May 23, 2009

There has been much written recently regarding the etiquette of Twitter;  what is the generally accepted thing to do in terms of who to follow, and whether wanting big follow numbers is just a superficial reflection of a, heretofore, unacknowledged, post-pubescent,  high-school need to be popular. It strikes me that, with the millions of people now taking advantage of the “twitterverse” (a word which in some circles might bring you scorn were you to use it), it would be ludicrous to attempt to impose such regimental boundaries and values on the wide-ranging, culturally, ethnically and geographically diverse group of users that Twitter represents.

I have ardently followed many of the recent  Twitter news blogs and articles and the most outstanding leit-motif amongst them seems to be a need to stand out from the masses – a not uncommon phenomenon in mass media. Articles delineating why the author chose to unfollow thousands of people, articles berating people for playing the big “follow” game, and articles giving advice about who to follow and not follow depending on, of all things, their avatar or their bio (ie. If it says Location: Planet Earth then don’t follow).

In most circumstances the Twitter elite are categorized by the fact that they have a lot of followers without having to follow too many people back, if any. Why does this make them elite? It relies on pre-Twitter norms of societal judgment – celebrity. And yet, we should aspire to better things with a communication tool such as Twitter. The currently accepted norm is: You are elite if you don’t have to work hard to get people to follow you and you don’t even have to really acknowledge those followers by returning the favour of following them.

One would hope that with the trans-ethnic, trans-gender and trans-border reach of Twitter, we would be able to establish a new definition of importance. The very world “elite” itself invokes a colonialism and class-distinction whose time came and went in the 1800’s and yet still excludes people whose ideas and words we dismiss simply because they aren’t Oprah or AplusK.  Do we really have a dialogue with these so-called Twitter elite? I think, rather, we just serve as their serfs in on-going publicity wars.

Yes, I am one of those people who follows a lot of people in order to gain followers. Why has this suddenly become anathema to good Twitter manners? Are we perpetuating a new form of snobbism by suggesting that all of our followers aren’t really worthy of following back? Granted, some aren’t worth the time of day,  but methinks they count in the lower percentage. I follow back a lot of people because I would like to have a greater reach for my conversation, interaction, and, yes, influence. That being influence in terms of socio-political ideas not mass-marketing of some ridiculous software programme that will make millions of untold income for the poor sods who purchase it.

In any case, I strongly believe that all of the scolding Twitter users are receiving on a regular basis regarding how they should behave  is no more than another venue for some people to differentiate themselves from the masses. If we followed their advice and cut out the bulk of our followers or only followed the so-called elite or those with acceptable avatars,  we would severely limit the reaches of our conversations through a media that begs for, and whose very purpose is  greater global outreach.