Posts Tagged ‘social media’

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Twupdate

December 15, 2010

It’s been nearly a month since I last posted on Twitter and I’ve found the break very enjoyable and surprisingly easy. I thought I would struggle but apart from a couple of bored evenings Twitter hasn’t really crossed my mind. I check every few days for replies in case I’ve been sexually propositioned, but I’m not reading other people’s tweets (not much change there then!)

One of the reasons I wanted a break from Twitter was to regain some of the many hours I lose every day to pointless social media stuff. Twitter is great when you’re stuck in a boring situation (on a bus or in a meeting) but it had gotten to the point where I would wake up at 9am, think to myself: “Oh, I’ll just check Twitter” and still find myself glued to my PC for the rest of the day. And that would be fine if I had a job and was tweeting in the background, but my situation wasn’t like that. It was just a mostly unemployed man writing a series of one-liners to a load of strangers all day, whilst they polited applauded or replied or pointed and jeered. Which isn’t quite how I want to spend my life. It’s all very well killing time if you’re stuck in a 9-5, but when the 9-5 is your life then killing time just means wasting your life. And whilst wasting my life is sorely tempting, I do want something more.

So, what have I been doing with that glorious time I’ve recaptured from Twitter? Some of it has just been wasted on Facebook. Pornography has also picked up some of the slack. I’ve also read more books and watched more films. But mostly I’ve been fairly productive, on a social level, if not always creatively.

One of the oddly compulsive things about Twitter is that you always want more. When you have 5 replies you want 10 replies. When you have 500 followers you want 1000 followers and when you have 9000 followers you want 10,000 followers, as though that is going to make a material difference to the quality of your life. And it occurred to me that rather than desperately trying to get new followers, I should spend more time getting to know the people I’ve befriended over the last year or so. And so that’s what I’ve done. I tend to avoid big Twitter meet-ups because it inevitably means you spend loads of time chatting to people you don’t really know or like and not getting the chance to speak to people who actually interest you. I’ve just been having coffee or lunch or booze with people, talking about shit and seeing where it goes. I absolutely love Twitter but it’s quite nice being a human being for a while.

On the occasions when I do check Twitter, I find it slightly bewildering. When you are tweeting non-stop you don’t recognise how quickly everything happens on Twitter, and what an insular, self-referential bubble it is. If you consider a political issue (wikileaks or student riots) then in the world outside Twitter you have the time to weigh up the pros and cons, change your mind, remain uncommitted and ambivalent. On Twitter (at least within the particular Twitter bubble I’ve inhabited) within 5 hours of something happening, battle lines have been clearly drawn. People have immediate, concrete opinions and villify those who disagree. An “awareness-raising” hashtag is developed. Someone creates a satirical twitter account in the name of one of the main protagonists. An article by Johan Hari or Graham Linehan is endlessly retweeted as though it were the Holy Grail. A Daily Mail article is retweeted as though it were Mein Kampf. A backlash starts in which a few contrary tweeters pick fights. And you start really hating or loathing Twitter people based solely on bursts of propoganda. All of this before 2pm. One of the nicest things about my break has been allowing my brain to gently expand to the point where it can entertain concepts beyond 140 characters, where there is room for a hundred indecisions and a hundred visions and revisions. Where I don’t feel the need to have an object to hate or resent. It feels like stepping off a merry-go-round and finding my bearings. Obviously, after a while it gets boring in the real world because merry-go-rounds are  fun.

When I was about 14 or 15 years old I was very unhappy at school. And I hung around a group of friends who weren’t really friends. I assumed they were friends because I saw them every day, but actually they treated me like shit. But it took me years to work out the simple fact that I didn’t have to spend time with them; that I could walk away and hang out with other people who weren’t evil twats. And my recent time of Twitter reminds me of that – not in the sense that anyone on Twitter was treating me badly, but just in the sense that sometimes you forget that you can take a deep breath and walk away; that the world will not crumble if you change friends or stop tweeting for a bit. And of course, whereas I grew to hate the “friends” at school, I really like most of the people I know on Twitter, and I love the sense of endless possibilities that Twitter offers. And yes, I will be back.

But when I return I want to be a little wiser in how I use it. I’m 35, am single, live in a room in a friend’s flat, and have no discernible career. Because I’m quite high-profile on Twitter people assume that I’ve well-connected and have some kind of media career. I don’t. I know almost no-one in the media and my job prospects are no better than they were 10 years ago. I see writers 10 years younger than me getting Guardian columns and sitcom offers – not because they are more or less talented than me, but because they make things happen. Meanwhile, I get by on odd bits of freelance work from the same old sources. But I wake up some mornings terrified that I’m on the scraphead, that whilst my peers have £60,000-a-year jobs, and homes they own, and wives and kids and cars, I haven’t acheived anything of note (aside from publishing a book 5 years ago that made me no money and was mostly ignored). And I suspect that if I want that to change; if I want to make something of my life, to feel that I have some sense of direction and purpose (even if I never make much money) then I can’t just kill the days on Twitter. I can’t just tweet endlessly in the hope that some Hollywood sugar-daddy is going to pluck me from obscurity and shower me with opportunities and riches. I have to make things happen. I’m not really sure how, but thats’ another story.

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10 Twitter rules

October 28, 2010

I don’t want to turn this blog into endless reflections on Twitter, but it’s something I feel comfortable writing about, as opposed to the millions of things I currently feel uncomfortable writing about. I’ll save those for another time.

So I thought I’d write a few rules for Twitter. Of course, aside from the obvious legal terms and conditions, there are no rules for Twitter. Everyone uses Twitter in different ways, and what one person considers acceptable another person will consider taboo. But despite this, a set a accepted/acceptable behaviours has evolved, at least with the people I interact with on Twitter. Anyway, I wouldn’t really be so pompous as to say these are rules. They are just suggestions. Ok, in no particular order of importance…

Rule #1: Do not ask people to follow you

I get this quite a lot. I tweet something. Someone replies (let’s call them @MrZingPopper) and I reply. This happens a few times over a few days. Then one evening @MrZingPopper tweets: “Hey, dude! Will you follow me?” And it gets awkward. Either I ignore the tweet or I politely decline. Sometimes I explain the following: Be yourself. It helps if you are naturally clever, original or stunningly attractive. Be yourself and maybe I’ll follow you. Maybe I won’t. If someone is consistently clever, funny or interesting when they reply to me, then I’ll probably follow them, at least for a while. The vast majority of people I follow on Twitter are people who interacted with me: I liked what they said, so I followed them. You cannot force someone to follow you and emotional blackmail always fails.

Similarly, do not say: “We’ve met in real life. You have to follow me.” or “You follow all my friends. Why don’t you follow me?” Twitter is not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship of the individual.

Rule#2: Do not be offended if someone unfollows you

There are services that tell you who unfollows you. I don’t use these services. I never would. I don’t blame anyone for unfollowing me. I know I tweet a lot and I know it’s not always to everyone’s taste. No-one is obliged to follow me. I know friends who I get on with brilliantly in real life but they don’t follow me on Twitter because I fill up their timeline with junk.

If someone stops following you, it’s their choice. You can be offended if you want, but I’d recommend keeping it to yourself or looking like a tit.

Rule #3: If you are going to unfollow someone, just do it

Every so often I get a tweet along the lines of “So pleased I’ve unfollowed @themanwhofell” or “@themanwhofell – I was told you’re really funny. You aren’t! Bye”. It’s just rude. We all find people on Twitter who are disappointing or whose tweets we get sick of. So we unfollow them. But in the vast majority of cases, these people haven’t begged you to follow then. You have followed them freely and of your own will, so if you don’t enjoy their tweets it’s not their fault. Twitter isn’t a contract whereby someone is obliged to entertain you – if you don’t like their tweets, quietly disappear and follow someone else.

Rule #4: Be discreet

If you want to slag off a public figure on Twitter, there are two ways you can do it. You can say: “Stephen Fry is boring.” or you could say: “I think @stephenfry is boring.”  The first is addressed to your followers. The second is an insulted hurled directly at Stephen Fry. Which is rude, even if you do think Stephen Fry is boring (which I do). Some people would argue that the latter is better, because it’s more upfront. But Twitter isn’t about being upfront. It’s about millions of concurrent conversations. One of the unhappy byproducts of Big Brother and other forms of reality TV is that being honest and upfront is valued more than being discreet, which is seen as being sneaky or  “talking behind someone’s back”. All insults are permissable as long as they are hurled directly into someone’s face with a side bowl of spittle. But Twitter isn’t Big Brother and whereas on Big Brother if you discreetly tell someone you think Stephen Fry is boring it will be broadcast to millions and your attempt at discretion will backfire, on Twitter it will normally just disappear into the ether. So be discreet. Which brings us on to…

Rule #5: Beware who is watching

We often fall into the trap of thinking that Twitter is a private conversation. It’s not. Unless you protect your tweets, then anyone with an internet connection can read what you are writing. So be careful what you write, especially when it comes to public figures. Many celebrities have automated searches set up so that they can see every mention of their name. This is a particularly stupid thing to do, but it goes on. It’s stupid because if you are public figures people will tweet about you a great deal and often what is written isn’t very complimentary. My feeling is that negative tweets will either be insulting: “I think Duncan Bannatyne is a twat.” or slanderous: “Duncan Bannatyne steals from pensioners”. And whereas the first is fair comment, the second is potentially very problematic. We are free to form our own opinions on public figures, but we cannot spread lies about them.

The real problem is the question of context. Most things on Twitter are offensive when taken out of context. The vast amount of people on Twitter are young people (I use the word “young” loosely), bored at work, making jokes and passing the time. If a group of people were sitting in an office, or a pub, making bad puns or cracking jokes about Richard Madeley, the chances of Richard Madeley hiding in the corner of the pub and overhearing one of these jokes out of context would be very low. On Twitter this isn’t the case. There are ears everywhere.

We all view Twitter through our own prism. I may be tweeting with @iamjamesward, @wowser, @wh1sks and @debsa on a Friday night and we may be drunkenly conjuring up a fictional sitcom in which Richard Madeley and Duncan Bannatyne run an undertakers in Grimsby. Someone will tweet: “Richard likes to finger the recently deceased corpses.” and I might reply with: “After a few drinks Duncan Bannatyne angrily punches pensioners.” It’s just a ridiculous comedy conceit and that is clear to anyone who follows us. But what if Duncan Bannatyne doesn’t follow us? What if he just has an automated search set up for his name? All he will see is an isolated tweet in which I’ve said that he punches pensioners and may have a drink problem. And he’ll probably get irate. And then it gets nasty.

As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Twitter isn’t lots of little closed rooms. It’s one massive room with everyone gathered in tiny circles, thinking that they are chatting among themselves. And in one circle it’ll be a group of pissed-up students, and in another circle it’ll be a group of earnest political journalists, and in another group it’ll be a group of social media gurus wanking each other off. And everyone is having fun. But at any given point anything anyone tweets can be seen in isolation, separate from its context. And it can look very bad. So be careful what you say. If someone takes offence, try to explain the context in which it was tweeted. And remember that saying: “It’s just Twitter” isn’t a defence. You have made a statement about someone. Be prepared to back it up, explain it, or apologise.

Rule #6: Do not snitch

Let’s imagine that I am taking the piss out of Gregg Wallace from Masterchef. It’s unlikely, I know. Imagine that I have drawn a stupid picture of Gregg Wallace, which I then tweet. I do not tweet Gregg Wallace himself because a) I do not want to offend him and b) it’s none of his business. The picture is retweeted and eventually some bright spark (lets call him @BemGood) decides to retweet the picture, including Gregg Wallace’s username into the tweet so he can see it. If this were done because @BemGoo thought that the picture was a dreadful insult and Gregg Wallace should be able to defend himself, then fair enough. But normally that’s not the case. It turns out that @BemGood assumes that I didn’t know that Gregg Wallace was on Twitter and that I will be extraordinarily pleased that not only has he found Gregg Wallace, but he’s directed my tweet straight to him! Brilliant! Except I already knew Gregg Wallace was on Twitter and deliberately decided not to tweet him.  And @BemGood is a dick.

Rule #7: Do your own dirty work

If you are a celebrity, or even if you’re just a bloke who sits in a room all day and has 8000 followers, you have a certain degree of influence. And that means that a lot of your followers will be slavish, brain-dead idiots who are desperate to ingratiate themselves with you. And this means that if the celebrity gets into an argument with @TheGasManBimbo12 and tweets “@TheGasManBimbo12 is a troublemaker who called me an arse!” then a certain proportion of your followers, being slavish, brain-dead idiots, will then decide to make life a misery for @TheGasManBimbo12, tweeting them all sorts of insults and death-threats and the like. It happens. I once got into an argument on Twitter with a mentally unstable woman on Twitter who was spreading lies that I was a BNP supporter. I repeatedly had to explain to my followers that it was my battle to fight and I didn’t want them causing trouble on my behalf. Because I’m not a bully. But also because I wanted to win the argument by being right, as opposed to winning because I had more followers than her. Anyone can win an argument on Twitter by having more followers than someone else and hounding them into submission. What I dislike most about this tactic is that it is underhand. The celebrity can wash their hands of it and say “I never told my followers to do anything.” They never have to.

Rule #8: Ignore the obvious joke

Being occasionally funny on Twitter, I get a lot of people trying to impress me by being funny. It normally manifests itself by me asking a sensible questions and getting 200 wacky “comedy” answers. At a recent event, I wanted to show Twitter in action so I asked a banal question: “What is your favourite crisp?” Lots of people gave their answers and it was interesting (depending on your level of interest in crisps). But about 40 people all answered Quentin Crisp. And the irony is that the people who were serious all gave different answers, whereas the people who all wanted to be different ended up all giving the same answer. So please, avoid the obvious joke.

Rule #9: Avoid rubbish hashtag campaigns

This is a controversial one. Some people think Twitter is an amazing way of bringing injustice to light and creating new forms of social activism. Maybe. But a lot of the time it’s a cheap way to sling about slogans without any reasonable debate. Because Twitter is great for many things, but it’s not an amazing place for in-depth debate. More than that, these hashtags tend to be promoted by the same smug, self-righteous idiots and they simply preach to the converted. A year or so ago, there were people using #smashtheBNP on their tweets. A noble aim, but there’s very few things more pointless than a load of liberal, middle-class Guardian readers tweeting each other to say that the BNP are nasty. They hardly represent the core demographic of the BNP. Some would argue that if these hashtags don’t do any good, at least they don’t do any harm. I would disagree, in that they lull people into a false sense of security, first of all that their views are shared by a wider population, and second of all that they don’t have to actually get out on the streets and protest, because they have added a hashtag to their tweets. We all tweet within our own little bubble, and these bubbles often have little relationship with wider reality. If you were to judge politics by the people I follow on Twitter, you would have thought that Labour had won the last general election by 97%, with the Lib Dem and Conservatives sharing 3%. In real life it didn’t work out like that.

Rule #10: Avoid hashtag games

Ah, once again, the dreaded hashtag. When I first joined Twitter I followed someone (A British comedian. I can’t remember who it was.) and was horrified to find their entire timeline was a massive list of weak puns. And then I realised that after each pun was a hashtag (it could have been anything: UnderwaterBeatles, ITVporn, BaconLyrics, invent your own…) Lost of people see the hashtag as a license to remove all quality control filters. If the news that the BBC budget has been slashed, I can see the point of one quality pun about a budget TV show (No Cash In The Attic, etc) but people don’t do just one pun. They feel that because there’s hashtags attached to their tweet, they can churn out 40 weak puns. It’s like being next to an idiot at a party who makes no attempt at conversation and stands there listing every possible combination of budget BBC show. Eventually you just want to kill them.

(Rule #11: Make up your own rules

I can’t do all the work.)

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More thoughts on Twitter

April 10, 2010

Once again I can’t sleep, so here’s a few more thoughts on my current favourite pastime: Twitter.

The first thing to explain about Twitter is that it’s an open network. This is to say that although you “follow” people and they “follow” you, and you therefore perceive the tweetstream as a kind of closed conversation, in fact anyone can read what you are tweeting. If anyone (often my mum, sadly) clicks on my twitter page: https://twitter.com/themanwhofell they will read what I have to say and I will never know.

This is important, because many of the misunderstandings that arise on Twitter occur because people think they are chatting to a small circle of friends, when in fact they are broadcasting to the entire internet.

If we think about how people use the internet to communicate, it starts small. Let’s say email conversations between two people. Then you might get MSN conversations between a few people, or conversations in a chatroom in which you might have 20 people talking to each other. You might be posting on a members-only messageboard that might get read by a few hundred chosen members.  In a sense, all these conversations are closed. They take place in small separate rooms, with a limited audience.

Whereas on Twitter, you might have the illusion that you’re at a sophisticated dinner party, chatting away to your small circle of friends in a private room, but you are in fact chatting away in the same room as everyone else on Twitter – in fact, everyone else on the Internet. This is particularly true, because if you say something funny or clever or observant, it is then retweeted, so it can spread across Twitter like wildfire.

Over the last few months I’ve tweeted a lot about Masterchef, because it’s fun and because it lends itself to a constant stream of satire. And in the course of doing so, I say many terrible things about the hosts and the contestants. In my mind it’s basically me talking amusing shit to people I know, as I might do in a party or with friends. But of course, the very people I’m slagging off are also on Twitter. It’s like standing in one corner of a room, talking shit about people on the other side of the room. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, as long as you recognise what you’re doing. Because I’m aware that actually,  I would hate the people on Masterchef to read what I’m saying about them – at least out of context. We’ve all sat at home watching something shit on telly, slagging it off but with Twitter it’s entirely possible that the people you are slagging off can read what you’re saying.

The other problem with the small-room-attitude to Twitter is that it gives you a sense of intimacy. We all say things to friends and family that we would never tell a bunch of strangers. We say things that are lazy, stupid, ill-judged, politically incorrect or offensive. And with Twitter, we often think we’re chatting away to a bunch of friends, as would-be-Labour candidate Stuart McLennan found out. He tweeted away on a train journey, talking about which politicians he fucking hated, the “chavs” at the station and calling  the elderly “coffin dodgers”. Actually, he didn’t say anything particularly terrible, but it was enough to get him de-selected. We say we want our politicians to be honest, but apparently too much honesty is a bad thing. A lot of the things he tweeted about probably don’t look terrible in the flickering, transient medium of a PC screen or a mobile phone, but look a lot worse on the inside pages of The Daily Mail.

In a sense, there’s a gap between the digital world and the print world. The digital world is in many ways a more informal world, where what we say is relaxed, and seems infinitely disposable. We write and behave differently when we’re tapping away in a chatroom to how we write an article for a broadsheet (I’d imagine. I’ve never written an article for a broadsheet). When we lazily type out a silly tweet on a mobile phone, we don’t really think about how it might look in black-and-white in a newspaper. Because of this, many celebrities have fallen foul of Twitter. Actually, most celebrities seem to appreciate the value of Twitter as it allows them to communicate directly with the public and cuts out the middleman of gossip and miscommunication offered by more tabloid routes. But they also fall into the trap of revealing seemingly innocuous details that then get seized upon by the mainstream press.

Richard Madeley (God bless him, he’s blocked me on Twitter) is a relative newcomer to Twitter but has impressed all of us with his diary of banality, interspersed with flashes of genuine, if often inappropriate, observation. During the winter snow, everyone on Twitter joined a chorus of whining at the lack of gritting, the cancelled trains, the school closures and the general inability of Britain to deal with snowfall. And Richard Madeley was no different, so when his local road was iced over he tweeted: “’Grrr. Still no sign of any gritters here.” And “Looks like our councils f***** up again”. (the asterisks are his own, even on Twitter he doesn’t swear). All pretty innocuous comments that anyone could have said. Except that when I tweet about the snow, it doesn’t result in a Daily Mail article entitled “Richard Madeley’s Twitter rant at the gritters as snow forces him to cancel meetings” complete with 127 comments.

So, tweet away, but remember that you never know who is reading.