This week, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Charlie Angus, an inveterate tweeter, bid adieu to the Twitterverse. He acknowledges being a big fan/user of social media but fears that Twitter is “morphing into a bully pulpit for trolls. It is a technology that favours the flash mob.” He goes on to say “that the digital mob is no different from a street mob. It can be excitable, good-natured or vicious, but don’t ever mistake the mob for democracy.”
Angus laments receiving hate filled and ignorant tweets about Attawapiskat, and fears that Twitter is undermining “fact finding and verification.” Commenting on recent tweet attacks on his singing ability and other mindless ad hominem volleys, he expresses his disenchantment – “Being on Twitter is like being badgered by a drunk on a 24-hour bus ride.’ (and as a northern Ontario boy he knows of what he speaks!).
While Angus raises valid and serious concerns, the object of his criticism is off. There is no doubt that social media in general and Twitter in particular, are influencing how we engage with each other and how we process information and we all should be more mindful about how we use this powerful technology. However, it is erroneous to place the blame on the technology itself. The technology is neutral –it is all about how we use that technology – for good (and as Angus himself notes that during the Attawapiskat crisis the positive tweets far outnumbered the negative), for evil or simply for inane purposes. Human behaviour and motivation is the real culprit, not the technology. On Twitter, you’ll find the good, the bad, the useful, the useless, the beautiful and the ugly!
The poverty of political talk, trivial and banal remarks, uninformed and mindless commentary, knee-jerk responses, deliberately misleading quotes etc in Twitterverse are not a reflection of Twitter but rather symptoms of our impoverished public discourse. As Pogo says ……”We have met the enemy… and he is us”. If we want a better Twitterverse, we need to create it. Come on back Charlie Angus.
At Ascentum we strive to use social media and online engagement to elevate not degrade public discourse.
-Mary Pat MacKinnon-