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.

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Comments on “And Now It's Twitter That's Evil”

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32 Comments
Merijn (profile) says:

Twits and tweets

Since 1994 i have been using forms of chat to communicate with all my friends.

Twitter is broadcast and personal at the same time. I see it used as announcement channel, where people announce what talks they’ll hold, which congres gets their attention etc.

Also it is a form of diary and a form of (personal) marketing, and in that sense it can be great.

If someone is too noisy, I won’t follow him/her; and I myself “tweet” less than once in a week.

Anonymous Coward says:

“…which is reminiscent of the old complaints about bloggers just blogging about their cats.” which, with the vast majority, is true. Deny it (blogger.com stats, anyone?)…100,000,000 blogs — 20 worth looking at.

“Mainstream” bloggers just use the inet tubes to shoehorn themselves into real journalism. They [as a group of: “journalists”] would normally fail had they no such distribution channel or audience.

I agree wholeheartedly with these experts. I also recognize that doesn’t mean it will go away anytime soon.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“…which is reminiscent of the old complaints about bloggers just blogging about their cats.” which, with the vast majority, is true. Deny it (blogger.com stats, anyone?)…100,000,000 blogs — 20 worth looking at.

20 worth looking at *for you*. Another 20 for me. Another 20 for someone else. They’re not the same 20. What looks asinine to you, may be quite helpful to me.

That’s the point.

Misunderstand that, and you’re likely to misunderstand everything.

James Pyles (user link) says:

I liked the quotes from the "experts"

Where to I get to send my quote to the two “psychology experts” and the book author (James, Lewis, and de Botton) that says, “You don’t know what you’re talking about”? Have these guys seen who some of the most popular twitter users are? They’re also some of the most self-assured and successful entrepreneurs in the country (U.S.).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I liked the quotes from the "experts"

That’s what I was going to point out. Some of the people I follow are Larry Augustin (founder of SourceForge), Aaron Fulkerson (CEO of MindTouch), Jeff Haynie (CEO of Appcelerator) and Tim O’Reilly (no intro needed).

I think these guys have not only never used Twitter, but they are all likely over 50 and are just showcasing a huge generational gap…

Patrick Randall says:

Re: I liked the quotes from the "experts"

Actually a lot of people that crave the perceived power of “success” in a capitalist society would also fall into the category of insecure. Unless it is for moral reasons such as science for example (don’t see them on twitter) then it is still just looking for meaning through the accumulation of wealth and stature, which is not the same thing as being a secure or necessarily successful person. So your point is … well pointless.

Dan says:

Just how much time

did they spend researching Twitter before reaching these conclusions. It is like the preacher that spent 5 evenings in a strip club so he could denounce it in church on Sunday. I guess everyone sees something different, some like the music, some the art of dance, some the beauty of the body and some see only debauchery and sin. But, for all, you have to pay the cover charge to get in. If you don’t like the show don’t go back, but don’t tell me where I can or cannot go.

Kraig says:

Re: Just how much time

I think your comparison is weak, if not dead. A preacher (given his/her set of morals, etc. as such) spending ONE evening (shoot, 5 minutes) in a strip club would be sufficient “evidence” in any church congregation I’m aware of for him/her to denounce the activities therein. However, to condemn ALL of Twitter based on a small selection of tweeters is equally ridiculous. I know this is the point you were trying to make, however, I think your analogy failed. Sorry

Lester Smith (user link) says:

A LACK of Identity?

If anything, I have a SURPLUS of identity. (Just check my Web site if you think I’m kidding.) But more importantly, Twitter (and Facebook) has reconnected me with people, generating an ambient awareness of old friends and new friends, in the same way that the Web itself allowed me to gain awareness of global daily news–something newspapers and nagging social studies teachers never accomplished.

And by the way, “Anonymous Coward” (you know who you are), I’M over 50. Not all of us this side of the hill are knuckle-dragging late adopters. :~D

Pompom says:

Re: A LACK of Identity?

You have some good points, but your first sentence totally puts you in the “needs validation from others” category.
Nobody wants to look at your website and if you have such a surplus (which is often a trait of lacking internal introspection or doubting its worth thereby forcing others to hear the verbal diarrhea which results is also a trait of insecurity) of personality that you’re secure with why are you begging complete strangers to help you prove it to yourself?

Creg says:

quick thoughts

I set up a twitter account because my friends all had one. I didn’t use it. I deleted it. I personally don’t find it to be beneficial to my life and lifestyle, but I can appreciate that some people will enjoy using it and find applications here and there. Why, oh why, must there be such debate over such unimportant things.

Bettawrekonize (profile) says:

“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. “

This is why I’m always skeptical when the news – media says, “scientists agree, such and such is true” and they quote some scientist or doctor. Sure they can find some scientist or medical doctor who would say just about anything and quote them, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a consensus.

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