While I scroll that platform and post there at times, and will occasionally link to tweets here, I have largely fallen out of love with Twitter. Using it has ceased to be fun. It is in fact now a dangerous place for ordinary people.
It’s not “2010” any longer. Then Twitter was still mostly a limited number of “ordinary people” disagreeing with each other (perhaps strongly) about this or that, or even having a laugh. However, starting particularly with the 2011 “Arab Spring,” when “ordinary people” were tweeting what they were seeing of the rebellions, news organizations started really to notice it and it began to be seen as more than just another “social media” site.
I had personally found it useful from our Catskills house in August 2011 in tweeting about how our mountain area had been flooded during Tropical Storm Irene’s truly torrential rains (it was the heaviest rain that I had ever seen; it downpoured for at least ten hours, non-stop) when no one outside our immediate northern Catskills vicinity seemed to have a clue. We were lucky to be on high ground and fortunately had some electricity and internet access thanks to our generator. I felt the least I could do to try to help would be to tweet with other locals also fortunate to be online in order to share what I could see from our house and about what I knew, and also try to make wider noise through others outside of the region who had larger followings than I did.
Within hours CNN was direct messaging me; and others in the area had been similarly contacted as I was hardly the only one tweeting about the chaos outside our homes. Soon the Catskills devastation was all over the regional, national and even international news. I will forever laugh whenever I remember watching CNN’s Anderson Cooper actually saying “Prattsville, New York” (a small town that was inundated by flood waters and is only about ten or so minutes’ drive from our house).
But even then I had an aggravating experience with a relatively well-known British journalist from one of the tabloid newspapers. He semi-ridiculed our situation. He tweeted about us not being Syria or something like that…
My head almost exploded. No one had anticipated so much rain so quickly that the creeks and streams would within hours turn into the equivalent of the Hudson. People had done as they were told; the storm was coming, stay off the roads, stay home, batten down the hatches. Now, they were trapped. Desperate people were ringing police, and even the local radio station, from low-lying areas – until the phones went out – while scrambling onto their roofs hoping to avoid rising waters. The authorities were helpless. There was only darkness, howling winds, and driving rain. The roads were often literally impassable, raging rivers. We learned that people were being drowned – it was later confirmed one elderly woman drowned in her house – or might be at any time.
An area rivaling the size of Wales only two hours north of New York City was as cut off as if were on the Moon. It was as close to “the breakdown of civilization” as I have ever experienced. You had only yourself, or yourselves. No one was coming to help.
Going back and forth with that journalist for a time, I also came about the closest I ever came to telling someone on Twitter to “F-ck off.” But in wondering if the roof would stay on, if the slope behind us might give way and slide down into the house, or if windows might smash, I had much bigger immediate concerns on my mind than arguing on the internet with a s-ithead 3,000 miles away. So much for social media “bringing us together.” I finally just blocked him and went back to engaging with people who mattered.
Looking back, I realize now that was a taster of what was to come. President Obama took to it and public figures of all kinds started using it too and Twitter began to be seen less as a platform for ordinary people and much more as a “news source” itself. It was also becoming home to numerous partisan sites masquerading as “news” organizations. Terror groups were now increasingly starting to use it also, including for recruiting. In 2015, presidential candidate Trump took regularly to using it to offer his “flippant” views on seemingly anyone and anything and its influence shot into the stratosphere. And there were also “trolls” and “bots” appearing all over the place run by who knows who.
I do still follow, and I am followed by, a few journalists and activists I’ve come to respect and who have large followings. I do so because we first followed each other usually years ago, before Twitter became what it is now. One could still tweet in a rather relaxed manner:
- France 24 presenter: “What would you ask President Hollande at the press conference?”
- Me: “Monsieur Le President, how were the croissants?”
I “knew” who they were and they “knew” what to expect from me. It was chit-chat. Tweets weren’t deconstructed word for word, letter for letter, in order to determine the basis for the police referral or the lawsuit.
But that was then. Twitter is now a “gotcha” environment, and overrun with new and middling “journalists” and “activists” (both of whom may have tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of followers) prowling around seeking easy pickings and professional boosts. They are looking for unwary tweeters.
Unlike Facebook, which for most of us is only family and friends and therefore not visible to the public, unless you “protect” your tweets anyone – anyone – can see what you post to Twitter. Its limited characters format is a minefield: one perhaps “too glib” tweet on your part that is seen by, or brought to the attention of, one of those “journalists/activists,” followed with a quote of it and a retweet by them, can possibly badly disrupt and even ruin your life, and maybe even that of your family. Don’t think “anonymity” is protection, for with some rudimentary digging that journalist/activist, or “stalking” followers, can of course probably discover who you are.
I advise anyone now to be cautious, very cautious, on Twitter. The only reason I have not deleted my account is because I do like engaging carefully with decent people whenever possible. And many readers now expect authors to have Twitter accounts.
It has become a point of contact for me now and little more. Sadly it’s not “2010” any longer. If you use Twitter, don’t EVER forget that.