Like most people, I was appalled to hear Russell Brand’s BBC Radio 2 interview with Jimmy Savile from 2007. And, like most people, even without the benefit of hindsight, I can’t quite believe anyone found it anything but appalling at the time. I kind of had to listen to it from behind the sofa. It was to do with Brand sending his “very attractive” female assistant round to Savile’s place to perform services, naked. Or something like that. I’m sure you can find it for yourselves if you really want the full picture.
Yes, those were different times, but not that different. So where was the outrage? Where did it go? We often yearn for the days before social media took over our lives, but social media might have made a difference here. Twitterstorms, pile-ons and trolling were terms unfamiliar to us then, and phenomena which the liberal-minded are now generally against. But a bit of a Twitterstorm might have done the trick. Brand, Savile and whoever was in charge might well have found themselves at the bottom of a right old pile-on and had to hang their heads in shame.
Before social media, especially if one of a handful of newspapers didn’t choose to take up arms, there was no forum on which a storm of righteous indignation could whip itself up. Twitter, or X, or whatever we have to call it now, is a vector for the mad, bad and plain wrong. A good deal of this bad stuff concerns just what we happen to disagree with, of course. But a fair amount is only for the sewer. It’s a sewer in which many a scumbag can hide in plain sight and, even worse, recruit support.
We rightly rail against all this, and the damage to young minds, political discourse, and all the rest of it. But we rather forget that it can also be a forum on which the right stuff can flourish, flushing a good deal of bad stuff away down that sewer.
• Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist