While I don’t follow a lot of people on twitter, that doesn’t mean that I don’t stumble across the twits of far more than my handful of followees. Often, a twit comes across my screen that strikes me as interesting or curious, and I take a look at its derivation, the conversation that generated such a curious twit.
What’s amazing to me is how easy it is to essentially eavesdrop on a conversation between others, and how the twitterers involved in the conversation have no reticence in twitting their personal discussion out in public. Do they not realize that other people, some they might “know” (in the sense that anyone knows anyone on twitter) as well as some they don’t know at all are listening in?
If this conversation was happening face to face, in a room filled with a bunch of people who were at best acquaintances and at worst people you wouldn’t talk to unless someone paid you, would you speak loud enough to make sure that everyone in the room could hear you? Would you reveal your thoughts, or lack thereof, to anyone within earshot?
On occasion, I will ask one of the more knowledgeable people on twitter who someone is. I do this because their biographies, the handful of words chosen by twitterers to describe themselves to the rest of the world, don’t tell me much. You’re on a search for self-discovery and I should join you? Who the heck are you? Why should I care. My favorite twitter expert (I know, I laugh to myself every time I put those two words together too), Adrian, explained that we should invite others to follow us on our “quest” on twitter. Adrian’s bio says:
Follow me as I work to become a change agent for Big Law.
Don’t laugh. Somebody has to break those hundred dollar bills so they can get their vente latte at Starbucks. I assume Adrian takes a percentage, but I fail to see any reason to follow someone who makes change. It’s not that interesting. Yet there is an awful lot of personal information that comes with the territory, He travels a lot, though it’s not clear how he can afford to. He went to a play with his wife the other night, and then met Ed of Blawg Review for breakfast the next morning. He didn’t say what he ate, but his wife showed up for breakfast too.
But Adrian is pretty careful about spouting something that looks pretty foolish in a stand alone twit. Maybe he knows what he’s doing, because I can’t say the same about some others.
This is where I ought to insert an example of a twit that demonstrates the point I’m about to make. I actually have one in hand, but I’ve decided, at the last moment, not to use it. It would be embarrassing to the twitterer, and I’m sure the twitterer didn’t realize when writing it that somebody like me would pluck it off twitter to use as an example.
I expect to be excoriated by my conscience, Mark Bennett, for having failed to source my point and name names. He’s right, of course, except that I’m similarly excoriated for doing exactly that and being a mean person. So, in the exercise of discretion and editorial control, I choose to proceed in the absence of proof, and you can accept or reject what I have to say based upon my failure to provide an example. And trust me, my example was really good.
While I may not know where you are at the moment, or with whom you’ve shared breakfast, I just learned something very important about you from your twit. I learned that you jump to baseless conclusions. I learned that you just tried to curry favor with someone who is unsavory or stupid. I learned that you are indiscriminate, intemperate, intimate.
Did you really mean to tell me this about you?
You are talking in public. You have absolutely no clue who is listening. You likely don’t even know the person you are talking to, even though their twitter name is familiar and you’ve been engaged with the person for a length of time. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. But it’s awfully easy to find out if you’re a mutt.
Some people react well to us, while others give us the cold shoulder. We try to guess why, using our own limited and usually projected knowledge to explain what happens in other people’s head. We really don’t have a clue, or even the most basic details to make an educated guess. One common belief is that they don’t even know us, so how can they decide not to like us.
Under some situations, the answer is that they do indeed know us. Not the “us” we seek to project, but the us that appears in the face we present to our pals, but exposed to anyone and everyone. Like what we twit.
I spoke with a lawprof the other day, who had twitted favorably about a post at the blog of one of the most notorious marketing liars around. He was unaware of the history, and hadn’t realized the connection inadvertently made between him and the liar. He thanked me for giving him the history. I urged him to think first next time. The truth is, my perception of this lawprof was that he’s a dolt for what he’d done. Having spoken with him, and heard the explanation for his error, I learned how the error happened.
What is the likelihood that every person who reads your twit is going to speak to you, come to understand why you wrote what you wrote, and perhaps not conclude that you are someone they want nothing to do with? For crying out loud, you are twitting in public. There are people reading your twits and making decisions about you, and you have no idea who they are and what they think. Rather than “networking” and “engaging,” you are undermining your reputation in the eyes of others.
Put some thought into what you twit and who you twit with. Be discriminate. Consider whether that very funny twit will appear funny to unknown others or make you look foolish. When you twit with that next potential follow and praise their brilliance, consider what that says about what you think is brilliant and who you want to get in bed with. Think about what you are telling people you don’t know, and who don’t know you, about yourself.
Twitter is public. What would you say aloud to a room full of people you don’t know?
Update: Some reactions:
What’s the big deal? It isn’t that serious? Who cares about twitter? Nothing you see on twitter matters?
Nothing is ever a problem, or serious, or important, until it’s a problem,serious and important. It’s been almost two years since Dan Solove published his prescient book, The Future of Reputation, and still people don’t get it.
It’s true that we can’t establish a person’s positive bona fides because he says so about himself on the internet, but we can surely establish a person’s negatives by dumb, inappropriate and foolhardy nonsense a person posts online. The two are not the same.
And as for claiming that you “don’t care” about your online reputation, you’re either a liar or a moron. Nobody trashes their reputation online for nothing. Again, this isn’t the same as “online reputation development,” the creation of a positive online reputation. Think Herzbergs hygiene and motivator factors if you can’t distinguish between positive and negative impacts. The point is that we can unintentionally trash ourselves to people we don’t know who, for whatever reason, will dismiss us because of it. No reasonable, rational person wants this.
And finally, once someone has trashed their reputation with stupidity, don’t expect that people will look again, just to give you the benefit of a second chance.
The reactions to this post are shockingly silly and naive, reflecting a failure to heed Solove’s warning. In fact, the reactions are very much of the sort that makes someone else believe that you lack a depth of understanding and intelligence to make you the sort of lawyer one would want to represent them or refer cases to. You may not be out there to develop business, but are you really out there to make others think you’re a dope?
Thinking and using good judgment shouldn’t be controversial. That anyone would think it is may be the most damning commentary about you there can be. Think about it. Oops, you don’t do that, do you?