It’s Your Twitter, and It’s Everybody Else’s

This post is going to be rather specific for some, it’s really just about London, Ontario and Twitter, so apologies if neither of these apply to you.  However, twitter is very important to me, not just in that the most access to my own professional work comes through my blog, and most traffic to the blog comes from twitter, but also because I use twitter for my personal life to engage with my city.

And in London we do have something special with twitter.  This is admittedly anecdotal, but friends and work acquaintances from other cities do not have the same stories of how twitter has grown the cultural engagement in their cities, the municipal pride, and the political action that we have seen in London.  Twitter has allowed, in London, for the building and bridging of social networks in ways that even the more adopted Facebook (900M active users versus 500M) has been unable to achieve.  The majority of new friends from London I have made in the past few years has been through virtual mediums.

That said, it’s not necessarily all butterflies and roses.  Like any community, twitter can easily devolve towards a school-yard style mess of grudges, rumours, factions, accusations, insults, and open conflicts.  However, I am hesitant to say that it is an ugly scene in terms of the social relations, or that it isn’t, because all I ever see of twitter is my twitter, a feed representing those I have followed.  My impression of a trend, a style, or a bias is in itself incredibly biased by who I follow, and who I have blocked.  An actual study of a total population sample of London-based twitter users would be fascinating, but until we have that data, I caution against painting things with a broad brush, dipped in one’s own narrow lens.

The twitter that I see is my twitter, and it’s my choice as to how I use it.  Until very recently I tried to limit those I followed to those who I felt I ‘knew’, whether that is from having met them personally, or at least engaged with them online.  Valuing the friendships built, I followed in the same style that I ‘friend’ on Facebook.  However, being too curious of half conversations, I have followed more and more people recently.  This comes at the expense of having to browse through more tweets that I don’t find particularly personally interesting, but perhaps these things go in waves.  I unfollow people for any number of reasons, be it quantity of tweets, quantity of retweets, stuff that just doesn’t interest me, stuff I consider unpleasant, or simply because they haven’t tweeted in a while.  That people care who I follow I consider a compliment, but also a bit of an intrusion into my choices of managing my time.  For blocking, my current policy is I might block someone if they @ me with something particularly offensive (understanding of course that offense is very subjective, and they might not have meant it).  Disagreeing with me is great, attacking me is not so much.

That, however, is just how I use my twitter.  It isn’t right, it isn’t wrong, it’s just my style.  And for tweeting, I make no claim to sainthood, but I do try to keep it positive, or if critical, at least measured and informed.  This has been a learning process, and I have had great mentors willing to DM me with suggestions, which I appreciate.  For others, it’s their own twitter, and their own prerogative as to how they use it.  It takes all kinds, and you can certainly find them without looking too hard.  There are the strong partisan political types, Conservatives, Liberals, NDPers, and Greens who blow their horn and bash the other guys.  From each party I follow some, and I avoid some.  There are the low filter types, tweeting from the heart, whether its rude jokes, curmudgeonly comments, strange reflections, or streams of emotion.  I follow some, I avoid some.  There are big egos, there are big insecurities, there are direct arguers and there are passive-aggressives, there are the endlessly positive, and the hopelessly negative, and there are countless pictures of cats, kids, and dinners.  And that’s their choice, not mine; my choice is how I pull this fascinating network of humanity together for my own observation, and what I choose to add to the mix.

Now, this is not to say that we should be careless in our comments, and behave however we choose, leaving it up to others to screen us out.  Quite the opposite, I would suggest that in this human adventure we are to do more good than harm, and each keystroke can be a part of that.  Positivity will always be greater than negativity.  Kindness will always be greater than emnity, inclusion greater than exclusion, and turning the other cheek greater than revenge.  We need to be acutely aware of what we are bringing into the community, and if we are building or tearing down.  And when only 140 characters are available, so much is perception, which should lead us to be hyper-aware.  Joining in a debate can be seen as ganging-up, a back-and-forth debate can be perceived as an argument.  A single insult can be your only tweet someone sees.  Pointed comments with no name as the target can be read by dozens as referring to them.  A comment you make can be interpreted as the opinion of your friends.

We are at a critical moment here, where we have something special in our community.  However, as it rapidly grows and evolves, and as this is new to all of us, it is going to be whatever we make it.  If we say there is a right-left divide, then this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy; if we say it`s a place of bullies and factions, then this is what we will get, and it won`t be pretty.  Because there is no clear line in the sand, thank goodness, and if it`s the direction we go there will be casualties along the way.  This was highlighted well in Lincoln`s post where he stated, “I should add here that if I end up being conservative or ‘right-wing’ in any way as a result of this entire shit-show I will never forgive any of you.“  Instead, let us each attend to our own behaviour, let`s allow each other to do twitter in our own way, but let`s also respect that each of us has an impact on the entire London twitter community.

5 thoughts on “It’s Your Twitter, and It’s Everybody Else’s

  1. I should now myself clarify that I was joking about being turned conservative, but I suspect you already knew that. It is an excellent post Abe and of course 100% true.
    I do hope you are right about us being at a critical moment, as I am started to doubt. London is, and always has been great, but it started to appear things were really truly about to change and make us even better – I still hopeful that’s the case.
    In closing, I did know what you meant about the twitter fight, and didn’t mean to change the meaning on you, if that’s indeed what I unintentionally did. Have a great day – all the best.

  2. Thanks for sharing Abe. Twitter carries the opportunity for positive change and constructive dialogue. Despite all of the issues that you write about that I also struggle with and are sources of my disillusionment, I’m still here (for now) because there are many on twitter who encourage me to think, to act, who inspire me to make a difference and who have established friendships that I value and I trust. Your post today reminded me why I haven’t given up and perhaps even more so why I shouldn’t.

  3. Very well said. I particularly like your point about how Twitter is YOUR choice about how to pull this network of humanity together. Yeah we should all strive to be civil, but in life and in internets, not everyone will be. The great thing about the latter is that we can very easily never see those people more than once.

    For those that become disillusioned with Twitter, maybe it’s more disillusionment with their own ability to filter and hammer Twitter to fit their own needs. Which I don’t blame them for; it becomes harder as the community becomes larger and the culture of it evolves. But we can’t let a few perceived bad apples tarnish the whole wonderful community that London has somehow managed to create through Twitter.

  4. Thanks for letting me read this. I enjoyed it. A few years ago I attempted to creep out of reclusion and Twitter was one way I attempted to meet people. At that time, I got the impression that Twitter was best for the cell phone/,mobile crowd. Lot’s of this is happening, that is happening, we are here or there for drinks. Finances and mobility thwarted me. I drifted away, back to my desk and desktop computer, wondering if I should look into a mobile device, but apparently not. I think I tried to shape myself to Twitter as opposed to shaping Twitter to me. So I am back to try it again. I do remember my first Twitter experience and one guy told me I was “using Twitter wrong”. I could never figure out what he meant and this article sets my mind to rest knowing he didn’t either.

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