Twitter, innit.

20 Jul

Twitter, as I keep having to explain to friends and family, is quite a useful little tool if you think about it. When one tweets, one is essentially sending an open SMS-style message to the entire world, so if you’ve got something to say, in less than 140 characters, and many people who you think will want to read it, then Twitter’s for you. If that’s not your bag, if you want a web based contact book; a cartoony version of Microsoft Outlook that stores messages, embarrasing photos that you’d hoped had long been destroyed, and fucking Farmville, then Facebook’s probably a better bet.

It is one of these things which works better in theory than it does practise. Whilst a lot of people do use Twitter for the power of good, and send messages containing useful information or considered pearls of wisdom, others abuse the privilege and use Twitter to say what’s on their mind at that precise moment in time, with little or no mental filtering, all the bloody time (step forward, @willmill82), but hey! Nothing’s perfect. It’s not the technology at fault here kids, it’s the bloody users. In an absurd way, you could draw an analogy to the old saying “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, only I think that’s slightly unfair on Twitter. Say what you like, but they’re not rabid right wing nutters with shotguns on Twitter, for the most part.

One thing that Twitter does particularly well, and particularly frequently, is turn into a massive melting pot of moral outrage, Daily Mail reader style, albeit usually against the Daily Mail or topics the Daily Mail would consider appropriate. Usually, it’s a joy to behold – the masses rising up against bigotry, nastiness, and unfairness, all in under 140 characters. Remember Jan Moir’s now infamous article about Stephen Gately’s untimely death, which suggested that his sexuality and inferred lifestyle were it’s cause? Twitter outrage, followed by climbdown. Remember the Trafigura scandal, where a super-injunction stopped the press reporting allegations of illegal dumping in Africa? Twitter to the rescue – within minutes the story had leaked and spread all over the network, and within days the injunction had been lifted. BBC 6 Music was arguably saved by public outcry over it’s planned closure, mostly off of Twitter users.

Problem is, while often the causes are noble, these campaigns are always reactionary. No-one ever organises these things in advance. No-one on Twitter thinks to themselves “right, 24th August is going to be ‘Protest Against Ghosts Day’”, for instance, then actively organises a day of tweets frowning upon spooky paranormal beings. Being reactionary, sometimes the reaction may well be an over-reaction. Yesterday (that’s Monday if you’re reading this as a Facebook note) a #proudofBBC hashtag campaign started because of suggestions that the license fee might, not will, might be lowered – leading to complaints that the BBC is in critical danger and will collapse, to accusations that the license fee being cut will lead to the BBC’s independence being compromised, without explaining exactly how these unlikely eventualities would manifest themselves.
Even more bizarrely, Keith Chegwin, off of the telly, found himself in bother after it was noticed that he was nicking other peoples jokes without crediting their creators. Aside from the fact it seems to have taken everyone else months to notice he does this, the reaction was totally disproportionate to the original offence. By all accounts, Cheggers ought to apologise to the people who read his tweets, and to Milton Jones, whose joke was nicked, but the amount of tweets on the subject (thousands), and strength of feeling (@apprenticerhys tweeted simply “Keith Chegwin, what a cunt”, for instance) seem amazingly disproportionate, especially when you consider that 1) he’s not the first person to nick someone else’s joke, and he won’t be the last, 2) he’s not even a sodding comedian, and 3) maybe, just maybe, he didn’t nick the joke in question, maybe he came up with it himself, only Milton Jones had beaten him to the punch. You never know, stranger things and all that…

This all said, what’s done is done. You cannot un-see a tweet, though they can be deleted. What worries me is where it will all end. With great power comes great responsibility, and Twitter’s siege mentality works great when it’s for a worthy and just cause. When it’s not, it risks becoming a forum for people to spout off their rage at whatever target happens to pass by, regardless of whether that target really deserves it or not. And all in under 140 characters!

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