Twitter is a big place, and I can’t speak for much of Twitter, but my impression is that the mainstream Twitter user is overwhelmingly positive. Positivity certainly reigns supreme in the corner of the Twittersphere that I frequent, and my impression is that there are other pockets of it that are overwhelmingly positive as well. Twitter is all about highlighting positive things and people. The virtual high five or pat on the back is currency on Twitter. Indeed, research is passed around which shows that “negative remarks lead to fewer followers.” In my (admittedly anecdotal experience), while there are a few people who call it like they see it, most legal birds are effusive in their praise and quick to withhold criticism. And this extends to points of view taken, articles passed around, etc. It’s almost as if it’s socially unacceptable to say that something sucks.
The net effect is that you can’t trust much of what people twit. As Venkat notes:
But I will say one thing. I do note the negative effects of overwhelming positivity: bad content gets passed around freely and praised. Bad ideas too. Bad conferences. Bad people. Bad media. Blogs are a much much better filter of stuff for me (granted you can say more when you are not limited to 140 characters). On Twitter, I’m routinely disappointed with what someone (or many people) often describe as a “great article!”
I don’t follow too many people on twitter, largely because I find the new twit sound annoying and don’t really want to know what people are eating for lunch or plan to do with every moment of their day. But I do follow a select few, some of whom are inclined to retwit other people’s posts (OPPs). It seems to me that if someone retwits a post, in the absence of some qualifying additional language to the effect of “you can’t believe how stupid this is,” it reflects a vote of approval and a recommendation that others should spend a very scarce resource, free time, reading it.
The Social Media Maven pronounces (2010)
Oil on Canvas
What are they thinking? Some are just totally insipid. Others are worse. Some people retwit anything written within a genre or topic in which they have a significant interest, but do so without editorial comment. I don’t know what that means to anyone else, but it says to me that you endorse it.
So I read the post that someone I respect retwitted and think to myself, “How can I ever get that three minutes of my life back?” “Why am I following this person?” “How could I have been so incredibly wrong to respect this twit’s opinion?” This may be the newest, bestest, quickest way to make me lose respect for someone.
But Venkat is right, I don’t twit back that the post sucked and the person who retwitted it is nuts. At least not too often. While I’m not on twitter to collect followers, and frequently lose followers because I won’t follow back, I’m also not there to pointlessly piss people off either. If my writing is critical, it’s for a reason, with some point to be made in the process. It’s not just to be mean, no matter what others may think.
The problem is that twitter just isn’t a viable medium for expressing critical thought. It allows for the snide remark, but not the reason behind it. It would be great to make enemies, but poor to challenge ideas (or the lack thereof). Which means that it’s a fine medium for a pat on the back, a cute statement, some fun chit chat.
But all of this is what’s led twitter down the positivity path to pointlessness. Does it not get boring, really quickly, to engage in some half-witty repartee with people you don’t know about things that don’t matter? Why do we engage in pleasantries with a disembodied name and avatar when we could be speaking to actual people whom we know to have some value to our lives? It’s not to call these unknown twitteratti worthless, but rather to say that their relevance is (a) as yet undetermined, or (b) too superficial to be worth the time.
My sense is that the whole positivity thing on twitter reflects some odd need for validation, even if from people you don’t know and with whom you will never actually engage in real human interaction. It’s cheap affirmation to bolster some gaping hole of self-esteem amongst people who either don’t get out enough or, if they do, aren’t getting the sort of reaction from others in real life that sates their fragile self-esteem.
If you’re a really big twitter fan, then you likely will disagree with me and think that I just don’t appreciate the “networking”, tribe-thing and community that has developed within twitter. To which I shrug and say, “if that’s the best you can do for companionship, then you’ve got a problem.”
Get a dog. Even if he doesn’t twit. At least his affection is real.
Update: From CharonQC, shamlessly stolen from him wholesale, secure in the knowledge that he’s out at the post office shipping a painting to me and won’t find out about my theft until it’s too late: