The Dark Side of Twitter

What’s a “Twidiot?”  Answer:

Someone who twitters constantly, usually about insignificant or trifling events.

This definition goes back to 01/29/09.

Like most things on the Internet, and most “gizmos” and high tech “toys”, gadgets, and tools, the promise of a host of good things also comes with a “dark side”, negatives, and problems to be wary of. Ultimately, users need to find a balance between the good and the bad and factor in need, pros and cons of the “tool” for the intended purpose(s), and situation-specific context. They need to consider time constraints, skills and/or time to acquire skills, cost, and undoubtedly other factors that I leave up to the reader to ponder.

The promise:

Going back to 01/24/09:

Right now, Twitter is the talk of the Web among marketers. Use of the elegantly simple social-media site has rocketed unlike anything in recent memory—and it’s businesses that are leaping onto the Twitter bandwagon.

The New York Times calls Twitter “one of the fastest growing phenomena on the Internet.” A recent study (pdf) determined that at least five million people are using the service and new members are signing up at a clip of 10,000 per day. And unlike other “here today, gone tomorrow” services, Twitter seems to have staying power.

Clearly Twitter can be a rapid catalyst for good news.

But a dark side already was reported:

Watch what you say:

“Everything you tweet is searchable on the web. This can be good and bad. Good if you’re strategically using key words for which you want to be found; and bad if you aren’t mindful that if you’re not nice, it can come back to bite you!”

Everything said is permanently etched in Twitter’s digital fabric.

“While Twitter can be effective as a marketing tool, if you are not careful, it can become a viral tool for negative press. Anything typed in Twitter is ‘ON THE RECORD,'” said Steven Talbott, Sr., vice-president of business development at Caveo Learning & Performance.


Twitter addiction:

…people with a little time on their hands are finding Twitter a great discovery tool—and a great big addiction.

“One of the big hurdles when using Twitter is not to let it invade your life,” said international marketing expert Cindy King.

Ann Handley of MarketingProfs said, “It is a time-sink. It’s easy to get sucked into spending too much time on it, because it definitely has an addictive quality.”


More bad apples:

Beware of trolls and squatters.


More good stuff:

Other “Dark Side” Tw__ terms besides “Twidiot”:

What are the likes of a “Twool”, a “Twit”, a “Twerp”, a “Twanker”, a “Twarcissist”, and a “Twalker?” Far more recent, an article dated 02/26/13:

And non-Tw__ terms: “Unfocused Aggregator”, “Ghost”, “Deadbeat”, and “Self-Centered Seller?” A bit older article, I can see making some stylistic changes to keep them in the Twitter family: “Twaggregator”, “Twhost”, “Tweadbeat”, and “Tweller.”  Okay, I took some editorial liberties. But these are all Twitter Personae Non Gratae:

Twitter death?

From a very recent article (12/03/13):

…do you hear much about how Twitter, or social media, can literally change (ruin) people’s lives?

The writer tells the story about a single tweet with a picture that led to extreme Twitter ostracization and mass bullying:

…one person who has a gazillion followers, took offense to the picture and re-tweeted it. From there, it’s a simple case of addition:  large amount of followers PLUS a polarizing topic PLUS a photo with a smiling, attractive woman EQUALS twitter death hail storm.

It gained momentum so much so that it spawned many news outlets to pick it up – along with two petitions, a negative Facebook page and death threats piling up on death threats the likes that would make your skin crawl.


The writer concludes:

It’s almost as if people WANT to tweet out death threats to fellow human beings.


Another “Twitter Lynch Mob” example:

Justine Sacco, labeled a “Twitter Devil” and self-inflicted Twitter casualty, this was her death knell tweet:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”


Sacco lost her job. She apologized to the people of South Africa:

Sacco’s tweet may have been the straw the broke the “Twamel’s back” amidst several others that went public:

Are we emboldened when we tweet because of the distances involved? Because of the thought that we communicate with friends and therefore maintain a certain amount of privacy? Because we are not communicating face to face? Because we didn’t get hammered previously for posting silly or perhaps a tad too risqué comments?

For Justine Sacco the consequences are likely still evolving. Is this a career breaker? Time will tell.

Some interesting comments were made by Forbes Staff, Jeff Bercovici, on 12/23/13:

Justine Sacco was not the first person to get herself fired for saying something stupid on Twitter. She won’t be the last. Every medium and technology ever invented carries its own perils, but there’s something about social media in general and Twitter in particular that invites and rewards self-damaging behavior.

Because it’s in real-time, we shoot from the hip, pushing “Tweet” without taking a moment to self-edit, lest we miss the moment. Because it’s short-form, we leave out context that might make our meaning clear. Because the feedback of other users is such a central part of the experience, we learn to seek it, tailoring our voices over time to maximize our retweets and favorites. And because it’s such a big, noisy party, we come to learn — as Justine did — that it helps to be just a little bit outrageous.

…there will always be a learning curve, and there will always be those of us who take the curve too fast and go plunging through the guardrail. The faster technology evolves, the more of us will end up taking the plunge. It’s comforting to think it will only happen to those who deserve it, but it’s far from the case.

The last sentence has an ominous tone: “It’s comforting to think it will only happen to those who deserve it, but it’s far from the case.”

The “dark side” may punish individuals for perceived malevolent acts. But the punishment may go “viral” and shatter lives. There also is a facileness that brings the pathology and meanness and cruelty out in a broad group of individuals that, for ease, I’ll lump under the term “cyberbullies.”

Matt Labash, in his article entitled, The Twidiocracy: the decline of western civilization, 140 characters at a time, is highly critical of Twitter for many reasons. The following concerns raised by Labash are consistent with the negative aspects of Twitter I’ve summarized above:

  •  Twitter makes that which is personal, public.
  •  Twitter is addictive.
  •  There is a nefarious side to Twitter:

Twitter celebrity death hoaxes are staples. Adam Sandler supposedly died four times in four months in the same snowboarding accident. Not to be confused with Twitter death threats, which are also hardy perennials. Twitter lynch mobs have threatened the lives of everyone from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Twitter safety:

20 rules to avoid “Twidiocy”:

The best advice on how not to fall prey to the “dark side of Twitter” in my opinion is summed up by the following:

Think about it before you tweet or post: the message you are sending, the negative karma you are putting out into the world, whatever you believe, does it really need to be said?

There’s a balance between being the first to put a tweet out there or rush to post (for whatever reason) and not self-immolate oneself. And that balance may be as long as a few brief seconds.




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