Happy Birthday Twitter – the best and worst of 6 years
A new era of social networking took off -a point of view squeezed into 140 characters.“A tweet should really be just a random utterance, and I feel that it should be held to almost zero standard whatsoever. It’s really just a brain fart”, said editorial columnist and author Ted Rall.But with half a billion users today – from anonymous bloggers to world leaders – Twitter has become a much more powerful force than that.The micro-blogging site helped the spread of protests during the Arab Spring, but it’s also become a tool for manipulating public opinion.“A book has a higher standard of fact-checking than a column does. A column has a higher standard than a blog. A tweet is the lowest circle of fact”,said editorial columnist and author Ted Rall.During Iran’s Green Revolution, so-called “eye witness” accounts of government brutality helped boost Western support for protesters. It turned out many of the bloggers were thousands of miles from the action.The authorities also appreciate the power of a tweet.“Recently, Occupy Wall Street – somebody, we don’t know who, posts a message that says “cops should be killed” – ok? My guess is the cops posted it, because then, you know, they were the ones that reacted to it, made it a story”,said blogger and media critic Danny Schechter.“You have some very misleading tweets from the members of the Security Council. They’re kind of using it for propaganda. They are like, today we said…! It’s very selective. They don’t want reporters to find out what happened in a closed door meeting but they’re tweeting things that are often false from inside them”, said Inner City Press journalist Matthew Lee, who extensively covers the United Nations.From closed doors to private affairsouted,reckless twitter posts have seen its authors humiliated and virally hated, even fired.“Whether it’s somebody like Charlie Sheen who can come out and say terrible things about his bosses on Twitter and lose his job, or someone like Ezra Klein, who is now back on MSNBC, but in 2007, he tweeted F*** Tim Russert with an acid spiny-tipped D***” and lost his contract with MSNBC over it”, said Raw Story executive editor Megan Carpentier.Arguably the most notorious downfall, now-former Congressman Anthony Weiner‘s tweeting a photo of his most private of parts.“Weiner is a model of what’s not to do. If I were ever going to cheat on my wife, I don’t think I would start by broadcasting it over Twitter”,said journalist Don Debar.But this new broadcasting tool – available to all – is seductive. “I don’t know if it makes them stupid, or if they come to twitter already stupid, and they simply use it stupidly. I think probably the latter is closer to the truth”,said journalist Don Debar.The micro-blog has been a mine field for those not cautious. “Naked Twitter, drunken posts – anything that you wouldn’t want your mom to see or have reported in the newspaper – you probably shouldn’t put on Twitter”,said Megan Carpentier.So what are we putting on Twitter? An early study found so-called “pointless babble” made up 40 percent of tweets, with news at just 4 percent.“It’s a waste of time for me – but if you care what sandra bullock has to say – it’s not a waste of time for you”, said Paul, a youth program coordinator in New York. “Social networks are the death of us. Time is wasted on utter junk and trivia. Everybody is madly texting everybody else about nonsense, while the world burns”, said portfolio manager Richard Feldman. “You can use it to dumb down, you can use it to smarten up. It’s how you use anything that really matters”, said blogger Danny Schechter. The 6th anniversary of the first tweet marks billions of tweets already posted and revolutions guided. Lady gaga is the top blogger with over 21 million followers. The microblog’s top trending topics today include “Bieber our boyfriend” and “Things I hate about sex”. Some tweeters may well regret that one.