Prudish about politics?
Last night, I returned home after 48 hours without an internet connection, or any British news source - and so without news of events on the election campaign. It's been a terrible hardship, as you might imagine. As I was leaving on Friday, though, the storm over a Labour candidate's foul-mouthed utterances on Twitter was gathering pace.
You probably know how that ended. For me it had two obvious lessons: one of them should have been obvious to Stuart MacLennan; the other perhaps was not.
The first is that anything you say on social media is broadcast to the world. That may not matter if you're an obscure student who is not standing for office or seeking a job, but can come back to haunt you later. The second - and this may sound prudish to some - is that many people still don't find acceptable foul or abusive language in a public place such as Twitter, even when used among friends.
One of the things I liked about Twitter when it first came along was that it was more polite than many other online spaces. For one thing, it makes a lot less sense to use the service anonymously or pseudonymously: nobody is really going to follow your updates if they don't know who you are, and that seemed to mean that most people were less inclined to spray around insults, invective and general unpleasantness. There was robust debate, certainly, but none of the aggression you see where people hiding behind a nom de guerre feel free to dish it out with no fear of redress.
But that began to change a few months back - suddenly, all sorts of users seemed to find it completely acceptable to eff and blind in that public space. A few weeks back, after I'd made some mildly sarcastic (but not foul-mouthed) remark about a West London team's exit from the Champions League, I got a message containing an insult that was made up of the word "Welsh" followed by a curt Middle-English word.
It wasn't accurate - "you're only half-Welsh", my wife remarked - but it was very distasteful. My instant reaction was to block the enraged Tweeter, much as I block the spammers now infecting the service with adverts for pornography and drugs.
Which bring us back to Stuart MacLennan - where did he get the idea that it was acceptable to turn the air blue on Twitter? Perhaps he'd been reading too many political blogs - or, rather, the comments posted there. For someone like me who is relatively new to the political blogosphere, it comes as quite a shock to plunge into a world where it's regarded as normal to use every obscenity imaginable to attack those politicians and fellow-readers that you don't happen to agree with. Now it seems that spirit risks arriving in the UK-political conversations on Twitter.
Mind you, some see the microblogging service rather differently. Toby Young in the Telegraph says its most attractive characteristic is "its out-of-school quality, the fact that people are less guarded about what they tweet than what they say in public. That's what makes it such an intimate medium. It's more like someone whispering to you in a pub than bellowing something [across] a crowded room."
Sorry, Toby. The intimate medium was Facebook, not Twitter, and now neither of them is the place to say anything you'd rather the world didn't hear. If politicians want to whisper or bellow obscenities, they'll find it safer to do it in the pub - or in the pseudonymous privacy of the blogosphere.