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Just like real life, Twitter is messy and enriching

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Jacqueline Maley lamenting the mistreatment of her friend Julia Baird on Twitter (image via Twitter).

An interesting piece went out over the weekend by Jacqueline Maley of the Sydney Morning Herald, titled 'A pernicious online bubble is suffocating civilised debate', which set Twitter off like a firecracker.

To be fair to Maley, it was a more nuanced piece than the usual hit job we usually see in mainstream media. A lot of her observations were correct, particularly in regard to how a “mob” of supporters of a particular politician can affect how those politicians respond, with the "Bernie Bros" being a perfect example of this type.

Though of course we still had the inclusion of the typical slights like 'outsized shouty influence on public debate', 'divisive world of Twitter', 'left-leaning echo chamber', 'left-leaning Twitter silos' and so on.

Maley herself included:

'Certainly, Twitter is a negligible source of readers for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. In January, for example, people clicking through links posted on Twitter accounted for only 1 per cent of traffic on our websites.'

Considering how politically engaged Twitter is, I would not be using a stat like that in such a dismissive manner. Why does only a tiny percentage of readership come from such a large platform? That is a lot of eyeballs Nine are missing out on.

How many subscriptions have gone (or changed) since Nine took over Fairfax? Is that particular Nine "bubble" getting smaller or larger?

Which makes me think: how is writing a piece trashing pretty much a whole community on social media, Twitter, a smart move to encourage more subscribers?

Let me relate an experience I had last week. It is local government election time here in Queensland and I went along to the first of the “Meet the Candidate” nights at the Surf Club. 

It was quite a rowdy event. Shouting from the back of the room, people calling out various forms of "bullshit" to particular comments, people dividing depending on supporters and if past experience is anything to go by, it will get worse as the campaigns go on.

Sound familiar?

Why yes, this was pretty much a real-life example as to what happens on Twitter when an election is imminent. It is chaos, all sorts of people with all sorts of agendas, personal issues, different aims, different wants and needs, it is messy. A bit like real life.

This happens because there is no gate-keeping, all can attend, all can have a say, unlike say Facebook or a paywalled paper, where the person can have their say with only fans having access to those words? 

The bigger question though, is why, again, are we seeing yet another journalist writing a "Twitter is killing public discourse" piece?

Why do journalists care about Twitter?

Even more curious is the self-fulfilling prophecies  of all these pieces that follow the same pattern:

  • A journalist writes piece trashing twitter and people being nasty there;
  • People on Twitter take offence and yell at the journalist or media org for trashing them;
  • People see other journalists support;
  • Journos snidely tweet “did you even read the full piece or just the headline”;
  • May only read headline coz media org in question is paywalled;
  • Division occurs between those who support the journalist and those who think they are full of shit, whether they have read the whole piece or not;
  • Journalist is pumped up by other journalist mates, pointing out they have proved their point about how nasty twitter is, look at the "Twitter mob outraged";
  • Rinse repeat.

It is almost like the Australian media are obsessed with Twitter? Is it because they don’t like what they hear on Twitter? Is it because they don’t like being questioned? Is it because they hate the fact they need the stats generated and reach achieved as a blue tick but don’t like the platform?

Or is it they are just super sensitive to criticism and really wish they were back in the day where they didn’t hear what people actually said in their lounge room watching the TV or over the kitchen table reading the paper? Seriously, it is not just now that people are on social media that they are calling “bullshit” on a lot of media stories, they always did.

Or do journalists, like politicians just prefer “quiet Australians”?

As Maley says:

'This is at the heart of Scott Morrison’s “quiet Australians” formulation – these people may not tweet, but they do vote. The non-tweeters are more earthy, more real, more ordinary.'

No, many of these people are on Facebook.

Facebook is where the worst fake news begins. A platform where professionals can disseminate misinformation to the unwary. Where personal settings allow politicians and the media to promote their words and work without much opportunity for dissent, then send their fans in that little closed off Facebook bubble of said politician or media entity to spread whatever they have said further among their Facebook communities.

There are all sorts of examples of how Facebook is a hell of a lot more dangerous than Twitter, with the "ALP death tax" memes at the previous Election coming to mind. The worst breaches of democratic trust, false information, emboldening of dangerous terrorists have mainly come about from Facebook, not Twitter.

The twitter bubble is a myth. There are many bubbles on Twitter, just like real life. There are all sorts of communities on Twitter with like-minded gravitating towards each other, just like real life. They want more than to be just a mindless consumer of whatever dross is fed to them.

It is interesting how media are very aware that they have odious influences in their own fraternity that cause harm: Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Peta Credlin. Yet they get upset when those on Twitter generalise with the term the "mainstream media" to refer to them as a whole, as though they should not be tainted by the odious among their profession?

As a regional person, Twitter is a gateway to a world of information. It allows me to be involved in issues I would have been isolated from, access to experts from all over the world. I care about my Twitter community, many do, and I actively try to improve it, with information and by defending those who may be bullied or abused.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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