As I’m sure you are well aware by now, I am currently taking part in and blogging a lot about the 23 Things program that is currently running in Cambridge for all of its wonderful librarians.
One of the tasks was to engage with Twitter, which I have done with mixed results.
I did want to write a few words about how Twitter makes me feel and how I feel it can have huge social consequences, and not necessarily in a good way!
We all know that politicians have recently been getting into hot water because they have been tweeting during important meetings with some slightly disastrous results as highly private aspects have been released onto the Twitter-sphere (does that exist?). Yet this is not something that worries me as much as other uses of Twitter.
When Israel boarded the aid flotilla headed for Gaza, it made worldwide headline news and global outrage. A few days later, another engagement happened. I’m aware that this wasn’t reported quite as extensively as the first incident, but Twitter soon helped change that. The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson account gave blow-by-blow updates on how the Rachel Corrie (ship in question) was being boarded with regular video and photographic updates. Now I do understand that Israel was probably doing this to cover their backs this time in case anything went awry but honestly, is Twitter the best place to do it? Correct me if I’m wrong but surely a highly sensitive military engagement of a foreign vessel under International Rules of Warfare is hardly something to tweet about. When I first found this was happening, the IDF appeared on Twitter’s front page accompanied by considerably more banal tweets from teenagers gossiping about what the latest celeb had been up to.
While I do understand the need for transparency with something as difficult as the Gaza/Israel conflict, is the use of a social networking site the most appropriate forum for such information? Having an RSS feed or scrolling information on the IDF’s own website would be far more appropriate if they are trying to engage with the masses, but I feel that putting something of this nature on a site that is hardly considered a place for breaking political and war-related news somewhat demeans and simplifies what is an incredibly complex issue.
My second example of how I feel Twitter can be used inappropriately is with the case of the recent execution of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah (USA). Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff felt it was appropriate for him to get out his iPhone and tweet about how he had given the go-ahead for Gardner to be shot by a firing squad for his crimes. Now, regardless of what Mr Gardner did, the whole area of sentencing someone to death is an incredibly sensitive subject and I am of the belief that even if this person has come to terms with their fate, a human life is a human life and they should be allowed to have their sentence delivered in a far more dignified manner than what the Attorney General allowed for him to have. The BBC News site put this misuse of a social networking site into better words:
“This was not a piece of miscellany from the 53-year-old’s home life, a link chosen to amuse or interest his followers, nor even a political prod at his Democratic rivals.”
Quite. If you read Shurtleff’s Twitter page, it is filled with political mentions and other such day-to-day posts for someone in his position. His tweet about Mr Gardner’s execution gets lost in the mass of posts, and if it were not for the media picking up on it it might never have been found at all. Such is the fleeting nature of Twitter. Important things and less important things easily get replaced by new statuses and new comments, grinding what should have been a critical moment of time for an individual and his victims’ families into the messy hub-bub of the Internet.
My intention of presenting these two cases of Twitter usage to you is that the free-flow of opinions and comments on the web can often lead to a desensitization to events where human life is on the line. Whether its a military operation or the execution of a man, these things should not be plastered across YouTube and Twitter to reside amongst posts that are there for entertainment and light humour. Nothing is light about some of these situations and their significance is lost in the swirling world of the online environment.