The empty middle ground of Twitter…

When I came back to Twitter after my rather long break, I swore I’d never blog about it. There you go. I’m clearly a person whose promises can be broken. Or maybe I’m just a person who changes their mind sometimes. Is that the same thing? Am I just making excuses for my own weak promise-making skills? Who knows? Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the middle ground. Truth is only ever a matter of perception after all.

It’s been a funny week on Twitter. But then, Twitter can be a funny place if you let it. The weird thing about that other dimension in which so many of us partially exist is how it polarises people . Issues arise and people immediately take one position or the other. Two sides go to war. Never the twain shall meet. That always disappoints me. As a writer I spend my life making other people up. I see their side on many things. It might not be MY side, but it’s theirs and I kind of get it. On twitter, there seems little space to see the middle ground on any issue without being flamed and that makes me sad. To me it denies reason, and reminds me that at the end of the day we’re the same kind of people who dragged others crying to guillotines while we knitted jumpers and laughed. I exaggerate obviously, but I’m a writer – helping the story along is what I do. I guess what scares me most about Twitter sometimes is how people forget how they react to things when they’re not being a ‘Tweeter’ and just being themselves. The two are often very different  I should imagine.

Let me give you  a couple of examples.

Two big stories seemed to fill my timeline this week. They outraged people one way or another. Me? Not so much. But then I’m not easily outraged. I like to smile. To laugh. Not to fight.

The first?

Well, that was @rickygervais and his constant use of the word ‘mong’ in the Twitter universe. Fellow tweeters either thought he should be burnt at the stake for offending or that those offended should just grow up and ‘get with’ our evolving language. You know what? I think there’s a pretty solid middle ground. I don’t believe for a second that Mr Gervais meant to offend. But at the same time I think he was naive in using that word on such an open forum and not expecting a large percentage of readers to be offended by it. It’s a word wallowing in a variety of interpretations depending on individual experience, but it started out as a derogatory term. If you use it, you have to accept that some people will still see it that way. Huge amounts of media time have been spent on this story; should he apologise of not? Is he a villain or a hero? To be honest, who really cares? I should imagine that Ricky Gervais doesn’t overly. It’s only Twitter, after all. He used the word. I presume he thought it through. Can everyone put the torches down now? Worse things are probably happening in the street around the corner from you. And you know what? If he doesn’t think it’s offensive, then NOTHING you can say will persuade him otherwise, and the same goes the other way round. That’s it. End of.

The second instance I’m more wary of talking about. After all this involves a ‘real’ person. Not a celebrity. They apparently are fair game. This was the case of @talkstoteens who was pursued by a journalist and had her tweets revealed in an attempt to expose her as some kind of terrible teacher. As an ex-teacher, I followed this story with interest. Let me say now, I don’t in any way think the paper was right in doing what they did. Not at all. But do I understand WHY they did what they did? Of course. She actually made it easy for them. I sympathise with her, but at the same time, I have to say, my inner eyebrow raised somewhat because as an Assistant Head she should have had the good sense to lock her account if she was going to tweet about blow jobs etc. I mean, REALLY??? Didn’t she think for one second that perhaps she should LOCK her account? Just in case the kids see it? Even I would have done that, and we all know what I’m like. Most teachers I know don’t even have facebook accounts, let alone tweet. If they did, their accounts would be locked. End of. If the papers hadn’t got her, her school/the parents/the kids would have at some point. I can’t help but look at her and think, ‘I feel sorry for you, but bloody hell, didn’t you THINK?’ Have I tweeted this opinion? Hell no. Because of Twitter’s extremism it would only have got me flak. Which I don’t need.  For once, I kept my opinions to myself.

The story and my personal views aside, what interested me was the Twitter outrage about it. That whole universe is in uproar. And I have to admit, that did make  me smile. Why? Because I wondered how many of those people would have felt the same outrage if they had come by that story from their kids rather than the great God Twitter, in a kind of ‘Oh miss X tweeted about giving a blow job, isn’t that funny?’ kind of way. I bet they’d have reacted differently. Their uproar would have been a completely different kind. Head teachers and phone calls spring to mind.

Am I calling those people hypocrites? No, I’m not. I’m not that harsh. I’m calling them people. Tweeters. And there in lies the strange dichotomy. People react differently when within the Twittersphere than they would in their real lives. It’s like when you’re walking along a road or driving. When I’m in a car, the pedestrians are all idiots, when I’m walking, suddenly the reverse is true. Twitter is sort of the same but different. Twitter is like a juggernaut. It sweeps up opinions and demands you join. It powers along that internet highway and people leap on, determined to be going the ‘right way’ in any given situation.

I guess what I’m saying is that Twitter, the mob mentality of it, makes you choose a side or just shut the fuck up. I’ve been shot down on there before for trying to be reasoned, and I’ve learned to keep my middle-ground views to myself. Sometimes I feel strongly enough about something to make a stand – the Quaddafi beatings and death images for an example – but I’ll make my stand outside the Twitterverse. Where I can actually DO something.

You see, that’s the thing with crowds. They make me feel like I can’t breathe.

I’d rather stand alone. Here in the middle ground. Where it’s calmer.

Over the past couple of weeks I have taken stands over certain issues. The BFS awards scandal was one. Did I take to Twitter on it? No. Not beyond re-tweeting articles (covering both sides). Why? I don’t like a mob. Mobs always turn ugly and I want no part of them. Anyone who saw the footage of Gaddafi (yes, I’m going for every spelling of that name in this blog) after his capture will know what I mean. Even when a mob is right, it leaves me feeling unsettled. All mobs are ugly. I want no part of Twitter OUTRAGE (caps intended.)

I’m fond of you Twitter, but sometimes, when you’re working as one, I can’t help but think you’ve checked your brain in at the door. Come over here to the middle ground. We might not always agree but the sofas are comfy and we could chat about stuff for hours.

And more than that, there’s room to be yourself. You can’t ask for more than that.

SP x

About sarah

Writer of supernatural and crime fiction for Gollancz in the UK. I've written six horror novels and my first thriller, A Matter of Blood, wa View all posts by sarah

7 responses to “The empty middle ground of Twitter…

  • hahahoho (@dukkhaboy)

    i am a teacher too…. and i tweet… and i am presently setting up a facebook page for my GCSE students to use… social media is not something teachers should be avoiding because of how we may be interpreted by idiots working for local or national press.
    i followed talktoteens and found her a caring and thoughtful person. I hope she is doing well under the pressure caused by a local (though hardly community) paper that used her .
    However you are right; it was only asking for trouble that would arrive sooner or later to include your job title in your bio like that. But is is being stupid like leaving your back door unlocked – it still doesn’t make you responsible for what someone else does as a result

  • William Gallagher

    Smart piece. You say things I didn’t realise I thought until I read this.

    I’ve been guilty of joining the mob in twitter discussions; not pleased with myself about that. It is a criticism of myself yet it added to the discolouring of twitter for me. You’d think it would make me sympathetic or at least a little open to people who did it to me but I just got uncharacteristically pissed off. Unfortunately, that happened just as I got took busy so it was far easier to just push off and forget about it.

    You have, though, also reminded me of what fun twitter was. Feels such a chore to go back into it now but I kind of miss missing it.

    I don’t mind at all that I hadn’t heard a word about either of these stories, mind.

  • sarah

    We all get pulled in at times. I make a conscious effort to avoid the dramas now. And it’s weird having gone back. Certainly not addicted to it in the way I was first time round. I use it with a wiser, more cynical head i think x

  • Lucy

    I saw this because Will Gallagher posted it on FB & it appeared in my timeline. I agree with every single word (believe it or not) and made a very similar little speech in Twitter today, which I intend to neglect for a bit. Until I feel better. Well said. X

  • MEStaton

    I certainly agree about twitter’s ability to go ‘mob’. I’ve seen usually quite reasonable people gang up on someone for voicing an opinion different to theirs. I’ve seen people get all riled up over something quite minor. I too took a break from Twitter for several months because I grew weary of the cliques and the exaggerated outrage. Twitter can be an excellent source of information, discussion and fun but it does have it’s darker side. So times you just have to put it away for awhile or it will make you sad.

  • #talktoteens: a collection of blog posts | @joelmgunter

    […] Sarah Pinborough: The empty middle ground of Twitter […]

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