Twitter is no laughing matter for Graham Linehan

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The creator of Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd speaks to Sky News about why he decided to quit the social network.

Graham Linehan won an Emmy for 'The IT Crowd' in 2008

Veteran comedy writer Graham Linehan has criticised social media companies for facilitating the monetisation of protest.

In an interview with Sky News, he claimed some tech giants make it too easy to reward whoever has the most outrageous opinions – and have double standards when it comes to holding powerful people’s accounts to their terms of service.

Linehan – creator of Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd – quit Twitter in October when the company refused to suspend Donald Trump’s account for what he claimed were violations of its terms of service.

Responding to an allegation by North Korea’s foreign minister that Mr Trump was a “mentally deranged megalomaniac”, the President had stated: “If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

Linehan argued that, at the same time, Twitter had failed to ban white supremacists and members of the far-right – giving others such as Richard Spencer perceived respectability by verifying their accounts.

Father Ted broke ground as a sitcom based in a remote island parish. Pic: Hattrick Productions
Image:
Father Ted was a sitcom based in a remote island parish. Pic: Hat Trick Productions

The monetisation of protest is an issue, Linehan added.

“If you’ve got a protest then make a protest,” he said – claiming that using crowdfunding platforms such as Patreon and YouTube’s own advertising services rewards people who have outrageous opinions.

Linehan noted one situation in which a woman interrupted a performance of Julius Caesar which was staged with similarities to the current US administration and subsequently raised $20,000 (£15,260) from sympathisers.

YouTube is “doing more, I think, to limit income for people who are just saying the most extremely outrageous things for clicks and bucks”, said Linehan.

Asked if he had reservations about the results of censorship – which for YouTube led to the deletion of potential evidence of war crimes in Syria – the writer said: “I’ve always been incredibly anti-censorship… but I’m beginning to think that the free speech of those people who have monetised their activities is limiting the free speech of other people.

“I think that in the current ecosystem some people are being silenced and I think that that is a form of censorship, so let’s address that and worry about the ******* Nazis later.”

He joked: “I checked after I left Twitter and the market share price didn’t go down, so.”

Twitter’s shares jumped last week when it said it could be on course to turn its first-ever quarterly profit.

In the UK, social media sites may soon be taxed in the UK to pay for action to tackle online bullying.

Twitter itself doesn’t seem to understand its own service, Mr Linehan said.

“There’s always been this problem with new forms of communication with us not really having a handle on them,” Mr Linehan said.

“The classic one of the ‘Reply All’ to everyone in your company, that’s been replaced by so many variations, there’s so many ways you can screw up. Ed Balls is the best light example.”

:: Not all bad

In Linehan’s native Ireland, a social media movement to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution – which has prevented legal access to abortions – has secured a government promise to hold a referendum on the issue in 2018.

“Regardless of all the terrible things that have happened because of Twitter and other social media – Trump being the worst example, because I agree with him when he said he wouldn’t have got to power without Twitter.

“But even with all those things going on, people are having conversations they’ve never had before, people are having their eyes opened to aspects of life that they might have had a very simplistic understanding of beforehand.

“People complain that you can’t tell a joke now. But I disagree, I think that hearing how certain jokes can hurt certain people in certain ways allows you to reach deeper, and further, and tell more interesting jokes.

“I think by the end of all this the net gain might be more than what we’ve lost.”

Twitter did not respond to Sky News’ request for comment.

Father Ted broke ground as a sitcom based in a remote island parish. Pic: Hattrick Productions

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