When everyone is a journalist, editor, and social media curator, should they become judge and jury as well?

When a big event occurs, Twitter has become the go-to source for up to date information. I see two problems with relying on Twitter in such situations.

The Sensitivity Issue

There is always someone who feels obliged to monitor other people’s tweets for “sensitivity” to an event. Often someone will berate a tweeter for tweeting something that is unrelated to the hot topic of the day as if it was a social gaffe.

It’s as if a news event is the only thing anyone can be thinking about. Bombings, explosions, tornadoes, shootings, deaths, protests – yes, those things are important. There are people who hang on to TV news, read every tweet, and generally dwell for hours inside the drama during an event. And they tweet and retweet everything they see about the news of the day.

The problem is when they demand that everyone else do exactly the same thing.

A culture has grown around this phenomenon of single-mindedness during a breaking news event. That culture dictates that you shouldn’t show an interest in anything but the event or you will be branded insensitive, unaware, uncool, and out of touch. People respond to this social ostracism by shutting down scheduled tweets, keeping silent about whatever normal life they are living in deference to the news, and not tweeting except retweets of the day’s news.

I think this culture of “sensitivity” is a problem. Sometimes the news is so painful (for example, the Newtown shootings) that even thinking about it, much less obsessively tweeting and retweeting about it, is damaging to the soul. Tuning out and attending to normal life is a defense against the pain. People should be allowed to respond to horrific events this way, and should not be labeled idiots for tweeting about something unrelated. There’s no one right way to react to news.

The Misinformation Issue

It’s human to be interested in dramatic events. On Twitter, it’s human to retweet things that relate to an ongoing event.

We end up with a flood of tweets, many unverified and unchecked, that spread misinformation with the remarkable power of the retweet.

I’m not suggesting that people on the scene with real information should not tweet. I’m not suggesting that early reports such as “there was an explosion during the Boston Marathon” should not be retweeted. I am suggesting that retweeting everything without evaluating whether or not it is true is a problem.

Indiscriminate retweeting overwhelms people who are trying to sift out the truth from a flood of rumors, errors, and misinformation. Even worse,  rumors and errors get picked up by major media – TV and radio news mention these things as if they were actual news. Granted, major media is acting no better that a Twitter user who retweets without vetting information in this situation. There may be thousands of tweets per second during big news events. Think of the manpower needed by a news organization or police department to sift through all those tweets trying to verify the truth, or find the right lead.

What I am suggesting is that concentrating exclusively on dramatic news events creates issues with an overwhelming flood of bad information among the valuable information.

If you don’t really know what’s going on, why retweet as if you do? Why not keep silent about the event instead? Why not (gasp) tweet about your normal life even in the midst of the media circus?

The Twitter culture of framing anyone who isn’t “sensitive” to the news as an idiot or a fool needs to stop. Judging others is akin to bullying and isn’t the business of the Twitter culture police.

Useful Links: Gender equity, flippa a site, Vine

The brilliant Lauren Bacon wrote a list of fantastic resources to explain What Men (and Everyone, Really) Can Do To Support Gender Equity in Tech. This includes help for conference organizers, employers, managers, team leaders, investors and just about anyone. I support what Sheryl Sandberg said to women in Lean In, but it has to be a systemic effort for things to change.

Want to buy or sell a web site? Look at Flippa.com. I learned about this site from my buddy in New Zealand, Miraz Jordan, who is selling her awesome site Mac Tips. So much good content on Mac Tips, and now someone can buy the whole site.

Vine Is the Show, and Vine Records the Show. I wrote about Vine yesterday on BlogHer and explained how disruptive I think this new six-second video app that works through Twitter has been in just 4 months. What are your thoughts on Vine?

5 Things I Can’t Stop Talking about on Twitter

Last time I checked, I had 12,000+ tweets on Twitter, where I’m @vdebolt. It took me several years to achieve that number – watching my grandkids tweet, they could do 12,000 a day – but I’m just a few-a-day kinda gal. I was thinking about the various ways I use Twitter in a day or a week. Here are five ways.

1. I Tweet for Work

I’m required by a couple of my jobs (BlogHer Tech Section Editor and Web Standards Sherpa Community Manager) to tweet about whatever new content is ready for outreach and promotion.This is a triple treat most of the time, with a tweet, a Facebook status update, and a Google+ mention.

I consider writing for my blogs to be part of my work day, so I tweet about what I write here when it’s something original. I seldom tweet useful links posts. I have another blog that I keep up on a regular basis as part of my “work day” but I seldom tweet about it. That blog is First 50 Words. It’s a writing practice blog and I don’t tweet the daily prompt because I haven’t found that many people are interested in them.

2. I Tweet to Contact and Converse

Are you aware of the number of bloggers who do not include a contact email anywhere on their blog? It’s epidemic. I often contact people via Twitter to ask them for their email address, especially if I want to feature them in a post on BlogHer.

Casual conversations about weather, TV shows, books, or what some boneheaded politician just said are frequent subjects of my tweets. Or I reply to someone else’s conversational tweet with a remark that I hope will get a conversation going.

In the vein of conversation, I often tweet or retweet strictly local information about my city and state.

I sometimes comment on my personal life: where I’m going, what I’m doing, what I’m cooking or where I’m eating, how I’m feeling. I don’t do much of this because it’s boring, but I think people need to be a little open about them selves, even in a public forum. Not completely open, but open enough to seem real.

3. I Tweet in Support of My Brand

I’m not sure I have a brand, but if I did it would be something like “Web Teacher is that site that shares all sorts of useful stuff about web design and web education.” So I tweet a lot of links to stories written by others that tie in with what I do here. Supporting myself by supporting my community might be another way to state it.

4. I Tweet in Support of My Causes

I tweet and retweet things that support women. Not that I don’t support men – see item 3 – but I love to point out the technical achievements, great writing, great presentations, and other accomplishments of women in general. (That’s probably why I like working for BlogHer so much. I get to do things in support of women every single day.)

Liberal is a term that applies to me, so I tweet things in support of the liberal agenda and of various liberal causes.

5. I Tweet Comments Which I Know Will be Disregarded to Celebrities

I know some celeb with a gazillion followers doesn’t care what I think, but Twitter has opened up a channel that lets everyone comment on everything. So I send Scott Simon tweets about his latest turn of phrase on NPR or tell Eliza Dushku that I mentioned her in a blog post about Swipp. I don’t consider these tweets in the conversation category, because I don’t expect a response. Sometimes I retweet celebrities if they say something I think people will want to know, for example when Dana Delany announces you can finally get China Beach in a boxed set of DVDs, I consider that worth broadcasting with a RT.

These 5 kinds of tweets are a consistent pattern with me. I hope the people who follow me on Twitter find at least one of these five topics of interest to them. Do you have a Twitter pattern? What are your topics?

Useful Links: Sheryl Sandberg, Vine, Swipp

Sheryl Sandberg takes a blowtorch to gender stereotypes in the workplace. It isn’t 1951 and Jon Hamm isn’t your boss – but it feels like it.

Vine is huge after only about two days. I downloaded it while sitting in my living room and made a video of my only available moving objects – my feet. Are you already on the Vine bandwagon?

Speaking of apps, I wrote about an app called Swipp for BlogHer. I think it has the potential to be influential. Check it out: Swipp Your Way to Social Intelligence.

Review: The Tao of Twitter

[Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for this review. Opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy.]

book cover

The Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time is by Mark W. Schaefer, published by McGraw Hill (2012). The book’s intended audience is business owners who are new to Twitter. It’s a slim and inexpensive volume that explains the uses and benefits of Twitter from the perspective of growing business and networking.

I wouldn’t suggest that anyone who has been using Twitter for a while bother with it, but for the absolute newbie, it is full of things you need to know. Some of the information is out of date, but it remains a good guide for the business man or woman who wants to take on social media.

For current Twitter users, it may seem strange to imagine that there are still people out there who know nothing about Twitter. But I see such folks in my continuing education classes all the time. My classes are filled with people who are retraining with an eye to working on the web or people who want to do something to improve their business or business web site. Yet many of them are not using Twitter. I could suggest this book as a resource to those students with confidence.

I was put off by the glowing examples of the benefits of Twitter that the author provides. They were personal and anecdotal rather than based on statistics or any hard data. The results for others would certainly vary.

Summary: A very basic guide to Twitter for the new user.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of The Tao of Twitter (rating: 3 stars)

Useful links: Lawmakers, Bookless, CSS for Babies

All 100 US Senators are now on Twitter. Have you used Twitter or Facebook to send a message to your senators, representatives, or the POTUS? I have.

In the “where the world is heading” department, here’s news of the first bookless public library.

Chris at CSS Tricks is having a great time with his CSS for Babies: A Critical Analysis.