I heard the trailer for the BBC’s Moral Maze programme in the morning and thought as it was going to intellectually debate Twitter that I would make a point of listening. It happened that I was driving home and listened to the whole programme. I was disappointed.
The programme is on the BBC iPlayer and was broadcast at 8pm on 4th November ’09 – I think it only stays there for 7 days so better get in quick if you want to catch it.
I was disappointed because the debate about whether Twitter has improved democracy or just facilitated mob rule had a panel made up of mainly people that didn’t tweet. I think with the exception of Kenan Malik the panel didn’t actively use the tool. Wouldn’t it have been better if the people debating Twitter were people who used it and could speak from experience. You wouldn’t have a debate about television with a panelist who had never watched it. Where is their context?
The “witnesses” ended up trying to tell the panel what Twitter was and how it worked rather than debating the issue. It ended up with nit-picking about nuances rather than anything valuable or substantive.
I am relatively active on Twitter and take a lot from it. I realise it is not for everyone and respect that. I’m not a Twitter evangelist but I persevered in trying to understand it and what value others took from it.
Only on Monday this week I did a presentation in which I highlighted the shift away from reverence and how as a society we are happy to voice our opinion. It’s easy to tweet and post comment in this web 2.0 world – that’s what web 2.0 facilitated. But I agree that often with that comes a lack of real engagement and commitment. I can support a cause on Twitter or Facebook with the single click of a mouse. I can retweet a message in seconds. I don’t pretend, and I believe the majority of people would agree, that I am really lending lots of weight to a cause and furthering it by merely forwarding something or commenting. But if I choose to, I do that actively and because I want to – I do it freely and because I support the issue. Of course putting a poppy on my avatar is not the same as buying a poppy, but I’ll do both and my small gesture may remind someone to buy theirs.
Now take that support for what it is. It’s not 50,000 people at a Martin Luther King rally, far from it. It is not even a thermometer on the UK population. Opinion and trending topics on Twitter are no more than a guide to the wave of opinion of that part of the population on Twitter.
But to hear Clifford Longley (Twitter user for one day) say “It has fallen into the hands of a particular liberal metropolitan elite who are using it to bully the people they don’t like.” (38:45 mins) What rubbish! That’s the kind of way that some people used to talk about rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s!! “It’s no good for our young people. It’s a breakdown in moral values.” Oh please…
He then continues later in the programme, “I don’t think we have had an example tonight … of Twitter being used for a really good positive purpose.” (41:15) Michael Buerk quite rightly pointed out that just because no-one has discussed it in the programme doesn’t mean it hasn’t. But come on!
Clifford Longley seems to think it is an evil tool used only to spread hate … he needs to get on it and like everyone else that uses it regularly he would understand what the truth of the matter is.
For me the panelists were a poor group for the programme and I think a valuable communication tool was poorly depicted.
Twitter is a channel through which we can choose to follow others because we’re interested in, much the same as making choices about TV programmes.
Thank goodness for the final comment and voice of reason from Kenan Malik in which he pointed out it is just a tool like a knife and it can be used for the good by a chef or evil by a murderer.
I’d be interested on anyone’s thoughts about the issue of whether Twitter has improved democracy or just facilitated mob rule.