When Jack Dorsey founded Twitter in 2006, I wonder if he saw it as the conviction aiding, celeb stalking battlefield it has become today. The site is no longer a mere social platform but evidence; evidence of stupid things people have said, stupid things people have said back and a retraction of said stupid things in the hopes their tweets haven’t been print screened and shown to the authorities.
Over the weekend, a mini Twitter fight broke out between Alice Vincent, an Editorial Assistant at the Huffington Post, and writer Giles Coren. After she likened his latest article to a Mumsnet post, he responded with ‘go fuck yourself, you barren old hag,’ causing journalists, celebrities and many a mere mortal to rush to pick a side. And, several days later, the Twitterstorm is still whirling.
Although Coren’s rudeness was evidently uncalled for, the entire debacle does raise some interesting questions about how criticism should best be dealt with over Twitter. Most people I follow choose to @ the person they are taking issue with, which sends that message directly to them, rather than doing the decent thing and slating them behind their back. It is one thing to disagree with someone’s work, but contacting them personally to say so? Much as it pains me, I would have to agree with Coren on this, who later tweeted ‘why can’t they just talk about what a cunt i am without me knowing? It’s what i assume most people do anyway.’ My rule of thumb is, don’t say anything on Twitter that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. And that has kept me out of trouble…sort of.
As someone who cannot see the point of petty Twitter disputes, finding myself involved in one was a rather unfortunate experience. After interviewing a reasonably well known comedian for my university newspaper, of which he was an alumnus, I politely tweeted him asking if he wouldn’t mind retweeting the link. Having been to his show the night before and fought to get the interview featured on the front page of our paper, I thought he might like to repay the favour. But instead of just retweeting it like a normal, put upon celebrity (the poor dears), he sent me a number of tweets telling me that he wasn’t going to retweet it because he thought it made him look narcissistic.
I mean, really? I thought he might have the tiniest modicum of empathy for a student journo trying to whack up the blog hits and just press the retweet button. But no, there I was, about ten tweets later, desperately trying to articulate myself in 140 characters and doing what I swore I never would – arguing with a semi-celeb on Twitter. After several condescending tweets from him, I decided to revert back to plan A which always endures – kill them with kindness. Someone says something unpleasant? Be really bloody nice back. And there it was: problem solved, him and I the best of virtual buddies once more, safe in the knowledge that we were both big headed enough to think that we were right and that was good enough for us (although I actually was right, obviously).
I’m not really sure what the moral of the story is here, but I think it goes something like this: people are really touchy about their children. If you criticise something someone has written about them, shit’s gonna go down. And, in turn, if you then go way over the top with your response to that criticism, you are going to end up looking like a humourless twat. Continuing to respond rudely to insulting tweets as Coren has done over the past few days isn’t big and it isn’t clever – at the end of the day, if you put yourself in the public eye, you have to accept that people are going to pass an opinion on you – favourable or otherwise. With only a fraction of the Twitter followers Coren has (he seems to enjoy lording his 100,000 strong followership over people), I still get my fair share of negative responses to my work. And do you know what? That’s okay with me. They aren’t ‘trolling’ – they’re just disagreeing, and there’s a difference. When you write an article, you are essentially creating a product and asking people to try it – without them trying it, you wouldn’t be able to have that product at all, and without them giving feedback, you’d never be able to improve it. It may not be nice to have people directly tell you your work is shit, but then you either shouldn’t write shit things, or accept that not everything you do is going to please the majority. It’s better to be divisive than dull anyway – more people might hate you, but you’ll still have a job at the end of it.