'Twitter's power is only just beginning to be discovered'

It was a week that saw Fry weigh in on two big news stories. "I'd been involved in this Trafigura case, which Twitter had helped bust open," he recalls, referring to the gagging expose when oil company Trafigura tried to prevent the Guardian from reporting on toxic waste dumping.

Then came Daily Mail writer Jan Moir's column on the death of Boyzone star Stephen Gately, which was widely attacked for its alleged homophobia. When Fry added his own criticism, he brought a barrage of press attention, and unwittingly became part of the story himself.

"I was involved in both of these things late; I didn't create the debate," he says. "But because I have a weight of followers, and because journalists are naturally quite lazy, they simply monitored my Twitter feed. So I was getting the blame. Or, I was getting the blame for trying to take the credit!

"Usually it's water off a duck's back, kind of – but I am quite a sensitive soul. I don't know how people like the Jeremy Clarksons of the world – who are routinely excoriated – deal with it. I think people do understand, though; and I tried to apologise as best I could."

Slow return

Fry's return to Twitter was a slow one, and he was touched by the affection of the majority of his followers. "I've slowly immersed myself back into the bath, and the water's not so scalding any more," he explains.

"I'm sploshing around enjoying myself again. I think I'm a little bit more worn. But it's amazing how sensitive followers are. There's an obvious rhythm to my tweeting during the day, and if I'm feeling a bit down it's amazing how people pick up on any change, and ask if I'm OK. I just think 'How the hell do they know?!'.

"It's really interesting. Tim Berners-Lee named the web well, because it's like the spider can sense every twitch on the web; people sense every little flick of the filament. It's amazing how quickly it travels."

Filesharing furore

You'd think that Fry may have become more cautious about publicising issues he feels passionate about, but recently he weighed into the debate over government plans to disconnect those suspected of filesharing.

"To say that illegal filesharing should not be curbed would obviously be ridiculous, but there are levels of illegal filesharing, and there are ways of tackling it," Fry argues.

"The option is not either everything for free, or you seal everything up tight. What we're arguing about is that somewhere along this continuum is where the majority of people sit. And all I would say is: look at it from their point of view.

"Twenty years ago we were making compilation tapes on cassette. Did music die? No. It was the 70s, when everything through prog rock to punk happened. It was an explosive and creative time for music. What happened is that we went through the normal changes everyone goes through. You start earning a bit of money, and you start buying CDs. That's the journey most of us take. They're just seeing them as a potential enemy or customer – that's it. I find that insulting; we're people."

So, despite everything, Fry can't help himself: if he believes strongly in something, he feels compelled to bring it to the attention of his followers. And this is why, although not quite at the top of the pile in terms of numbers, his followers engage with him more than any other member of the Twitter hierarchy.

His tweets are few and far between at the present moment while he concentrates on finishing his latest book (he'll make a full return to Twitter in this month), but his influence is still being felt.

"I'm thrilled that by my contributing to the filesharing debate, people are talking about it more," Fry concludes. "People haven't been talking about it enough, and if I can play a part in getting more people discussing it, then I think that's good."


First published in .net Issue 200

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Dan Oliver

Dan is the editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G. He is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. In 2016 he founded Oliver Media Limited, where they work directly with brands and agencies to produce engaging content, with none of the large agency overheads.