Twitter is very much alive and not dying — we’ve just forgotten how to be civil

(I have had a blog post like this in my head for a while, and I’ve just given up wondering whether I should post it)

We live in a civilised world. The word civilised has a root in the word “civil” and that means something (well, a couple of things).

Twitter has had a bit of a bad run in the last few months, what with share price drops, people lambasting it in poorly written blog posts and the rise of what is seen as “abusive behaviour” on the social network, but it’s still alive.

Twitter is my favourite social network. It allows me to connect with and make contact with some awesome people (and some people I’ve met through twitter have turned out to now be some of my best friends). It’s also concise and while the volume of information may be an issue (something that has yet to be resolved in UI terms by anyone) it is manageable.

But… there is definitely abuse. A lot of it.

The thing is, that people are all for standing up for “free speech” when it suits them to share their own opinion.

And that opinion could be contrary to a lot of other people’s opinions.

Which could be a problem if you say something in a public forum, such as Twitter.

At which point, people seem to revert to a point where “free speech” should have limitations.

Which would make it most definitely “not free speech”.

And then someone like Stephen Fry leaves Twitter because of the abuse. Now, Stephen Fry has been on Twitter a long time, and dealt with a lot of abuse, but his is a voice that should be heeded. A retweet from him was sometimes held in a similar esteem as public favour from a lord was in bygone days. So, now a way of receiving public favour has disappeared.

It seems to me that we, the people on Twitter, are the problem.

It’s not Twitter itself. That’s just the medium.

It’s us. All of us.

It’s just too quick and easy to criticise or to retweet without context or shame somebody for their opinion.

We are the ones who don’t take a step back and take some time for a considered response.

Think before you tweet?

I’ve been at the receiving end of online abuse. Nothing big or particularly bad, but enough to make me angry, and cross and want to shout at someone and write a full “response blog” to clarify my concerns and my points… (some might say this is a catch all response blog)

It’s definitely made me hold my tongue at times on twitter, and hide my opinions on certain subjects due to the fear of almost instant reprisals.

But the thing is that opinions will almost always cause debate and division. In the past (before the internet), that opinion may have taken hours or days to reach someone through newspapers/TV/Radio, and the conversation about it would happen with your mates in the pub.

Now the conversation happens pretty much instantly and the response can be deafening.

But the response is almost never a debate.

The response is almost always instant …

…praise or punishment

…glory or condemnation

…raising up or tearing down

Debate is the one thing we’ve lost on many of the social media platforms. Debate is about allowing a person to hold a view, and bringing arguments to persuade those listening to the debate that the position you hold is the better one.

There’s no real “right or wrong” in debate. Only shades of grey.

And we’ve forgotten that.

We’ve forgotten debate.

We’ve forgotten the idea of the right of reply.

We’ve forgotten that free speech means that you, and I and everyone are allowed to hold differing and conflicting opinions

We’ve forgotten that at the end of the 140 characters, there’s another flesh and blood human being just like us.

We’ve forgotten the civil part of being in a civilisation.

Facebook and others don’t have the same problem. They are not the same as the Roman Forum of old. They have “friend” controls, so that not everyone can see your opinions. And you can choose to not listen to people much more easily on there by “unfriending” them.

The Twitter we have now is much more like the public Roman Forum of old, where I bet you had about 140 characters to get noticed, and then a bunch more characters to get a basic point across.

Opinions are allowed

I have opinions

Many of them

Some you will like

Some you won’t

Most of you won’t agree on which of my opinions should be liked and which shouldn’t.

The next generations are growing up in a world where abuse for non-conformist opinions is pretty much a given. The problem with that is that if you force everyone, through a fear of abuse, to conform to a “standard” opinions, then we lose the ability to debate. We lose the ability to discuss the possibility that as a society we could be wrong.

We should not be raising the next generations to live in fear of having strong opinions.

We should be raising the next generations to be

the thinkers,

the dreamers,

the world peace bringers,

the merciful,

the kind,

the tolerant… I mean really tolerant,

and

better than us.

Because we’re not that great yet.

We’ve not quite got social media right.

But we can. And we must.

Or in about 20 years this “lack of debate” problem is going to start wars.

And there will be bigger tech, bigger guns, and everyone on each side will think they’re right because nobody will be allowed to have another opinion.

Get a grip people.

Twitter isn’t dying

Twitter is brilliant.

But abuse will kill it eventually.

And it’s up to the community to fix it.

Soon.

Epilogue

If this annoys you in any way, please try to respond with a counter-proposal that enriches a debate.

My suggestion? Write the post you would like to write. Delete it. Write it again. I bet it’s better, and less abusive.

Written by

ServerlessDays CoFounder (Jeff), ex AWS Serverless Snr DA, experienced CTO/Interim, Startups, Entrepreneur, Techie, Geek and Christian

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