Reevaluating Twitter

Reevaluating Twitter

When I joined Twitter, two months ago, I did so somewhat reluctantly. Although it seemed necessary to have a presence there if trying to communicate in the modern age, my impression of it was almost entirely negative. I thought that 280 characters was far too short a limit to say anything meaningful, that communication would be nothing but catchy sound-bites from people trying to look good and to shame others, and that the setting primarily functioned as a way of enabling misogynistic trolls, racists and social justice warriors to bully people, hurl abuse and either make death threats or try to get people fired.

Of course, some of those things do actually go on – and is probably more visible if you’re a more prominent figure than I am. But in the time I’ve been on, I’ve also seen a lot of more positive activity. The short character limit still enables people to link to long-form pieces – a lot of what I see consists of that, and I’ve read plenty of things I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Some people do manage to have meaningful conversations or to exchange ideas, albeit limited ones. And it’s also very pleasant to see people using it to share positive opinions or support, such as congratulating others on a professional achievement or life event.

While it’s still not my favourite medium, I’ve had to reevaluate my initial opinion. I’ll move to neutral on whether or not the platform’s existence makes a positive difference to the world and will happily say that there are both positive, as well as negative, aspects to the communication it facilitates.

2 thoughts on “Reevaluating Twitter

  1. I try to bear two important things in mind when posting to twitter:
    1) It’s a public medium, so I shouldn’t say anything I wouldn’t like attributed to be in the press. In particular it is easy to take things out of context.
    2) The audience is *not* “the public” – we’re all talking and listeningwithin our own (sometimes intersecting) bubbles.
    3) Text (even with emojis) is an imperfect medium – if you think someone is trying to be offensive then it might just be a misunderstanding. (It also may not, of course)

    In the trolling etc., I think it’s important to remember that there’s a huge bias in who gets trolled. In particular, I am a white heterosexual male and so draw *far* less offensive material than those who don’t have those characteristics. It’s really sobering and saddening to hear what others have just become used to feeding with on a day-to-day basis.

    1. 4) Make sure you’re able to count up to three. 🙂

      More seriously, a good set of maxims! The interplay between the first and the second is particularly interesting. And I wouldn’t have made the comment above if I didn’t know you IRL!

      On trolling, to me there seems a huge amount of vileness on both sides, sometimes directed quite randomly (Mary Beard, for example, has been targeted by both sides). Though certain types of insults/threats – such as sexual ones – are of course targeted at certain groups of people, I’m less confident than you that one side is overall any better/worse than the other.

      One factor that seems relevant is that whilst all vileness and threats are utterly unacceptable, those targeted by the racist/sexist trolls do at least have the confidence of knowing that the courts (rightly) are on their side and will often (again rightly) get high profile defenders in the media and other circles of power. Whereas those targeted by social justice trolls – whether they’re the girl who wore the Chinese dress to the prom or someone such as Brendan Eich – have no such protection and can accordingly lose everything.

      NB: I’m deliberately avoiding the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ when talking about trolls as that seems to do disservice to the vast number of decent, courteous people on both sides.

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