Putting Private Eye right on Twitter and the internet

A couple of weeks back I emailed a letter to Private Eye about two items that appeared in their issue number 1230 (the one that’s just gone off sale). I have now received a reply from ‘The Ed’ saying ‘Thank you for your letter. I am sorry not to publish it in Private Eye.’ So as not to lose this essential correspondence, here is my letter, slightly edited for clarity.

Dear Sir,

At the risk of appearing in Pedants’ Corner, the Stephen Fry Twitter column in this issue is wrong in a number of ways.

You only use the @ sign when *you* are addressing another Twitter user, not when they address you. So I was confused to read in Fry’s twitterstream ‘@Wossy’, expecting this to prefix a typically erudite Fry remark directed at Jonathan Ross, when it was actually a knob gag from Wossy to Fry. Next time just drop the @ sign for remarks sent to Fry by other Twitterers and only use it when Stevie tweets at them. Or better still, do the world a favour and drop Wossy’s knob.

Also, a couple of tweets are longer than the maximum 140 characters allowed by Twitter. The one about ‘Getting stuck in one lift may be considered a misfortune; getting stuck in two lifts starts to look like carelessness’ is actually 153 characters. (Sad, aren’t I?)

Finally, the whole thing is back-to-front, as on the real Twitter the most recent tweets appear at the top of the page, not the bottom. That said, your version is designed to be read by humans, which Twitter frankly isn’t, so that’s actually a vast improvement on the original.

Twitter aside, there also appear to be some misconceptions in the ‘Telegraph twits’ article on page 7 of the same issue. You don’t ‘surf’ ‘popular internet search keywords when writing copy for the online edition’, you just ‘use’ the terms or ‘include’ them. One ‘surfs’ the web as a whole, i.e. to find out information. In any case, criticising this behaviour as an example of the dumbing-down of journalism is more than a little naive in these days of the information superhighway. If you don’t include relevant keywords in your online content, then people won’t find it – it’s as simple as that. It only becomes dubious if you contrive to include terms which have nothing to do with what you’re actually writing about – for instance if I were to gratuitously insert the keywords sex, drugs and rock’n’roll in this paragraph. Then again, it wouldn’t make any difference, as your letters don’t go on your website.*

I’ll shut up now.

Yours etc.

* This one is going on mine though 🙂

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