Public opinion of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has just about reached an all-time low, but it appears that our dear Mr CamWrong may have been “right” about one thing …
During an interview on Absolute Radio, back in 2009, David Cameron was asked by presenter Christian O’Connell whether he used Twitter.
“Politicians do have to think about what we say,” Mr Cameron stated, seemingly without irony, before bestowing the following howler upon us: “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.”
Despite the absurd irony of Mr Cameron’s ineptness, his statement is made all the more ironic by the fact the Conservative Party had a twitter account, and not to mention that Mr Cameron now also has a Twitter account for No. 10 Downing Street. Therefore, it would seem that one “twit” in particular, really can “make a tw*t”.
As a user of Twitter, my opinion about the site is somewhat mixed. I am often bemused by the sheer ludicrousness that some people manage to incorporate into just 140 characters. Because of the 140 character limit, one can often be subjected to a long list of multiple tweets from the same person(s); full of ridiculously abbreviated words, and depending on who one is following, may result in a trail of absolute nonsense trawling up the newsfeed.
Whilst I like to think I am a little more selective about who I follow, one does come across some real “gems” retweeted by others, sometimes retweeted purely for comedy value.
Just take a look at some of these examples:
Let us not forget the way Twitter was used to incite the London Riots, whilst bystanders tweeted their riot “observations”, or riot warnings to others. Quite often, it emerged that a ridiculous number of tweets provided nothing other than false information. Yet, the false information spread like wildfire, such as rumours about the streets of a West London borough apparently being set in flames, only for nervous residents to later discover that the worst event to have actually occurred in that particular area, was a brick thrown through a shop window! What a kick in the teeth to the people who genuinely were affected by the Riots, and who lost their homes in the fires in Croydon, Tottenham, Hackney, etc. However, it must also be pointed out that Twitter also played an important role in the post-riots clean-up, which gave the police a means of tracing those who incited and recruited other rioters.
One disturbing aspect of Twitter is that regulating the site is virtually impossible because of the massive volume of messages and tweets that are sent every second. On the subject of immediacy, as also mentioned by Mr. Cameron, it can only take so much as one misinformed tweet for a false rumour to become a worldwide trend in minutes, as we have seen in the past, ranging from the apparent “death” of a celebrity, down to their so-called sordid affairs. There is a great deal of misinformation and sometimes sheer nastiness. But none of this is a special feature of Twitter, as it is a feature of people generally. Furthermore, it is very difficult to pick up on humour and sarcasm via Twitter (and, indeed, other social media sites), leading to many misunderstandings and quarrels. One careless or false tweet has the potential of giving information capable of ruining lives and relationships. But, on a more positive note, celebrities and high-profile people have utilised Twitter’s immediacy as a way of “setting the record straight” about a rumour, and to engage with their fans, and even form more of a following.
I must confess that I do love Twitter as a means of keeping up-to-date with current affairs. Twitter is a fantastic forum for learning of any errors in news reporting and for academics to promote general public understanding of their research. It is also a wonderful forum for lawyers, politicians, and and journalists to share information such as links, viewpoints, and to receive instant feedback. It is now becoming common for interesting legal trials to be live-tweeted and debated by legal scholars, and for the mainstream media to subsequently try and catch-up! Whilst one may have to sift through some rather trivial tweets, there are so many high-profile academics who are happy to share a fresh insight and engage in very interesting topical debates. As a result of instant tweeting and academic blogging, newspaper reports are now becoming old news that contribute little additional value to what one has already learned “straight from the horses’ mouths” on Twitter.
Some university departments are also increasingly using Twitter as a teaching resource, and whilst it may seen that nothing of value could possibly be written in only 140 characters; for all the bizarre tweets full of abbreviations that I sometimes think only the person who tweeted it could possibly understand, I have also very often been pleasantly surprised. The restriction in communicating with just 140 characters can be a very useful learning method: It teaches one how to be more succinct by forcing one to stick with the facts, and not swaying off topic, which would result in a long series of multiple tweets. That, after all, might lead to a mass exodus of followers, as they become increasingly more frustrated with having to sift through the vast number of irrelevant tweets on their news-feed.
Taking the latter into account, maybe too many tweets really do make a “twat”. However, too many tweets might actually rid you of some, too!