In the past week there has, rightly, been much furore over death, rape and bomb threats on Twitter; not to mention other abusive tweets sent to those trying to stand alongside them.
Yesterday many had a #twittersilence to send a message against online abuse.
It is right and proper to stand up against such awful things. They have no place in any conversation anywhere.
But what worries me, as I tweeted yesterday morning, is also the little things – the digs, the dismissive comments, the corrections which are not always helpfully put. They may seem small things, but who knows what is going to be the final straw for someone? And who of us has any right to make someone else feel bad about themselves?
I’ve blogged about my love/hate relationship with Twitter before. At the moment I am in a place of despair. What has happened to the Twitter that used to be such fun, and a great way of connecting with people, as John Popham wrote about?
When did we all become so effortlessly superior? Why do we need to be the one to be right? To point out others mistakes so readily? To joke at others expense? To argue heatedly over things that don’t really matter? Have we forgotten that it is ok to disagree? For people to say what matters to them?
I appreciate that I live in a very small world, of which Twitter has been a large part. Perhaps it has a disproportionate focus in my life and I see and dwell on things that others shrug off. But if I see them, someone else must too. And there is a truth in the adage, “If it matters to you, it matters”. Maybe some people can’t easily shrug off the comments, perhaps they feel so small and stupid that at best they stop saying anything, and at worst begin a downward spiral.
Take, for example, spelling. Much was made last week of tweets containing lightening instead of lightning. Perhaps a mistake that grates on you. But I for one was educated in Mr Blunkett’s wonderful (some irony may be being employed there…) Sheffield in the 1970s. We weren’t taught grammar and spelling – it might ruin our flow. (And yes I have just procrastinated a long time over where to put the apostrophe in Blunkett) I know I can’t spell. I can express myself verbally, but writing it down is not always easy. That doesn’t mean I’m not uneducated or stupid, just never had the benefit of being taught those particular rules. And sometimes predictive text is more trouble than helpful. So pointing out my grammatical and spelling errors is not helping me. Don’t you think I know?! I can however solve quadratic equations and use Pythagoras effectively. I know a bit about theology. And the University of Life and Hard Knocks is very educative. But they don’t help my spelling and grammar. And yes, that hurts.
This is not just about spelling, that’s just one that gets to me. On Twitter we seem very happy to point out others errors as we see them. But who are any of us to be the Twitter Police? To point out others errors? To judge people so quickly by what they do, say, read, watch etc etc etc.
Are we trying to help, to tidy things up, or just being superior by keeping the other person in their inferior place? If we do that often enough about enough subjects Twitter will become a very elite place, where the voice of anyone we don’t think says the right things in the right way will be squeezed out. We should remember that not everyone has had the same life experiences as us – that doesn’t make those experiences less valuable.
And that is my worry. That Twitter becomes a place where some aren’t good enough. Where we only accept you if you are a certain way. I know you have to be able to express yourself in a way that others can understand, but the responsibility for that lies on both sides surely? Let’s ask gentle questions to tease out the meaning, if we don’t get it, not blunt dismissals – who knows what we might learn.
I’m as guilty as then next person sat on their High Horse of being able to take the Moral High Ground. But in putting others down what do I achieve? It doesn’t really make me feel any better, and I’m sure it makes the other feel even worse. Maybe by writing this I’m doing exactly what I’m complaining about!
So, I’m sorry if I’ve jumped down your throat, exercised my effortless superiority, sneered at your choices or simply pressed “tweet” without thinking of the consequences.
Twitter should be a safe place. In being so, it should be diverse and friendly and helpful. It’s the responsibility of us all to make it so, and allow it to be so.