And Now It's Twitter That's Evil
from the we-fear-what-we-don't-understand dept
It’s amazing how much people fear what they don’t understand. Every few years, there’s something new to “fear” online — and it’s often backed up by quotes from clueless “experts” who buy into the fear rather than understanding what’s actually happening. When the internet was first becoming mainstream in the 90s, there was the hilariously wrong Rimm Report, which had politicians and the media in a big frenzy about how the internet was just a massive den of porn that needed to be stopped. And, of course, more recently there’s been similar attention paid to things like violent video games, despite the lack of evidence of any actual damage done to people playing such games. A few years ago, it was blogs that were evil (“an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective”), according to Dan Lyons, who at the time worked for Forbes, and later became famous thanks to his blog
Now, it seems that the main target of today’s moral panic is the various social networking sites. Obviously, there’s been a lot of trumped up complaints about sexual predators on social networks (despite the fact that, as social networks have become more popular the number of sexual offenses against children has been dropping). However, in the last few months, we’ve been seeing various weak attacks on social networking from a variety of other perspectives — often clearly written by folks who haven’t actually used the sites in question very much.
There was the claim that girls who used Facebook more often were more depressed, with the implication being that Facebook made them depressed, rather than the fact that those who were depressed may have turned to Facebook to talk to people and relieve their depression. Then there was the ridiculously misleading reports last week, implying that social networks could be harmful to your health, though the real story turned out to be a lot more benign.
The latest is a bit of fascinatingly yellow journalism out of the UK, where a reporter found a bunch of “experts” to opine on why Twitter was only home to insecure losers. There are a bunch of hilarious quotes from people who apparently have never even used the service:
“Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.” — clinical psychologist Oliver James
“Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.” — cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis
“a way of making sure you are permanently connected to somebody and somebody is permanently connected to you, proving that you are alive. It’s like when a parent goes into a child’s room to check the child is still breathing. It is a giant baby monitor.” — book author Alain de Botton
The author of the article then goes on to whine about how “mundane” messages on Twitter tend to be — which is reminiscent of the old complaints about bloggers just blogging about their cats. It’s pretty clear that none of these folks have ever really used Twitter — because they all seem to interpret it as being a broadcast mechanism, rather than a conversational one. This isn’t to say that Twitter is right for everyone, but most of the people who find value in it, find value in the conversational aspect of it, not that it “broadcasts” mundane facts of their lives. I know that I’ve used it to become a lot closer to a number of people, because it allows me not to find out what they had for lunch today, but to converse with them more frequently and with much more depth and insight than I would have had the opportunity otherwise. Sometimes, that’s because of direct communications via Twitter, but often it’s because of connections created because of Twitter — such as realizing I’m in the same city at the same time as someone else I’d like to meet. There are still plenty of people who hate Twitter, but it’s difficult to take seriously people complaining about it when it seems quite clear they’ve never even bothered to use it.