Twitter is increasingly regarded as a means for democratic involvement, not least in an area such as Brighton and Hove, where the Twitterati is drawn from all political parties, backgrounds, sectors, and professions.
Debate can become feverish as passions are aroused, where no quarter is given, and those in positions of power are subjected to the sometimes cruel attention of public accountability.
Or is that really the case? As anyone who knows me, I have banged on about Twitter for several years. For a long while colleagues at work regarded it as just a phase I was going through and I would soon grow out of it. Today there are few in management positions in BHT who have yet to grasp the importance and power of Twitter.
But I am questioning whether it is the great leveller that some make it out to be. The thing about Twitter is that it is available to everyone who has access to the internet, either by smartphone or more traditional computers. So there is the first problem. Not everyone is digitally included, not least many homeless men and women, and some of the older generation. There is the cost (which is why BHT is making free WiFi available to our clients in most of our public buildings), and there is the expertise to use the technology.
So even if you can use Twitter, it is not a level playing field. Celebrities, as in most things in life, get far more attention for what they say than the quality of their utterances deserve. Justin Bieber, for example, is followed on Twitter by over 40 million people. Yet he can come out with crass comments such as Anne Frank would have been a ‘Belieber’ had she lived. (A Belieber, I am advised, is a follower/fan of the man himself).
Locally, the twittersphere is often dominated by spats between supporters of different political parties. It is very difficult to have reasoned debate on Twitter. 140 characters allows little more than the exchange of insults or, more depressingly, closed questions such as “Do you still support that useless political party you were once so proud to be a member of? Yes or no?”, although the grammar can be better than that.
Twitter isn’t a forum for reasoned, in depth, rational debate. On the one hand it is meant to be fun, for light exchanges, to compliment others, to draw attention to interesting article/blogs, to share photographs, and occasionally to poke fun. It can also be used to share serious information, to mobilise for a cause (@BHCoatsForKids being a brilliant example), and provide the sound track for the issues of the day. And lots of people (the majority) are not engaged with it in the same way as anoraks like me are.
I will continue to advocate for Twitter. I think I get Twitter, unlike Facebook. I don’t have a clue about Google +, but colleagues at work have promised to help me regarding these inadequacies.
Meanwhile, I’m off to watch my favourite Justin Bieber video.