05 May 2010

140 characters - can it be taken out of context?

Australian readers may be away of the fallout following the tweets by attendees at the Logies last Sunday, particularly by Wil Anderson and Catherine Deveny.

Interestingly, on Monday I wrote about the conversation about what my responsibility as a writer is, and learning how to filter and respond to readers' comments.

Last night it was announced that Catherine Deveny, freelance newspaper columnist, comedy writer, and comedian, was sacked from her column duties at The Age because of tweeting about the Logies.

The ABC website lists two offending tweets:

"Rove and Tasma look so cute! I hope she doesn't die too," she tweeted about talk star Rove McManus, whose wife Belinda Emmett died of cancer in 2006.

"I so do hope Bindi Irwin gets laid," she also tweeted.

Since the Logies, Deveny has spoken to the media about the meaning of her tweets.

She said that the Bindi Irwin tweet referred to the sexualisation and raunch culture of pre-pubescent girls.

The tweet about Rove was apparently referring to the deep friendship Deveny had with Rove - she didn't want to see him lose another love considering his first wife Belinda Emmett passed away in 2006. She also attempted to justify it by mentioning that she had written for his TV show for five years.

Prior to the Logies, Catherine Deveny has tweeted about her opposition of ANZAC Day, and referred to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a C-word. Deveny is a regular at tweet-clangers.

Deveny is disappointed she has been sacked by The Age. She believes that The Age do not understand adult humour, nor Twitter. She believes she was merely pushing the boundaries.

I believe that just because Twitter is new media and may be considered to be pushing the boundaries of citizen journalism - providing instant commentary, news and a widespread audience, it shouldn't mean the contents of the tweets should push the boundaries to the extent Deveny did at the Logies.

I am not sure whether she should have been sacked, though I am of the belief that we should represent and situate ourselves very carefully online. You never know who will be reading.

There has been debate all over the media, from journalists, bloggers and commentors - did she deserve to be sacked, or seeing she was a controversial journalist were these tweets so out of the ordinary? Similarly to the Make A Wish incident with The Chaser, there are questions about whether comedians should be sanitised.

Here are a selection of articles about the Deveny/Logies incident:
The Punch
The Australian
A Shiny New Coin

Today Deveny said she stood by her tweets and they have been taken out of context.

I wonder this. How can a tweet, of 140 characters or less, clearly containing one subject and with the hashtag '#Logies' be taken out of context?

A tweet is pretty concise. And with the #Logies hashtag on the end of her tweets, she ensured her tweets were within the Logies feed, or should we say, 'context', on Twitter.

Nope, I see Catherine Deveny's tweets were clearly within the context of 140 characters or less, within the context of the people and subjects she was referring to (because she NAMED THEM!) and clearly within the context of the Logies. Her subject matter was hardly ambiguous.

While she is entitled to her opinion, and was tweeting under her own name, not the name of the newspaper she writes for, and I don't believe in censorship, I believe she has the responsibility to think about the impact of her tweets before she tweets them.

Catherine Deveny is a media representative, regularly creating debate in her Age columns. She currently has 5193 Twitter followers. She knows the power of Twitter and the internet to spread the word.

And she is most probably aware of the way Twitter contextualises tweets so neatly.


  1. Carly - FYI I gave you a blog award today! See here: http://gathersnm.blogspot.com/2010/05/i-will-gladly-bow-down-to-candybears.html

  2. I don't think Catherine should have been sacked.
    1) She writes freelance. Which means, while Tweeting on her *personal* account, that has nothing to do with The Age.
    2) The Age only took action *after* posting her Tweets on their website, and encourging people to write comments about the Tweets. After people deemed them not nice, only then, did they decide, well maybe we should sack her. That's not fair - take action straight away or not at all.
    3) She is known for her somewhat crude comments and if you don't like her, you don't have to listen/read.

    I don't think what she said was right, but should she have gotten sacked over it?


  3. Nicely put, Carly. I think you're bang on with the "context" issue.

    I thought her comments in response to the incident all stank of post-fallout grappling.

  4. I fully agree with The Age's decision. I'm sorry but if you're going to make comments that relate to the death of a previous collegue and the sexuality of a teen then you need to have your lip zipped. I have the mouth of a sailor and a crude sense of humour and even I felt that was way too much.
    I'm also a victim of something similar. An ex-'friend' tweeted something rather horrible about me because she wasn't aware that I could see her twitter account (didn't realise that I have an account) and now I've seen something that should I confront her on it, I'm pretty sure she'd try to explain it away as meaning someone else. The words that she used made it very clear who she meant. Some people should remember that anyone and everyone can view your tweets unless you've specifically blocked them!

  5. A teen? Bindi Irwin is eleven years old! I would never ever aim a comment like that at anyone who wasn't at least 16 years old, especially not in the public domain.

    I think the Rove comment was also pretty insensitive. The Chaser never hit out on Belinda Emmett's Death - I recall in a song about dead celebrities they left her out exclusively.

    Catherine simply needs to know when it's justified to comment. Sure, comment on Lady Gaga and Rihanna and Gordon Brown and Lindsay Lohan and Britney and all those people who make or aim to make a statement in their actions or words.

    I think preying on people like Bindi and Rove is kind of unjustified. They both sold out to commercialisation but that's their choice.

    So yes, I wasn't too pleased with Catherine's tweetings. She has to accept the consequences of her actions.

    Thanks for the interesting commentary btw :)

  6. Hi Carly,

    I most definitely agree with Kim's two excellent points above in regards to why she shouldn't have been sacked.

    In regards to context I think that, yes the tweets are taken out of context
    as soon as you remove them from Twitter. I have the feeling that there is a lot of misunderstanding around twitter and those that aren't on there often don't quite 'get' it.

    I bet if you clicked the logies hashtag or even the masterchef hashtag on any given night you see a lot worse stuff being said by a large
    number of people.

    Perhaps the outrage over Catherine is that her subject matter was a child and a dead person: which I think are two groups that society seems a bit taboo (rightly or wrongly) with hearing satire or comedy about

    People have made the choice to follow Catherine and if her tweets are offensive can hit the unfollow button. However, once they are splashed across the front of a newspaper yes the context is lost somewhat.

    P.S. While Catherine has 5000 followers now she actually only had around 3000 on logies night.

  7. @Catie_M actually I don't think it's correct to say the context is lost. A tweet at 140 characters - is by definition stripped of context. If she wished to issue a nuanced, contextualised piece on preteen sexualisation using Bindy Irwin as an exemplar then twitter was not the appropriate forum to do so.

    Further more while it may be possible for an anonymous private individual to have some claim that the subsequent exposure was unexpected a media commentator most certainly can not. Catherine chose to issue her tweets in a public forum (that is her twitter feed is not private) she is/was a public figure associated with a national newspaper, she writes in a controversial style that can easily be construed as offensive.

    Yes you are right I think that society has taboo's over using children and (non evil)dead people as objects of satire. Why do you feel that is 'right' or 'wrong'? If she had issued tweets that were directed at the intellectually handicapped, were racist or sexist would you feel comfortable with describing peoples outrage at those standards having broken as being the result of taboos held 'rightly or wrongly'?

    Society develops minimum standards of decency (or what ever similar non pergortaive term you prefer) for a reason. If a media savey social commentator chooses to break those standards via a tool as non contextualised and blunt as twitter, she has no claim to protection. While she is perfectly free to keep making such tweets and people are free to either read them or not, the newspaper is similarly free to decide they no longer want to be associated with her.


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