Friday, 3 February 2012

The darker side of Twitter

‘It’s not worth it, just ignore them.’

8yo has had a few problems at school over the last few weeks, friendship groups shifting, new alliances formed, the testing of bonds. It’s been really tough, especially for an over emotional mother-of-a-one-and-only. So I trot out the usual answers – play with someone else, hang out with the boys, walk away – and worry internally about how she’ll make it through this rite of passage. Because that’s what this is, right? Girls are mean, they divide and conquer, alienate, gang up, pair off. These are accepted facts, there’re books, movies, self-help manuals all about Queen Bees and how to parent your child to cope.
But is it only girls and is this just a school thing?

Borgen & The Killing's Mikael Birkkjær;
 Danish drama at its best
As documented last month I am a big fan of social media, especially Twitter. I adore Twitter and fritter far too many hours away hanging out commenting on my day, posting pictures of my baking (I know, but I don’t bake often, honest), chatting to people, documenting my Danish drama obsession, posting articles. There are lots of people I would consider closer than acquaintances whom I have never met, people with whom I discuss books, politics, Danish drama (I’m not the only one obsessed), shoes, children, education – everything.

But Twitter, like many things, has its dark side. Sometimes you can see vile, often misogynistic hashtags trending. There’s a lot of Justin Bieber craziness which it’s best never to click on, I’ll warn you. There is the shameful way some anonymous cowards use it to abuse others – just ask Stan Collymore.  And there’s the merciless mob mentality. One mistake, one misstep and the Twitter mob can roar down on you and insist you take it.

There’s someone on Twitter I am really fond of. I don’t know him in real life but he is passionate about a fairer society, his family and his interests. He cares. He has a blog. Had a blog. And he made a mistake. Those of us who write know about attribution, about plagiarism, about piracy but lots of people genuinely don’t and, in this world of millions of bloggers, information is passed round and shared at an alarming rate. People read something, think it's important and share it. the fact those words belong to someone else doesn't occur to them. More education on copyright and attributing needs to be done.

He made a mistake. We all make mistakes. He posted a blog that used material from an article that had been on a major newspaper's website. But, this is a small blog just like this one; he doesn’t get paid for it, any publicity, any recognition. And the paper tweeted about it. Yep, a national paper with international coverage named and shamed a tiny blog. So of course then other Tweeters with no connection to the newspaper or the blogger decide to get involved and they think it’s fine to send accusatory tweets. And when he doesn’t reply these tweets get more aggressive.

So he leaves Twitter.

Of course the paper and the original author of the words have a right to find out what has happened, to demand the words are correctly attributed or taken down. Of course. But why does anyone else feel the need to get involved? To retweet, to accuse, to demand answers when it has nothing to do with them?

I think people sometimes forget there is a person at the other end of an avatar. But words do have consequences and maybe, before joining a Twitter flash mob, we should all remember that.

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