Apparently Twitter is in a mess this afternoon as spammers have rather brilliantly taken advantage of a flaw in the microblogging site's security to shunt loads of largely pornographic spam onto people's desktops. It's a bit of a relief, to be honest. We (the corporate "we") Tweet regularly, as the powers that be reckon it's a good thing for us and some of the folk we promote. I'm not so sure - for a start it's the IT department (i.e. me) that has to do it. Secondly, I've got about a million other things to do in an average day. Last off, what am I trying to do and who am I on Twitter? I belong to classes two, three and five of the five types of micro-bloggers: 1. PERSONALITIES (Stephen Fry) 2. Corporates (Jamie Oliver) 3.
Activists (Sarah Brown)
4. The under-employed and restless (no names mentioned)
5. Home workers (media professionals, mums, etc.)
Originally it was an amusing instant messaging service for fans and friends and used by people like me as a noticeboard, increasingly now for corporates but sometimes for interesting stuff. The communication is sometimes two way but mostly and increasingly not. There's an awful lot of rubbish on it which gets regurgitated constantly, and you can't target a potential audience or market. You can't communicate properly with a group of followers and you can't prioritise your messages. What chance of someone reading your message when they're receiving tweets from another 5,000 people? The biggest problem, however, is its original appeal; the lack of reliability and discernment over the messages people chose to post.
It's not so much that nothing worthwhile can be said in 140 characters (I think therefore I am (22)) or that Tweets are of themselves misleading. Most of the damage is done in the links the Twitterati cheerfully carry, however, and in the authority which they consequently assume. A good little example recently - a story about some poor bloke who was attacked and nearly killed by Africanised honeybees in Texas. Apart from bees going extinct, the best bee story is a bee attack story, so it attracted widescale coverage (the Press officially love bees, but they're also on the list of scary and arcane country things like snakes and eggs coming out of hens' bottoms and Lib Dem MPs). Anyway, the point is that we don't have bees like this in the UK. You're about as likely to be the victim of this kind of attack here as you are of being killed by an adder or an enraged chicken. Or becoming a Lib Dem MP. Unfortunately various well meaning tweeting members of the bee lobby picked the story up as it was bee related, and carried links to it. You know from experience that if you read a story in The Sun it only might be true, but if it's endorsed by your tweeting bee friend then it's a cause for real concern. And people are at least sensibly nervous of bees as everyone's been stung at some point; before long folk are tweeting about the times they've been stung, how they were chased by a swarm, how their dog was attacked, etc.,etc.. As if this wasn't bad enough the same story will pop out of the woodwork all over again in a few months time once it has gone around the virtual globe a couple of times. I increasingly read news stories via Twitter which were news six months ago. If we're not going to pay for decent journalists and decent content any more we need to learn to be much more careful about who we read and what we're reading as well as when we're reading it.
We also need to be careful about thinking that the twittersphere and the blogosphere are the real world. Is Stephen Fry more important than the Prime Minister because he has 100,000 more folk following him on Twitter? Perhaps put it a different way; am I one of the most influential people in Somerset because I am one of the top 10 Tweeters by followers in the county? Er... I don't think so. Entertainment and reality are uneasy bedfellows and increasingly as confused as spin and fact. It's the people actually doing stuff in the real world who matter.