In defence of Twitter

One of the things I have learnt over the past three months is that Twitter is one of the most essential and versatile tools in the PR arsenal. However, Twitter users receive an increasingly bad press. Whether it’s complaints that Twitter is full of inane drivel, spouted by the world dullest egomaniacs who are deluded into thinking the world cares about what they have for breakfast, or concerns over the tirades of abuse from its many trolls, a cloud of negativity surrounds the social network.

The papers are filled with stories of twitter-gone-wrong – the FA has reportedly collected £350,000 in ‘twitter fines’ since 2011, with repercussions for those behind the posts. Teachers have been sacked following controversial tweets and there have been even more tragic consequences for those such as Brenda Leyland.

It does beg the question; what makes people act like that? I don’t mean to suggest Ashley Cole is the pinnacle of our society, but what makes a woman like Mrs Leyland, by all accounts a mild mannered, respectable woman behave so differently online?

One theory is ‘online disinhibition’; you can say anything you like as there is no instant consequence. In real life we alter the way we act following the feedback we receive from those around us, but online this becomes fuzzy – we don’t receive feedback in the same way, so we don’t adjust our ‘netiquette’ accordingly.

According to a study by psychologist Noam Lapidot-Lefler, when no eye contact is made a person is twice as likely to be hostile. You can’t look the entire user base of twitter in the eye as you compose 140 characters. As such, feeling no inhibition makes you more inclined to speak your mind.

However, this blog is in defence of twitter. The aim is not to explain away the negatives, but rather to find the positives. Being able to speak freely and without reservation allows for progress; through connected with like minds, ideas catch on and grow. Imagine if Darwin had twitter, the idea of evolution might have caught on a hell of a lot sooner!

Twitter has such an infectious nature, ideas catch on quickly, innovation spreads like wild fire and coupled with the anonymity allows complete free thought. It gives voices that would be otherwise unheard a chance to express and develop ideas, whether on politics, human rights or just the X factor. It makes the world smaller, allowing anyone to speak their mind to those in power.

Twitter also provides an otherwise untapped channel of communication, rather than the common view that a tweet is shouting into the online void. Small businesses that are unable to splash their news across the pages of the FT have an outlet for their ideas. It’s not unheard of for a small seed of inspiration sewn by a start-up on social media to be picked up by newspapers or investors fast-tracking them to greater success.

For every negative story about twitter that makes the papers, there is a positive counter example. It functions as far more than just an outlet for online abuse, Twitter is a mouthpiece for the underdogs – something to consider next time it hits the headlines.

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