Wednesday, 3 February 2010

THE TWITTERING CLASSES

A tweet may not be as vicious as a bite, but the editor at Kent Regional News and Media, John Nurden, has done his fair share of barking on the subject of Twitter in this week's Thanet Times. Needless to say, as an advocate of social networking, I felt obliged to jump to its defence and took slight umbrage with some of Nurden's misconceptions about the twitterati.

Nurden speculates whether Twitter is "just another case of Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome" and admonishes the fact that not everybody on Twitter is a youngster. "There are many tweeters who are old enough to know better," he says. Nurden also equates "followers" with being the same as "stalkers" and misguidedly suggests that twittering largely of consists of "firing off a tweet in the hope that someone will tweet back."

I, for one, don't tweet expecting to get a response. I merely do sporadic updates on my state of mind at the time; I might share a view or opinion on a particular subject; and occasionally share a Tiny URL weblink I feel other likeminded people would enjoy or be interested in. It's quite simple really – it's a method of expressing one's self. The very public nature of Twitter is what makes it so revolutionary, since it enables people – for better and for worse – to become part of a hive mind of "collective consciousness" through sharing their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

It's obvious that Twitter will inevitably swing wildly from the insightful to the extremely banal, but that's to be expected. Unfortunately, not every person who "tweets" understands social networking websites as being tools for democratisation or freedom of speech. But what Nurden fails to see is that Twitter is only a novelty tool if used incorrectly. Sure, you may get some idiots who think that "I've just had a bacon sandwich, yum yum" is an intelligent thing to subject to public scrutiny, but the greater democratic potential of Twitter is exemplified by those who use it for the correct purposes.

Take, for instance, the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad last year, where reports of unrest, uprisings and protests in Iran leaked out onto Twitter, prompting CNN news to begrudgingly realize that Twitter can – in fact – be a news source in and of itself. After the recent Haiti earthquake, many Haitians even "tweeted" pictures and updates to the world from the very brink of disaster. Or perhaps you remember the collective outrage caused by Jan Moir's shameful rant about Stephen Gateley's death in the Daily Mail. If you do, you'll recall that Twitter generated an enormous amount of online publicity which doubtlessly contributed to 21,000 complaints being made to the Press Complaints Commission.

Even Carter-Ruck's gagging order to prohibit The Guardian from reporting about the Trafigura toxic waste scandal in Parliament sent Twitter into overdrive. Users of the social networking website quickly spread the trending topic #Trafigura like wildfire, raising exposure of an unreported story which had been forcibly shrouded in secrecy by legal lawyers, arguably generating enough publicity to force Carter-Ruck to eventually withdraw the super-injunction altogether. Even the We Love the NHS twitter page indicates that social networking is at the vanguard of expressing and voicing people's support for political or social causes.

If anything, this indicates that Twitter is essentially a forum for public opinion and debate and can aid in the establishment of common understanding and popular support for new social norms. Some 'tweets' are useful, others may indeed be "undignified" and "pointless," but Nurden can't tar all twitterers with the same brush. In my view, the Twittersphere is fantastic: it's a hub for public thought, an ever-evolving noosphere of the zeitgeist, and a mass expression for the "collective consciousness" of free-thinking individuals.

In such a short time, Twitter has done wondrous things, raising awareness of some obscure 'trends' and given a voice to many who otherwise might have been denied an outlet. I can only hope it goes from strength to strength, but for Nurden to denounce that Stephen Fry's arse, poo and widdle tweet "sums up the mentality of tweeters" denies the fact that social networking is empowering and ennobling millions to express themselves openly. And that can't be a bad thing, can it?