Small Opinion Piece on Twitter

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.

6 thoughts on “Small Opinion Piece on Twitter

  1. Thanks for writing this post – I found it really interesting and thought-provoking. I hadn’t heard about either example you mention, and found the report of the decision to execute really chilling. It’s not that this information shouldn’t be in the public domain, but the means of reporting it. Sending a message like from a personal account (and with the added commentary, ‘may God grant him mercy…’) seems to weaken the idea of the impartiality of justice (although that’s quite possibly never as strong as I like to hope, and the USA system is not something I know much about), and to diminish the seriousness of sentencing someone to death.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m glad that you found my article interesting. I just felt I really had to write something!

      I agree with your comment on the ‘may God grant him mercy’ bit. When I read that I felt even more unsettled as of course, religion and the state are supposed to be separate. Seems not so much in the US! I read quite a lot of American blogs who write often about how religion is creeping into areas of public services such as justice departments, hospitals, government representatives etc. that alienates non-Christians and goes against the Founding Fathers’ attempts to keep faith out of the more impartial areas of life!

      I like Twitter though. I just think that some people are not thinking enough when tweeting about something that is a serious matter. I think the death penalty post could only have been made worse with a ‘lol’ or a smiley face.

      1. I also agree with you when you say some people are not thinking enough
        when tweeting about something that is a serious matter. People often say things on social networking sites that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face. It’s just too easy to press those buttons!
        Although twitter is a medium for news, the content is not controlled in the same way as newspapers and television news is; I can think of several instances where reporting has been ‘gagged’ by a directive through the courts. To some degree any report in any media has to be taken with a pinch of salt…
        What makes a medium for serious news? It has to be the people who run it.

  2. I agree – very thought provoking piece, and I agree with many of the points made.
    But just to play devils advocate for a moment…

    Newspapers contain lots of types of news, some more trivial than others – does the inclusion of one make them less credible at delivering the other?
    Where’s the tipping point?
    Television? the same applies.

    I wonder what makes any medium only for trivia, or only for “serious” news?

  3. On the one hand, Twitter does seem too flippant a medium for serious political boradcasts, but on the other hand, it does get information out there quickly, and leaves an undeniable record which can be used if anyone later says ‘I never said that’.

    I think Shurtleff is inexcusable, though, but not for tweeting about the sentence, but the way he did it, and the way he dealt with responses. He seems to be using his power to make petty personal snipes. Yet, the fact that he is doing that in such a public way means the whole world knows what he’s like now. Quite unintentionally, he has also raised awareness of the whole death penalty issue.

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