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On Being Hounded off Twitter - Sarah, The Bringer of Tea
15th April, 2013
11:58 am

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On Being Hounded off Twitter

Originally published at Sarah Brown's Blog. You can comment here or there.

I think I’m noticing a pattern develop in the less than harmonious way social media interfaces with journalism. I’m specifically going to avoid naming names, because I don’t really wish to pour petrol on flames.

However, it seems that there are a whole bunch of people who exist in a space between “random person on the Internet” and “so famous that someone manages their social media presence for them” who have embraced social media, and particularly Twitter, and possibly see it as a way to build their personal “brand”. Often these people are freelance columnists doing bits and pieces for newspapers and magazines. They perhaps see Twitter as a tool which can help them build their career.

And all goes well for a while, and they build a few tens of thousands of followers, and presumably think, “this is great! I get to share my thoughtful thoughts with the world and people will retweet them, and comment on them, and further build my presence!”

And then they say something that’s controversial in a way they weren’t hoping for.

What happens next is becoming a cliché: people object to a thing that’s been said. The author initially engages a bit. It rapidly becomes a self-sustaining blaze. Their phone starts going berserk with mention notifications, and they feel thoroughly got at. Within a few hours, they tend to shut down their twitter account.

The next wave will see their friends who also exist in a similar space, and who are using social media in a similar way, complain that they have been “hounded” off Twitter by “bullies”.

What I have to say next may not be popular, but I think it’s true:

This is your own fault and you need to take responsibility for your actions

Seriously, you engaged with something you didn’t fully understand, which worked well for you for a while, which you discovered can actually be really powerful, but which ultimately is not something you personally control. You were happy to use that power while it was working for you, but because you can’t control it there came a time when it did something else. When it did, it did it with all the power and speed that you previously relished, and which is now making you feel like you’re being buried under an avalanche.

In other words, you played with a powerful tool, the use of which you were not properly trained in, and recklessly concluded that this power was only ever going to work for you.

What would you think of someone who didn’t know how to drive a car getting in one and bombing down the M1, towards London, at 3 in the morning at 100mph? They’d presumably think they were having great fun as they sailed past town and city on a long, straight, empty road at 100mph.

And then these yellow lines appeared in front of them, and they have no idea what that means, and suddenly they’re on the North Circular road, still doing 100mph, with no actual idea how to drive.

That’s not hugely different to someone treating social media as something that will only ever advance their career. Twitter wasn’t built for the sole purpose of making your CV and ego larger and those tens of thousands of followers you were treating as a resource are real people who will just as soon turn on you as retweet your philosophical musings.

You need to deal with that, and not complain that bad things happen when you drive off the end of the M1 at 100mph.

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[User Picture]
From:pw201
Date:15th April, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
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The huge Metafilter thread on the Adria Richards affair was interesting. A couple of commenters observed that now both sides are just as good at kicking up a social media furore with real world consequences, Twitter call outs invite mutually assured destruction. The only winning move is not to play, maybe.
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