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Should We Be Afraid of Twitter?

Posted on the 10 July 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Should we be afraid of Twitter?

I should say at the outset that what I am writing about here has been echoed elsewhere in varying degrees.

One of the biggest hazards in communication, especially in written communication, is working on the assumption that others have understood the message we are trying to get across – successful communication occurring when the impact created at one end is equal to the intention that we set out with, communication happens when we are understood by our interlocutor(s).

Written communication is, in some ways, the externalisation of our inner thoughts, something like putting our thoughts onto paper or onto the computer screen.

The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been achieved – George Bernard Shaw

It is easy to see things from our own perspective, but much more difficult to look at them from another person’s standpoint, especially when we all have different personalities, backgrounds, cultural refernces, ideas and beliefs.

Written communication, can be a minefield fraught with traps that we can all fall into at some time or another – it’s a great deal more complex than it appears.When writing, especially for a microblogging site like Twitter, we are wrestling with a very complex set of variables – writing for a potentially huge audience, although the tweet may be targeted to one or two people,  principally.

People like to see the evidence of their brilliance, when their Tweets are re-Tweeted, the famous RT – come on, we’re all a bit guilty of that.

Even those with relatively low-level egos, start adopting traits that are usually reserved for the more extrovert among us, who thrive on ‘ego-massaging’.Or as some have put it, ‘ego-blogging’.

Do we really want to know what others are eating / drinking / doing at a specific moment in time ?

Well it would seem that the answer to this is a resounding ‘Yes’, if only based on the number of Tweets that reveal this, oh-so-personal information.

Some bloggers seem to get annoyed at the frequency and the content of some (most ?) Tweets, I have just read one which rants about the vacuous nature of the content on Twitter and suggests that people should only Tweet when they have something important to say or something that has a major value to others.

Now that IS subjective …

OK, why not ? But, should we be furrowing our brows at the diversity of information that goes back-and-forth on the Tweetosphere ?

After all it is the diversity and variety that makes the microblogging site such a draw for a diverse audience.

What would constitute, ‘important’ or ‘useful information for others’ – there are almost certainly some who find the endless bombardment of Twitter by porn sites useful.

I personally find this, although reprehensible, marginally more honest than the get-rich-quick rip-offs, the « click this link to make $1,000 a month » etc.

Messages, or tweets, are limited to 140 characters, which means that either there are words are abbreviated or shortened, or a lot of work is done on the succinctness of the message.

There are other variables to take into account: imagine writing a Tweet with a humorous or ironic voice in your head in order to convey a witty comment – once you press the “send” button, you have lost all control of the message – cross your fingers that the person(s) that receive it, decode it in the same way that it was written.

There is also the tweeters phenomena of ego-sensitivity – we become easily upset, if there are our messages remain unanswered, if we aren’t followed-back by people we follow, by misunderstood messages or by messages that we, ourselves, have misunderstood.

It is impossible to not communicate !

Even by doing nothing we communicate something. If I don’t reply to a direct message, it could be perceived that I am ignoring the sender, don’t find them interesting etc., all pretty negative perceptions.

Another point is the almost unprecedented access that people have to celebrity, where messages can be sent to ‘celebs’ with absolute impunity – being followed or tweeted by a celeb, makes some people’s Andy Warhol moment.

Stephen Fry – a huge Twitter fan and a confirmed member of the Twitteratti – declared recently that he was leaving Twitter, with this ‘final’ Tweet :”Think I may have to give up on Twitter. Too much aggression and unkindness around.”

Those who know Mr Fry will also know that he makes no secret that he suffers from bipolar disorder, indeed he explored his own experiences in an excellently open and candid program on BBC television.

The message sent to him that Mr Fry considered agressive or unkind, seems pretty harmless :

“I admire and adore” Mr Fry, but that he found his tweets “a bit… boring… (sorry Stephen)”.

It would seem that this Tweet came at a bad time for Stephen Fry, who was feeling “very low and depressed at the moment and any drop of meanness makes it so much worse”.

That which followed was a little bit more delicate, with Fry’s celebrity friend, Alan Davies flying to his defence, I wasn’t gonna rise to the bait, but being told @alandavies1 had called me a wanker in public had me rolling across the floor from laughter.

3:21 AM Nov 1stfrom web

This, then resulted in a ‘punch-up’ of tweets going back and forth between Davies, the faithful followers of Mr Fry’s tweets and the person who dared call Mr Fry’s tweets, ‘boring’.

OK folks, @stephenfry and I have asked for this whole sorry saga to go the way of the dodo, so can we all please get back to normal?

#bed6:16 AM Nov 1st from TweetDeck

This little débacle, which greatly resembled a pair of schoolboys in the playground ended in a fashion that is so much more typical of the intelligence that Mr Fry is famously known for.

@brumplum You bet. Thank you for being so understanding. I feel more sheepish than a sheep and more twattish than a twat.

5:42 AM Nov 1st from web in reply to brumplum@brumplum I am so sorry to hear ppl have been abusing you. You had every right to say what you did. Pls accept my apols. This is so awful

.4:08 AM Nov 1st from Tweetie

Feeling terrible for that poor guy. He had every right to call me boring. Not his fault it caught me at a vulnerable time. Pls be nice to him

4:07 AM Nov 1st from Tweetie

Arrived in LA feeling very foolish. Wasn’t the fault of the fellow who called me “boring”, BTW. A mood thing. Sunshine will help. So sorry.

A circumspect, reality check after a large step out into the cold light of day by both parties.

The power of Twitter strikes again ! Firstly with an ostensible mega sulk, ostensibly, as this is, arguably, what was seen and understood by a huge number of Twitter people – amazed that a celeb could do this – even if his intention was not this.

On the other hand, Mr Fry’s faithful followers turned almost violently, and thankfully only verbally, on the Birmingham tweeter, whipped up into a fury by Alan Davies.

@alandavies1 Wow, Davies. You started a mob? Was it actually angry or just mildly flailing..

This threw up images from those old Frankenstein movies, with hordes of villagers assailing the castle branding pitchforks and rakes. We could have expected a wild-eyed Hugh Laurie to bound onto the scene, baying for the blood of the erstwhile Brummie tweeter – this, I assure you didn’t happen – phew.

The issue has now been graciously and intelligently buried by @stephenfry and the @Brumplum.

This does, however, throw up a few questions regarding the power of Twitter and the written Tweet, illustrating that the keyboard is sometimes mightier than the surface to air missile.

Should Mr Fry have written the message, publicly, on Twitter, signalling his imminent departure from the site that he has so publicly lauded in the past ?

Should he not have known what effect that this might have, on his fans, his critics and his image ?

Should he had even consider tweeting when he was feeling the way he was ?

Did he send this message publicly to draw attention to himself in the first place ?

Mr Fry is the only person who can give any meaningful answer to these questions.

Some may question what is so different about Stephen Fry, that he can’t handle a spot of gentle criticism, which he could have managed much more effectively with his sharp wit and intelligence anyway.

Any Soft Skills trainer worth their salt, will advise on the dangers of answering written communication instaneously – always come back and re-read the email etc. as if the person wasn’t agressive/critical etc., then, if you’re convinced that the person is, indeed, agressive / critical – either pick up the phoe and talk to them or if possible talk to them face to face.

The French have an expression which goes, « Les paroles s’envolent, les mots écrits restent » – « Spoken words fly away, written words stay », oh, how true this is.

However, we can all be sensitive to the nature of bipolar disorder and how this can affect the ability to look at things from different angles due to mood, energy and activity level shifts, as Mr Fry himself said, it came at a bad time.

This 24 hour whirlwind pales into insignificance against the Daily Mail writer, Jan Moir, whose indelicately written (to say the least) article on the death of Stephen Gately, which she called « sleazy », stirred up the wrath of Twitterers, leading to apologies both from Moir and the Daily Mail – although Moir’s begrudged form of apology did little to appease or lighten the situation.

Moir’s name was consistently a « trending topic » (not a good term in respect to the article that she wrote) for several days on Twitter

Mr Fry, coincidently was among the angry tweeters, “I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane.” he tweeted.

His attack being slightly more vitriolic than the one aimed at him, the one which nearly sparked his departure from Twitter.

Other notable « attacks » on Twitter include :

The personal attacks on James Moran and the Torchwood writers are atrocious and uncalled for. People need to grow up and have some respect.

1:52 AM Jul 13th from web

The Daily mail, by another coincidence, also uncovered personal attacks by Ben Bradshaw on David Cameron, the Tory leader through Twitter.

Twitter was also used by followers of John McCain to criticize Barack Obama during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.There are numerous examples that can be found of the use of Twitter to either attack others or to sway public opinion on certain issues – is the microblogging phenomena more powerful that we give it credit for ?

Ultimately, of course, we are all free to criticize who we like, aren’t we ?

There will always remain gray areas between the tweets which echo the real heartfelt opinions, values and beliefs of tweeters from the desire to see one’s tweets on the site, the cherry on the gâteau being a retweet (RT) of one’s « opinion ».

If we are to believe what we read and see, then there is not one person in the UK who voted BNP, although they are the 4th biggest political party in Britain – their leader Nick Griffin being a trending topic for a number of days, prior and post his appearance on BBC Question Time.

I personally saw only one tweet that showed any small glimmer of favour towards the BNP.

If it can bring hard-nosed Daily Mail hacks to a begrudged excuse for an apology, drive celebs away, stir up a minor celebrity led pogrom, be seized upon as a political weapon and be used to tell others what sort of biscuit we are dunking into our Earl Grey – then, in my opinion, there is a latent potential to trample underfoot, all that lies in the path of the big blue bird that is Twitter.

Just be careful what you’re writing in your 140 word tweet, be it a littany, a profanity, an eulogy or a triviality – you could become part of the next trending topic and you may not enjoy that!

If you feel that your tweet could be misunderstood or maybe a bit sensitive, take a step back, re-read your tweet, try reading it from the point of view of the people who will receive it – when you’re sure it’s OK – press “send” but try not to let this hamper the natural spontaneity that is one of the undoubtable charms of the whole Twitter experience.

© Active Learning 2011.  All rights reserved. Reproduction by permission only.

This is a re-edited version of a post previously posted in 2009.

© 2011, ©Active Consultants 2011. All rights reserved. Copying in part or in entirety only permitted by written consent

Should we be afraid of Twitter?
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