Twitter – a look at the reality…

Which, I hasten to add, is not at all as you’ll see Twitter portrayed by pretty much any journalist, not least because, as they do with bloggers, many see Twitter as a threat (breaking news can be disseminated far faster on Twitter than it can be in a newspaper, for example – the marches and demonstrations of 2011 demonstrated that perfectly), and it’s not in their interests to report fairly about it.

I have, not once, seen a newspaper article about Twitter that even gets close to an honest depiction of Twitter and its users. I’ve been on Twitter for almost 3 years, the last 18 months, being housebound, I’ve pretty much spent every day there, sometimes talking to people, others just watching the Twitter world go by, jumping in if anything piques my interest, or posting tweets of my own, and I’d argue I know Twitter better than most opinionated and biased hacks.

Here we have Peter Hitchens and Suzanne Moore bitching about Twitter being infested by lefties,** and claiming that, because people mostly follow others of similar inclinations, there is no scope for meaningful debate (I paraphrase a lot of tedious blather).

**Of the currently 648 people who follow me, I have no true idea of the political inclinations of any of them (other than those very few who include that information in their profile). Some I can guess, maybe even accurately, but for most I have no more clue, I suspect, than Hitchens or Moore. And, frankly, I don’t care.

Twitter is simply not the place for debate, either left wing or right – you can’t have a meaningful debate in 140 characters. More if you use TwitLonger, which Twitter hates and has removed from TweetDeck, but still inadequate. Just holding a conversation, with a timeline that scrolls down like an express lift, is hard enough at times.

Twitter is, at heart, a medium for communication and the sharing of information, news, and ideas, and it does all that, and more, brilliantly.

We do see the occasional argument, but too often that’s just someone unwisely engaging with a troll or a sock puppet. I’ve yet to see a well-argued debate, probably because, as I said, it’s entirely the wrong medium for such a thing.

And yes, of course we follow like-minded people, just like any group anywhere – nobody willingly associates with tedious, contentious, and disagreeable people with whom they have nothing in common, either on Twitter or in the world at large.

Look at any group of people – in a pub say – and they will hold broadly similar views, usually on football since it’s a pub, but nobody’s perfect. The old saying that “Birds of a feather flock together,” as it applies to people, though there are exceptions to any rule, is accurate most of the time.

And in the comments following that article (where you’ll find a much shorter version of this), as almost always happens when Twitter is discussed, it’s remarkable just how many people have an opinion about Twitter which is clearly based on complete and utter ignorance of what Twitter is about.

I would strongly recommend that anyone moved to criticise Twitter – or anything else for that matter – first gains some experience of the subject, and if you’re a well-known journalist I suggest you create a false but credible identity, so that your experience of Twitter will be as like anyone else’s as possible.

And just sitting on the sidelines and kibitzing won’t get the job done – you absolutely must contribute.

A few years ago, after spending, like a lot of journos, I suspect, a short while just mooching around Twitter, I wrote an admittedly ill-informed and totally wrong blog post saying what many hacks have said before and since, and what so many equally ill-informed commenters are still saying, that Twitter was rubbish.

Then, in 2009, I decided to get properly involved and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve made some very good friends on Twitter since then. Lost some, too, as people inevitably drift away from Twitter after a while, just as in any other walk of life as their circumstances change, but on the whole it’s been an immensely rewarding experience.

It’s often said that online friends aren’t true friends in any real sense, but my experience, especially over the last 18 months or so as I’ve become seriously ill, is that that claim is completely at odds with the reality. That I’ve never met these excellent people, and probably never will, changes nothing.

True, Twitter isn’t perfect – what is? – and it has its share of fruitcakes, stalkers, perpetually angry people and some plain-vanilla psychos – but so does any place or organisation, real or virtual, that people gather en mass. It is not unique to Twitter, no matter what its denigrators would like you to think.

Twitter reflects the real world, good and bad equally, nothing more and nothing less. Though, unlike the real world, the seriously bad can be shut out.

To anyone planning to write an article about Twitter I say come and join us (and do NOT buy followers – accrue them the same way as the rest of us, on merit because people like what we’re doing/who we are. Spend several months here, too – an afternoon, even a few weeks, for a newbie, won’t give you a true picture, just an impression – and join in! Then write, based on knowledge and experience, not assumptions and prejudice.

Or you could just go to the Guardian and write ill-informed bollocks!