Twitter: I take it back

Well, I take some of it back.

While I may blog, and podcast, and use Skype, and take digital photos, and have a page on Facebook and a MySpace profile, I’m not a fan of that other 21st century phenomenon: Twitter.

I am on Twitter – but I only set up a profile in order to give my friends Trev And Simon their very first follower when they set up their Twitter account. I can safely say that I have never tweeted in my life, and don’t intend to start doing so now. The reason being that Twitter is largely self-indulgent nonsense and I have no interest in reading about the banalities of people’s lives/thoughts (my own included) in 140 characters.  I mean, how interesting can eating a piece of toast be? Surely not interesting enough to tell the world about it, even if you do manage to get the name of the spread in those 140 characters.

As I was telling a friend the other day:  to my mind, people should only Twitter if they’re funny and/or famous.  Fortunately the friend I was telling this to is very funny and quite famous (he’s Simon from Trev And Simon).  So Simon’s allowed to tweet.  So too is Graham Linehan (funny). And John Mayer (famous).  But anyone else? Not so much.

However, I’m starting to change my mind. And that’s because I hadn’t bargained for Twitter being used in the same way that blogs have been – namely, as a way of bypassing the mainstream media and its restrictions/agendas/obligations to advertisers, and spreading news, information and comment from on the ground. Thinking about it, I should have seen this coming – after all, what is a tweet but a 140-character blog post, or another form of texting? – but still, I was surprised when I read about the tweets coming out of Iran since the election ‘result’ on Saturday, and of course the resulting power they have had, both in rallying those inside Iran, and in drawing outsiders’ attention to the events taking place there (see also here).

In short, the MSM (as we call it in the blogosphere) dropped the ball – and not only was it the tweeters and the bloggers who were spreading the news of what was really happening in Iran on Saturday and Sunday (and are still doing so now), but CNN’s failure to cover the riots, protests and brutality was then highlighted itself on Twitter (more on the Epic Media Fail here). Obviously the world has woken up somewhat now (well, it is a Monday), but still, I am finding myself drawn to the likes of Andrew Sullivan’s blog or The Huffington Post, rather than The Guardian, to get the latest news and round-up of reports and analysis. This is not to demean the amazing and thorough work done by ‘proper’ news journalists, of course – but if any of the main news sites are better than those two examples I give above in terms of both up-to-the-minute coverage and the gathering of the most interesting and insightful comments on this (or any other) issue, well, I’m yet to find them.

So, I partly take it back. Because while Twitter may be responsible for encouraging yet more 21st century narcissism and mundanity in its talk of personal toast choices, it has also clearly become yet another means for the will of the people to be expressed.  Just as, back in Malaysia last year, I saw a complacent, right-wing government that controlled the old media sustain huge, shocking election losses to an energetic, liberal, youthful movement that had harnassed the power of the internet and text messaging, so, now, Ahmadinejad and his supporters are fighting not just students on the streets, but a whole new media.  I know who my money’s on.


  1. Sam says

    I think twitter is a bad idea too…

    As for Malaysian politics, the opposition coalition maybe energetic but it is far from liberal or youthful.

    Heard of PAS?

    Well, a vote for the Anwar run oppposition is a vote for them too, a hardline muslim party. It’s bad enough that the country is currently run by bigots and morons. I do not want a sexist ultra-religious muslim cleric issuing fatwas against women’s support groups and banning live music and alcohol too!

    To put it bluntly, both ruling and opposition parties in Malaysia are massively corrupt. If British MPs with dodgy expense claims thought they were bad-ass, they obviously haven’t met these guys. Both have useless leaders but only one has Islamic fundamentalism written all over it.

    Sadly, voting the current gov is the only logical choice…the lesser of two evils. The status quo should be maintained until a more suitable candidate presents itself. Some kind of Obama-esque leader.

    That will take some time. We’re still figuring out if we should make English a compulsory pass subject in school and whether Maths and Science should be taught in English. That was 5 years ago and no decision has been made…how very bloody Malaysian.

  2. says

    Thanks for your comment Sam – and yes, I recognise much of what you describe from my time in Malaysia. When I refer to the opposition movement as youthful and liberal, I’m referring more to the supporters of that movement than the politicians they elected. ie the fact that there were massive opposition rallies across the country shortly before the election, many (most?) of which seemed to be attended by young people who had spread word about them and galvanised each other via text messages and the internet (the Twitter of last year ;-)). This, and the shock of a ruling party who control the old media at understimating the power of this new media, is what events in Iran reminded me of.

    You are right that it will take some time to achieve the change that you and I and others desire in Malaysia; possibly until the current young generation can take power themselves. But I was certainly heartened by what I saw happening there last March.