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Wednesday 7 October 2015

Happy Twitterversary

A few weeks ago I received a tweet reminding me that I had been a tweeter for a full year. My how time flies. From first baby steps with simply reading the tweets, to the occasional Favorite or Retweet, to today, with some hundreds of followers and similar followings, and an active but not hectic tweet rate, it has been a gradual journey. After a year I feel 'somewhat' more comfortable with this new medium, but what do I think of it?  Perhaps it is worth a look.

Is Twitter Good or Bad?

Is Twitter a great addition to our social discourse? Is it a force for good, encouraging freer exchange of information leading to a gradual accommodation of opposing views? Or is it the opposite? A medium that amplifies discontent and transforms a like-minded rabble into a lynch mob to drown out any who dare oppose its view. Is it a force for evil, that more likely polarizes than accommodates, and engenders bitterness and anger in its adherents.

I think it is both.

Where Twitter is bad

"Twitter acts as an amplifier"
My experience has been very mixed. There is a natural tendency for a Tweeter to try to evoke some sort of response initially from 'anyone out there' and later from their followers, or indeed those following some hashtag. This leads to the creation of tweets that are noticed. To be noticed they tend to be aligned with followers' views, and have to be 'louder' than the sea of tweets in which they compete. In short Tweeters are screaming for attention with increasingly strident declarations of their point of view, and ever more tightly aligned with the 'expected' view of their anonymous mob.

"Twitter acts as a polariser"
The second tendency is to call out anyone who insinuates themselves into their Twitter-stream with an opposing view. Indeed if you voice a view that goes against the trend in your hashtag, the mob turns nasty, and you are attacked. Attacks come in several forms;-
  • Deflection and abuse - the Tweeter does not respond to the issue but changes the subject and typically turns to personal abuse
  • The Tweet-storm - this form is to send a tweet on-topic and with relevant points, but then not wait till the opponent responds but to send another tweet and another and another. It basically says "I dont care what you have to say, my view is right".
  • The lynch mob - Finally we have the lynch mob. In this form it takes one tweeter to point out that for some reason "this guy doesn't see eye to eye with us". Of course his followers see this, but often they will specifically copy in some close disciples. This initiates the tweet cascade with members of the mob all-in with aggressive and offensive tweets, and of course re-tweeting and favourite-ing each other.
I can only say I have experienced each one of these forms and felt sufficiently chastened to at least take some care when phrasing a tweet which I knew was 'against the grain'. Yes, I am a wuss.

"Twitter discourages direct interaction with those with opposing views"
The net effect is to limit rational debate. Tweeters generally do not engage with those with opposing views and simply ignore them. The result is that different viewpoints are not debated, rather twitter followers entrench and amplify their followers' existing views.

Where Twitter is good

"Twitter disseminated information faster than all alternatives"
Twitter is not all bad. On the contrary, when it comes to dispersing information quickly, it beats all alternatives. News feeds are passed instantly to their followers who re-tweet and pass them on in a cascade. Moreover Twitter is present in the murkiest corners of the world bringing the torch of visibility on what could be nefarious dealings. 

As a means for transferring factual information it excels.

"Twitter empowers individuals to engage with their society"
Twitter also allows people to readily engage and feel involved with their society. You can easily directly tweet those who are otherwise usually out of reach, and indeed they can respond if they wish. This is a great equalizer, empowering the individual.

"Twitter brings like-minded people together"
Finally it does provide a means whereby remote individuals can feel connected with others who share similar views. This is perhaps the single greatest benefit of Twitter and one which will ensure its longevity.

Communication drives modern society. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all the social media bring heretofore impossible levels of connection between people otherwise vastly separated by distance and culture. In a complex and dangerous world this communication encourages cohesion and counteracts the many challenges that drive communities apart. Twitter's role in encouraging contact and communication is the overriding benefit that compensates for its problems.

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