It's a long-established principle that those who laugh along with bullies are bullies themselves. Anyone who has suffered intimidation in a crowd will know that one threat can be amplified significantly by an echo of jeering voices.
How surprising, then, to find the British Transport Police (BTP) amidst one particular crowd of sniggering juveniles in a recent Twitter meme.
The video, shared thousands of times on various social media platforms, shows a large group of rowdy and seemingly drunk passengers on a train placing bagels on people's heads, laughing and chanting at their fellow passengers' increasing discomfort and understandable anger.
Naturally, the incident has been dubbed #BagelGate by the great unthinking blob of reductive juvenility known as the "twittersphere".
I didn't laugh watching the video and, frankly, nor should any other grown adult. This was about intimidation. It is a small but significant example of grown adults ganging up on the few for the thrill that small, weak people get from feeling powerful. It is no different – in any way – from the circle of cowardly bullies mocking and dehumanising a lonely child in a playground.
One man in particular can be seen throwing bagels out of the train window after they've been repeatedly balanced on his head. In the end, he loses his rag (who wouldn't?) and screams "Get the f**k out my face!" at his tormentors.
Of course, we can thank some helpful stranger for filming the entire incident on their phone. You might think him brave, especially considering the fact that some yobbo can be heard amidst the screaming shouting "Are you f*****g filming this?".
But consider the possibility that our intrepid cameraman might have been more brave by helping the victims to know they weren't alone rather than sitting back like a voyeur as his fellow passengers are subjected to what must have been an extremely intense and threatening situation in a trapped and claustrophobic space.
When the police arrive, the carriage has magically transformed into a sea of calm, innocent faces like a bunch of teenagers from a cross between Murder on the Orient Express and Dangerous Minds. Pathetic. The officers ask who was responsible and it appears nobody wanted to be the grass. Repulsive. How many of those bullies are parents themselves?
At least we have the calming, respectful, professional police force to set an example to the scraping, tittering masses who have been giggling, hoo-hooing, liking and sharing the video ever since it first appeared.
Ah, but no, because even the police like to tweet and, in their desperation to be liked by the popular kids in class (i.e. those most likely to commit crimes) they too decided to join in with the mass chuckle. The official BTP account tweeted at 7.18pm on Monday evening:
No BTP, thumbs down. "And no one subjected to intimidating behaviour"? A weaselly afterthought to a message clearly intended to come across as down-with-the-kids. I asked the BTP for an explanation. They stated that the tweet was "a light-hearted way of getting across a serious message about how we do not tolerate antisocial or intimidating behaviour". They added: "We always take reports of aggression or antisocial behaviour seriously."
In light of their tweet, I would say this second claim is questionable. And what level of cretin would think it was clever to broadcast a "light-hearted" message on behalf of the police force in response to the intimidation of members of the public?
One follower called Danny Elliott replied to the tweet, saying: "A carriage full of people, who look very drunk, intimidating and laughing at you is not funny. So why the attempt at a joke in a tweet?" Another wrote: "What a pathetic attempt at humour."
They are right. Pathetic is the word. No less pathetic than the circle of bystanders jeering at the bullied kid in the playground. By laughing along with the overgrown #BagelGate brats, the British Transport Police are condoning and encouraging intimidation and helping our society to slip further into a bin-swill of crass Benjamin Buttonised juvenility.
Andy West is a TV, radio, print and online journalist and children's author.