I had an idea for a tweet; in fact I was halfway through writing it when it suddenly occurred to me that some of my followers have gone a bit mental and might take it personally. And, yes, they would be correct that it was sort of personal, but it was just something I wanted to say. So I said it anyway, and I was right. Within a couple of minutes three of my long term followers popped up to tell me I was wrong.
Not misinformed, not behind the times, not possibly swayed by a vexatious narrative, but just plain wrong. And then, when I tried to suggest that maybe this was a matter of opinion, all three responded by insulting me and blocking. Okay, I admit the details here are truncated and modified a tad to suit my purpose, but who among you have not experience similar, in real life as well as online?
Twitter used to be quite good fun a lot of the time, tweeting out daft comments and photos of found idiocy from t’internet. And yes, on occasion organising a pile-on directed at pompous blue-ticks and their ridiculous sense of self-importance. And politics, of course, was often the source of great merriment and malice, banter and downright hostility. But the thing was, you always knew where you stood; you knew where the brickbats were going to come from and who would back you.
Things have changed, however, and you really do find some surprising, often startling disparities between what you imagined a person believed in and what they now seem to have swallowed hook, line and sinker. We’ve all fallen for parody accounts of course and we’ve all, if we’re honest, tweeted out some most egregious tripe from time to time. We’ve innocently retweeted lies that fit our feelings, without bothering to check our facts.
But over the years I’d like to think most users of social media have become wise to those who attempt to lure us into a particular camp. Some of us – heaven forfend – have even conceded that ‘the other side’ may have a point, often to be regaled by accusations our accounts must have been hacked. And I know full-well that I have been guilty on more than one occasion of deliberately poking the bear by being contentious, frivolous or just downright rude. In fact I have been suspended many times for infringing rules I have wilfully overlooked, ‘for the craic’.
This last year, however, Twitter times have been fraught with peril and while I am still poking away there, I frequently delete rather than send because I have become dismayed at the way some people will find offence where none was intended. No wonder the three subjects thought unfit for the dinner table were politics, religion and money. But on those issues the traditional binary splits in opinion now look like kindergarten level debating points.
Today we have lefties for individual choice, Tories for state control, Covid deniers, lockdown advocates and free speech champions trying to shut people up. Where once you knew when you were on solid ground and preaching to the choir, there is no telling today when a chance remark, harmless in intent and aimed at nobody in particular, explodes into a full on slanging match and subsequent blockfest. To advise ‘think before you tweet’ is pointless; somebody, somewhere will find a way of making it personal. Just, tread carefully; it’s a minefield out there.