Like everyone else of a certain age I guffawed at the idea of twitter as a revolutionary tool. To me, Twitter was co-opted before it began. First, my understanding from an interview with it’s two founders on Jimmy Fallon, is that the idea was hashed by three men working at Google. And you know I think Google is Big Brother. According to the two remaining Twitter owners, the third man came up with the idea for Twitter but left when it took too long to put together. And since the third guy, whose idea it was, is not rich and famous, we cannot ask for his side of the story … Not knowing, is certainly enough to cast a shadow over Twitter for me. More importantly for the “revolutionary aspects of Twitter” every major news channel and paper, most actors with a teen or tween fan base, politicians like Old Crusty (McCain) & Voldemort (Cheney), and every new show on television has a twitter account. Some people are actually paid to tweet regular updates for celebrities, journalists, and politicians without anyone ever acknowledging that these tweets are done by staffers. In other words, the blogging revolution was largely ignored by the media and the government as some cooking-show-mommy-bog-ode-to-goth and missed the opportunity to direct the alternative media explosion that followed; when Twitter came along, they were not going to make that mistake again.
While many cite the massive response to Iran elections as an example of Twitter’s import, I noted that there was no similar mass Twitter movement around questionable elections in Afghanistan, the renewal of the Patriot Act, or the death of Derrion Albert (whose name still makes my heart stop and bow my head in shame for this nation). There is more movement on the trending of #uglyfatchicks on any given night than there is on #hcr. And rising topics are almost always dominated by television and celebrity, tho Whoopie Goldberg’s trending rank is itself a critique of racial and gender ignorance on The View of late. In other words, Twitter is hit or miss for information transfer and public solidarity and often ppl simply jump on the bandwagon while not really caring about the topic.
In fact, I find myself wondering often whether the Jena 6 would still be rotting in jail if Twitter had come sooner. B/c Twitter parses information to such a degree that it is hard to mobilize people around topics like racism and sexism not involving Roman Polanski. Jena 6 worked because prominent bloggers wrote persuasive posts about what was going on there. Several of us spent considerable time making connections to the historical mistreatment of poor people of color in Louisiana, the U.S., and the prison system. I remember being among the first to connect the story to Amnesty International reports about prisons in Louisiana, while others connected it to stories of black youth left behind in prison cells during Katrina, and bloggers from inside the area began to paint a picture of ongoing racial tension and racial hegemony. It was a movement that Twitter’s 140 words would never have accommodated. And in that way I think Twitter does us all a disservice by redirecting energy that is needed elsewhere.
However, Twitter has multiple significant meanings to the people who use it. For me, Twitter has become the place where people who read my blog actually talk back. Something about real time Twitter makes them feel more bold about saying hi, commenting on blog posts, and sharing their ideas. And I love that. I love that on Twitter, I am not the Professor with the intimidating vocabulary and far too long posts, but just another person with 140 characters to entertain, inform, and discuss. Twitter’s word restriction really is an equalizing force.
It is also a place where people can pass on links to videos and articles about the day’s events. Many people use it to inform the twitterverse about their blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. Others use it as a launch point for real world activities, informing about volunteer opportunities, film and poetry events, and upcoming publications. These tweets not only inform they help create or expand on and offline communities that may ultimately be more beneficial than a trending topic can measure.
Like other social media then, Twitter is as useful a tool as you make it. It’s quick processing time is both its best and worst benefit, allowing information to move at real time over 1000s-100,000s of readers but only as relevant as the next tweet or higher ranking follower. As some of us succumb to what Twitter offers, I think we should never lose sight of that. To pass in depth information and analysis, we still need alternative media more than ever. But that does not mean that Twitter is evil or that I won’t be among those tweeting @least once a day.
all images were unattributed