I loves me the Twitter. It keeps me in touch with the world, with friends and with interesting strangers. It gives me cool stuff to read, and fun things to watch and listen. It gives me solutions to problems, and answers to questions (and sometimes questions to answers). It allows me to vent, rant, enthuse and generally jump on the furniture and misbehave. It’s the freest vector of free speech – and as we all know, free speech can be troublesome.
In this article for Slate, Jack Shafer notes a few celebrity examples of tweets gone wrong – people in the public eye saying things that they perhaps should have kept to themselves. It’s US-centric, but the point is universal. There are moments in every day when you say things that can be easily taken out of context or simply misunderstood. It’s easy for the wrong end of the stick to be firmly grasped in an email or text conversation (gods know, I’ve run into a few of those brick walls in my time) and Twitter is no different. Or, as Jack put it, that a reaction was sought by the celebs in question – just not the one that they got.
I think part of the issue is that tweeting is both intimate and public. It’s you, at your rawest and least edited, railing at the latest idiotic politician or delayed train. You vent, and although you’re dimly aware that it’s going out to your followers, it feels more like a tiny catharsis. I tweet because I can, because in some small way swearing at First Great Western makes me feel a little better about being stuck on a train. With a small audience or group of followers, there’s never likely to be a problem. When your reach extends to hundreds and thousands of people, then the likelihood of saying something that one of that group finds offensive goes up stratospherically.
Of course, you don’t need to be a celeb to get into trouble on Twitter. Paul Chambers sent out a frustrated missive when he realised that the flight to see his new girlfriend out of Nottingham’s Robin Hood airport was badly delayed. End result? He was hauled up on criminal charges. Although he’s had a ton of support from some heavy hitters including top Tweeter Stephen Fry, the general consensus is that it wad a silly thing to do, and he was a dope to do it. I disagree. He was frustrated and angry, and said what was on his mind. It was no different to you or I saying “I could kill *annoying person* sometimes. The events that followed afterwards were an expensive, pointless over-reaction.
I guess the lesson, tweaked for the 21st century is “tweet in haste, repent at leisure”. And I have to admit that there are times when I’ve spat out an angry reply or grump, looked again at it, and then quietly deleted it. Sometimes, the act is enough, and you don’t have to publish at all. Contradictory, I know. But then in 140 characters, it’s often difficult to say what you mean. I have enough problems with 500 word blog posts.