Occasionally we all say things without thinking. Maybe they’re said in the heat of the moment. Perhaps they’re made in jest to make us appear clever and witty. Without first rationalising them in our pea-sized brains, we come out with a comment, a thought or a rambling and vitriolic diatribe that causes those who hear them to question what we’re about as a human being. Friends, work colleagues, family members and, yes, even voters who once considered us to be straight up and morally decent start to wonder whether we’re anything of the kind. After all, we never seemed liked the sort of person who’d hold those views or express such an opinion.
Once upon a time, any indiscretions might have been quickly forgotten. And if they were recalled sometime in the future, they could always be batted away with a dismissive: “As if I’d ever have said something so outrageous”.
That, however, was before Twitter arrived on the scene. It’s hard to imagine that anything which presently plays quite as big and influential part in the lives of so many individuals has only actually been around for 12 years.
Thanks to the planet’s premier social media platform, the old adage of: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is now just as likely to be followed by: “But if they do damage me, your moronically ill-judged comments will probably be read by hundreds of thousands of people in minutes of you posting them, thereby exposing you as the bigoted fool you were always suspected of being, with the result that you’ll be finished in the eyes of the world and never get to make the third part of that movie franchise or you’ll lose your syndicated sitcom or be forced out of political office”. And all this is due to a few brief taps of your smartphone’s keyboard. Although suddenly, the term “smart” (phone or otherwise) seems to be a bit of a misnomer.
The problem with tweets is that they’re there forever. In effect, they’re the cockroaches of communication. Even if they’re deleted with the speed they are often written, they’re a dangerous unexploded embarrassment, waiting to blow up in someone’s face.
The usual defence that the points of view expressed in the tweet are no longer the ideas of the person who wrote it, is, of course, no defence at all. Much as we’d like to believe we can change our opinions as frequently as we change our underwear, we can’t. Deeply-held feelings aren’t miraculously made less grubby by putting them in a hot wash along with one’s smalls.
According to current figures, 6,000 tweets are sent every second. Most of them aren’t of any consequence or indeed of any interest. No one really cares about the fascinating existences of the aspiring teenage beauty blogger in Telford, the owner of a Manchester microbrewery or another micro-celebrity. The only time our curiosity is genuinely piqued is when the famous turn into the infamous by virtue of their unpalatable convictions.
There’s no escaping the fact that in the wrong hands (thumbs, if we’re to be precise) Twitter has become and is increasingly turning into a destructive force for malicious messaging. To ensure that they are read, our tweets must by their very nature end up more provocative and extreme.
Of equal concern is that for many young people, Twitter is their go-to source for unbiased news and current affairs. This is akin to me saying that when I was infinitely younger, my main news outlet was Whizzer and Chips. Let me tell you, their analysis of the 1983 General Election was spot on and their coverage of the fall of The Berlin Wall was second to none.
Alas, the inevitable conclusion must be that Twitter is only suitable for pets; the perfect place for our furry (and not so furry) friends to leave us enthralled with regular updates on their daily goings on, including ball chasing, curtain clawing and bin scavenging (oh, well, anywhere I guess to find a suitable Brexit deal).
The most popular of these animals have followers in the hundreds of thousands, which possibly doesn’t immediately look a lot if you’re Kim Kardashian (58 million), Rihanna (87 million) or Donald Trump (53 million, which despite all that tweeting remains 48 million behind Barack Obama). All the same, every dog, cat or goldfish has to start somewhere. Although, be warned, you may want to avoid the accounts of Boris the Bulldog whose views are a trifle xenophobic and Jeremy, everyone’s favourite poodle, whose opinions are, by all reports, a tad anti-Semitic.
Alternatively, you could always take pity on yours truly and visit my Twitter page. When last checked, my followers ran to almost 50.