Published on 19 Nov 2012 Sections

Twitter is dead. Long Live Twitter!

I love the immediacy of Twitter, but hate some of its consequences. I love the intimacy, but hate the intrusion. Do we need to reconsider our relationship?

Even the birds in my garden seem unusually quiet. Frightened to tweet lest somebody sues them, I guess.

It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, many moons ago, before the tree had grown a light covering of deadly fungus there was a website called Twitter. People on Twitter would chat, share stories, wit and information. Sometimes they would debate and disagree but it was mostly done with respect, in the kindly spirit of early adopters on a journey as if Wild West pioneers disagreeing about whether sunset would be crimson or orange.

We would marvel at how useful it was, while friends and partners looked at us with pity. “Only those who don’t have any real friends,” they would scoff , “have to find virtual ones instead.”  We would sigh quietly with the satisfaction that they just didn’t get it. And we were happy that way – we liked the exclusivity.

As news organisations woke up to the power of Twitter, it fast became the place to find breaking news. Combined with the real-time information being posted by ordinary people in extraordinary places, whether Cairo, Tehran or a football match, the power of Twitter started to dawn on more and more people.

Then it became popular. Sadly it attracted all sorts of ghastly egos and trolls too, the BBC started sending journalists on Twitter training courses, businesses adopted Twitter strategies and made employees tweet for commercial gain. Twitter was the easiest social network to understand, so even the dimmest and most Luddite could use it. Anyone could convince themselves that they were part of the internet age by posting something about Victoria’s dress on Strictly Come Dancing. Or about paedophiles.

Yes, I know, it doesn’t follow. But that’s the thing about Twitter. People use it to spout any old nonsense that comes into their head. And they have, to horrendous degree. It made Chris Morris’s satire seem old.

So it is good that Twitter has been sent a shocking bolt of electricity by Lord McAlpine’s lawyers as they pursue those who tweeted falsehood and innuendo about him. There is nothing bullying about fighting to restore his reputation. With a bit of luck, the ones who were most guilty of tweeting vicious nonsense will go away for good, scared of which court their views might land them.

Others will think again before pressing “Tweet”. David Aaronovitch and Charlie Brooker have both written handy guides to post-paedogeddon Twitter in their weekly columns in the the Times and the Guardian. They both amount to the same message – don’t be stupid, don’t be vicious, don’t thrown accusations around (or even hint at them) unless you can defend them in court, don’t say something on Twitter you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face. It is all good advice. But I still find myself torn about Twitter going forward.

I love the immediacy of Twitter, but I hate some of its consequences. I love the intimacy, but I hate the intrusion. I love the addictiveness but hate feeling compelled to check my feed. I love that I can tell people about the news as we make it but hate feeling that it is now part of my job.

Twitter isn’t as much fun as it used to be. That’s just a fact. It is now an everyday tool, like a phone or a television. The same rules apply. You don’t believe any old thing you hear from a random telephone sales rep, you consult more than one news source as a consumer and you don’t walk in to crowded theatres and shout unchecked libels.

Once everyone realises that the sames things apply to Twitter the current madness, libel, hatred and trolling will hopefully plummet. Perhaps we might recapture some of that spirit of the early days. Twitter is dead. Long live Twitter.

Follow @krishgm on Twitter.

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