Insecurity over inconvenient facts quickly leads to anger and a mob mentality
I was a eugenicist who was guilty of peddling fascism, apparently. One man stated publicly that he would “personally murder” me if our paths were to cross; another implied I should be hanged from a lamp-post; and a woman “comedian” called for my arrest.
Others joined the bandwagon of rage with various insults and accusations — much of the language too choice to republish here.
So what heinous crime had I committed to provoke such an onslaught? Well — look away now if you are squeamish — I had tweeted, without comment, an official statistic published by NHS England which showed that there had, since the start of the pandemic, been 377 Covid-related hospital deaths involving patients who were under 60 and had no pre-existing condition. I provided within the tweet a link to the relevant data. (I should say that my original tweet didn’t mention the likely small number of additional deaths in non-hospital settings, but this was clarified in a follow-up tweet.)
The number of Covid-related deaths in England involving individuals under the age of 60 and free from a pre-existing condition is 377. This is for the entire period of the pandemic.
Source: NHS England https://t.co/lIaln2odu4
— Paul Embery (@PaulEmbery) December 26, 2020
The citing of this particular statistic was enough to trigger a meltdown among the pitchfork-wielding Twitterati. I was “misrepresenting” the data, claimed some supercilious commentators. I obviously placed no value on the lives of the elderly and disabled, others asserted. I was content to throw society’s most vulnerable to the wolves. I was some horrific disciple of Josef Mengele.
Had my accusers taken a minute or so to research what I actually believed, they would have found that my views were the very opposite of those they attributed to me. I have argued for some time that, as part of a more focused approach, the full resources of the state and civil society should be given over to protecting the genuinely vulnerable — no matter the financial cost — while the healthy part of the population are granted greater freedoms to live their lives. To this end, I have added my name, alongside those of 700,000 others, to the Great Barrington declaration, drawn up by infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists concerned at the terrible costs of blanket lockdowns and calling for more targeted protection.
But the baying mob didn’t trouble to research these facts. They never do. For many of them, it is all about the thrill of the pursuit.
I am certain that if I had relayed the same NHS England data to fellow drinkers in my local boozer, there would have been a few raised eyebrows, perhaps a civilised debate, maybe a hint of disagreement, and then someone would have got another round in. But Britain and Twitter are, as David Cameron once observed, not the same thing. Britain is populated with normal people. Twitterland, by contrast, is filled with frothing dogmatists who lash out if someone dares disrupt their settled thinking. Of course, their unrestrained fury masks their own insecurities: people often become angry when they are confronted with evidence which makes them less sure of their own arguments.
C’est la vie. We must deal in what is real, not what makes us feel better. And we must be prepared to stand up for truth. My tweet was accurate and verifiable. Indeed, the wider media has now started to report the data. Facts are facts — and that doesn’t change just because some people find them inconvenient.