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January 11th, 2011:

Twitter and bombast

Twitter is an easy and social medium to mess around with, and I, as @baldjam, do my share of messin’.

For the uninitiated, you get 140 characters to tell your Tweeps about a new blog post, comment on something someone else has Tweeted or posted, or just throw out a random thought.

I do all of the above and since joining Twitter on January 21, 2009, I have Tweeted 1,542 times… have 196 followers (those Tweeps who actively follow what I Tweet) and I follow 548 others.

I, and several other candidates in the past municipal and School Board elections used the tool quite extensively to announce campaign platforms, activities and stances on the issues of the day. It again was valuable and free tool for candidates to get the word out. The same applies to any type of campaign whether it be to lobby, promote or advertise. One campaign that has been very active on Twitter for quite some time now has been the Save South March movement. Frequent and informative Tweets have been key tools.

For those who use Twitter to almost exclusively simply re-Tweet what others are saying, I would say its value is limited. Twitter is of the highest value as a tool for social interaction when it is used to have a multi-pronged conversation. Multiple interactions using a series of abbreviated texts is a wonderful way to engage with your electorate if you are a politician, and a cost-effective way to market your product if you are an entrepreneur. Have you checked the price of newspaper ads lately?

If not used as a conversation tool, the next greatest value is having the ability to point people to a blog, news item or website that may be of interest to your Tweeps – or to whomever follows the hashtags that you attach to the Tweet. I do that quite often to let Tweeps know when I have published a new blog post.

Ah yes. Hashtags. This “#” is a hashtag. We use these to categorise a Tweet in a simple way. For example,

  • #Ottcity means that the post is related to Ottawa City Hall / municipal politics
  • #OCDSB – Public school Board related
  • #Ottschools – related to all Ottawa schools
  • #Ottawa – miscellaneous stuff related to ByTown
  • #cdnpoli or sometimes #cdnpol – yup – you guessed it – Caadian politics

It is this last one where you see some of the most interesting, partisan and emotion-laden Tweets.

Now let me be clear before I go on. I am as non-partisan as I can be. I do not currently belong to a political party. I have carried cards for the Grits, the Dippers, the (now extinct) National Party of Canada and even for a very short time, the PCs (gasps everywhere!).

I am middle of the road on most issues and side with whomever develops public policy that is in sync with my way of thinking. I’m pretty left of centre on some issues… a little right on others, but generally tend toward the middle. I cannot suffer extremists on either side of the spectrum and tend to ignore what they say.

But being a centrist non-partisan does not mean that I cannot oppose one party more than another. I have pretty clearly come down on the opposite side of the CPC. I agree with very little of what they have done to Canada and believe that they have – more than anyone else – created a political culture steeped in cynicism and negativity.

The Grits aren’t much better because of their lack of clear alternative policy stances and perennial troubles at the top. I think they missed the boat when they chose Dion as the leader and Iggy isn’t proving to be much stronger. Liberals could have taken a leap of faith – and maybe lost out in the short term – by electing someone like Kennedy or Hall-Findlay as their leader. The long term upside would have been enormous.

But they didn’t do that.

The NDP? While I respect some of their policies and think Layton is likely the most palatable leader of the three, I cannot see myself supporting them.  Too many differences between my thinking and theirs…. though I admire their persistence.

So – returning to Twitter.

Twitter lends itself well to quick and short missives and not so well to back and forth debates. Criticisms of one point of view or another are to the point – and pointed. And this characteristic makes Twitter a good home for political partisanship. The profile pics that are displayed on whatever Twitter feed is being used often has a “Twibbon” in the corner, and true partisans have as a Twibbon the symbol of the party that they are siding with or belong to.

Talk about wearing your loyalties upfront!

Because of the nature of Twitter, partisans of both sides of the spectrum and all extremes of an issue use Twitter not to debate in an open forum the merits of one policy or another, but to, more often than not, launch bombastic and vitriolic attacks against whomever dares to question their points of view. The left / right battles are sometimes so petty and ad hominem that they make me blush.

Take for example the following short exchange between me and a CPC partisan. My first Tweet was in response to someone else mentioning the billions of dollars that the CPC is spending on new prisons. I base my criticism on the fact that crime rates are falling and have been for some time now. So why, in an economic downturn, the government invest in such capital intensive ventures. (I am anonymising the guy).

Good news 4 prison builders. Bad news for Canadians RT @XXX: More money for prisons! Good news for Canada! Bad news for thugs! #cdnpoli

And his response:

@baldjam Good to know you want murderers, drug dealers and pedophiles in our streets. #moron

Note the hashtags. And this was relatively mellow. Oh – and RT is a “Retweet”… you are forwarding on something that someone else has said… sometimes with additional comments and sometimes without.

Here is another exchange – the first guy is a unionist and the second is a very right-wing and christian Tweep with whom I have had the odd run-in (I’m leaving the names anonymous).

The mainstream tolerance of right-wing extremism: | #cdnpoli #tucson #rightwing #teaparty#topprog #p2

and the response…

@XXX Shameful that u use the murder of a 9 year old child 2 score cheap political points. #vulture #p2#cdnpoli

But this was preceded – by 6 minutes – by

Another person dragged 2 death by a streetcar. Subways safer. How many ppl have 2 die 2 satisfy the vanity of liberals? #topoli:

Meh. I guess you don’t have to be consistent in the Twitterverse.

To conclude, Twitter lends itself to simplicity and simplistic bombast by all. No one is accountable and it’s free-for-all bare knuckles match at the best of times. Partisans thrust and parry and one isn’t careful, then it’s shish kebab town for you chum!

RT @baldjam Newsflash! Thousands of snowflakes fall dead from the skies. Scientists claim it’s not linked to other mass die-offs. #paranoia