Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Authors of their own misfortune

Peter Williams reads his fake tweet.
Peter Williams reads his fake tweet.

"A video we made has gone viral," bleated a radio promo for One News on Tuesday night. That this was in the promo at all suggested it was one of the most important things that had happened that day, and to those involved it almost certainly was. Would it show Ruth Wynn-Williams and Nadine Chalmers-Ross discovering a cure for cancer? Had Peter Williams put Jesse Mulligan on the moon?

No. The reference was to a clip that had been on Breakfast that morning showing TV presenters reading out "hateful" tweets about themselves.

As hateful tweets go, they were at the "yo momma" end of the scale, so no risk of major trauma.

This was not, as those involved admitted, TVNZ's own bright idea but based on an overseas original.

Trying something different isn't really where TVNZ is positioning itself these days.

That's how you end up with Seven Sharp, after all.

The idea behind the performance was to demonstrate that if you can stand up to the online bullies by making fun of them, then you take control and disempower them. Which misses several points.

One is that most people on the receiving end of abuse don't have the benefit of a national television audience to laugh along with them at their tormentors. Giving any attention at all to bullies merely feeds their appetite. They crave online the attention they will never get in real life. Any attention will do.

If the presenters wanted to show potential victims how to keep themselves safe, they could have advised turning off their feeds, blocking people and generally not exposing themselves to online abuse. It won't stop them doing it, but it will stop their targets feeling it.

The performance also demonstrated the stereotypical celebrity willingness to do anything to get attention: "Let's show the trolls we can stand up to them, but really let's make the story about us. And then maybe go viral. And then we can do it for the promo." It was a classic humble brag - "Look how much people hate us. We must be famous."

This was reinforced by the revelation that presenters Peter Williams and Dean Butler had made up their own hateful tweets, under the illusion the video was some fanciful "send-up". They must really have needed to be in that video.

There was a time when staff inventing something and presenting it as fact would be taken very seriously indeed by a news organisation. How TVNZ reacts to this will indicate how seriously it values the credibility of the information it transmits.

In possibly related celebrity news this week, actor Alec Baldwin decided to make good on a resolution to "say goodbye to public life". He did not do this, as you might expect, by quietly slipping from view. He did it by writing a 5,000-word piece in New York magazine. He'll have been pleased - they gave him the cover.

It's time to shut down - or rather shut up - the ragtag bunch of malcontents who are giving their lives meaning by hounding silly old Len Brown every time he appears in public. These shrieking, self-righteous harpies are one length of rope away from full-blown vigilantism.

As is often the case with high-visibility critics, the fault they most lament is one they display themselves - in this case letting a wild passion overcome the better counsel of reason.

More importantly they are disrupting the democratic process by trying to prevent an elected official from getting on with his job. The rest of Auckland is over it. The city and the mayor have more important things to worry about.

- Herald on Sunday

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