spouse abusers, bullies and rapists and we forgive and forget them because they show us their cribs in OK! magazine, whip their bangers out for FHM or take part in a reality show on Channel 5. Public adulation fills their bank accounts and elevates them to unlikely and unsuitable role models for our kids. Judging by what's happened in the past five years, expect Gary to have his own chat show by Christmas. And, let's not be naive; the more money you have, the easier it is to indulge your worst excesses and get away with it.
I won't be part of that. If you choose to follow the account, then please carry on. It's a free country and I won't dislike you for it. But I will wish you well and unfollow you. I'm a very small cog in the giant machine that is Twitter and my little protest will make no difference at all. I'm nothing special. But my conscience will be clear. If you feel I've treated you harshly, then tak to me. It could be that I'm reading this all wrong and you have a perfectly valid reason for following the account. If so, I will be happy to apologise to you and follow you again.
Even if it turns out (as I strongly suspect) that it's a fake account, I feel justified in taking this stand. People followed it because they believed that it's real. In my eyes, that's no different to following the real thing.