Misuse of Twitter as a Tool

People will get mad at me, disown me, hate me, and perhaps even tweet me if they think that I’m suggesting for a moment that anyone should ever not do whatever comes to mind when using any social media. Of course I don’t think that. If you have a twitter account, a facebook page, whatever, just do whatever you want and if someone identifies that there were negative consequences to your actions, tell them to STFU.

(Below the fold, what I really think. If the above paragraph made sense to you, please don’t go below the fold.)

A few weeks ago there was a public event attended by a number of people, including me, who were prominent on the program and also regularly threatened by a specific individual who may or may not have been a Canadian. Someone who was at the event tweeted, as a joke, that this individual was spotted at the event. Someone else saw that and told me about the tweet.

Had I seen the original tweet, I would have known right away that it was a joke. But I didn’t because someone simply told me about it via email. Had I seen the original, I would have seen that it was linked to a funny photo and it would have been totally clear that it was a joke. But I didn’t see that. So, for a short while, I believed it might be true, that the person who had told me almost every day for the last three years that he was going to kill me had made it across the border and was looking for me right now. That he was out there among the crowds in search of his quarry. My only consolation was that he had also threatened to kill PZ Myers, and PZ, also at this event, is a much more attractive target than me, so that was good. (Sorry PZ.)

Anyway, it did not take long to figure out this was a joke, but there was this in between moment when it was not funny.

So, with that experience behind me I found this story rather interesting:

This morning, The Onion’s Twitter feed started churning out items about a phony hostage situation, with Republican members of Congress threatening schoolchildren. (Yes, “phony” and “Onion” should be oxymoronic.)


And here’s the article on The Onion.

Given what has been going on in Congress (and elsewhere) lately, the prospective of an armed hostage taking is not at all unbelievable, of course. And a quick look at the twitter feed may have been a bit of a shock. Yes, yes, yes, everyone knows what the Onion is. But in the case I cited above, anyone seeing the original tweet about the killer from kanada would have known it was a joke. But I was not privy to that … I heard it second hand stripped of context and thus bearing only the trick and not the treat.

So no, you really should not think you can do just anything that comes to mind. Almost, but not quite.

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6 thoughts on “Misuse of Twitter as a Tool

  1. I stopped reading the Onion a while ago. They had a story about a child that dreamed of a normal life while being locked in a basement dungeon and tortured daily.

    I’m all for free speech/tweets/posts, but I reserve the right to stop following listening/following/reading.

  2. It wasn’t more than 20 years ago that when columnists and humourists wrote something rhetoric, ironic or satiric, people didn’t automatically jump to conclusions and assume the worst. Readers read and re-read things, then wrote letters to the magazine or newspaper in response and there was no vitriol even when they disagreed or disliked it.

    Nowadays, anything said in text “requires” smileys and qualifiers or people will assume and accuse people of the worst because there is no tone of voice, no laugh track accompanying it. And it happens more because quotemining assholes deliberately take things out of context to deliberately conflate and inflate things that weren’t there.

    If there’s one thing the internet’s existence can be faulted for, it’s this. It seems the faster that information can spread, the less people think about what was actually said. Underthinking leads to overreaction, and some people seem to want this to happen.

    Whoever said this famous quote (Churchill, Twain or whomever), he said it as a time when steamships, lettermail and the telegraph were king. How would you word it now?

    A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”


  3. I’m old enough to remember when a deranged woman opened fire with a high-powered rifle on an elementary school playground (as well as a school-bus full of children taken hostage in a different incident). This is one time I think The Onion was oh-so not funny.

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