Thatcher: social media, tribes and hatred

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Margaret Thatcher has rather annoyed me this evening, and that’s not something I’ve been able to say for decades.

I hate feeling obligated to write about something on my blog, you see, and by having the sheer, stark lack of consideration to die, she’s created a prevailing mood that leaves me to feel I need to put finger to keyboard before I hit the sack, far later than I should have done. Like most British children of the early 70s, my formative years politically were dominated by her. The 1980s were her decade of British politics  When she finally left office in the 90s, it was the first time I could remember living in a Britain that wasn’t ruled by her. I held on to the Evening Standard front cover from the day she resigned for the next decade or so.

She was a divisive, polarising, but hugely successful and productive figure, who can inspire pieces like this positive spin from Andrew Sullivan and this more negative take from The Guardian, both of which are probably true. But it has split social media into nasty little tribal factions that have been warring away all day, reminding me why I much prefer the the long-form response represented by the two posts I just linked.

In fact, the factions broke down in a way perfectly predicted by Martin Belam back at the tail end of last year:

@fieldproducer @jamesrbuk “What Twitter will look like on the day that Thatcher dies” –…
— Martin Belam (@MartinBelam) December 28, 2012

It’s un-edifying, and something I pretty much avoided other than to throw the occasional piece of satire in from the sidelines:

EXCLUSIVE: this person has no idea who Thatcher was:…
— Adam Tinworth (@adders) April 8, 2013

In the end, though, I pretty much agree with this piece from Glen Greenwald which argued that people should be free to say what they like about a public figure when they die. She was a huge part of the UK’s public life and some debate on what her legacy is is not just to be expected, it’s actually healthy.

But there is one response that I do think is unhealthy: “I hated her and I’m glad she’s dead”. That’s not because it makes any difference to her – she’s beyond that now, one way or another – or her family, who will never see the majority of it. It simply diminishes the people who feel that way. To devote so much energy to hating someone who left power nearly a quarter of a century ago to the point where you want to celebrate the death of an elderly, sick grandmother and widow just seems to me to lack a sense of proportion and of human empathy.

The reason so many different media warn us against hate – from George Orwell to Doctor Who to umpteen world religions – is that it damages the person feeling the emotion more than the person to whom it is directed most of the time.

This may be, in fact, meta-piety, but it’s my blog and I’ll be pious if I want to.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.