Monday, April 15, 2013

Too much Twitter outrage makes me want to look at cats

One of the occupational hazards of following a lot of campaign organisations and activists on Twitter is that your timeline can suddenly erupt in white hot anger over something terrible going on in the world somewhere.

Climate change; bedroom taxes; public corruption; private corruption; miscarriages of justice; ...the list is as long as the iniquities of the world.

Twitter's political updates can be informative and a spur to action at least half the time - after all, that's why I follow these accounts in the first place. But unfortunately, I tend to find I have finite reserves of outrage. 

The other half of the time the cumulative effect is enough to make me want to skip through until I can find some soothing pictures of cats to look at. 

Twitter in full-on outrage diva mode is like being in one of those pub-discussions-gone-wrong where people tell you earnestly that something is awful, that the world is doomed, the Government can't do anything right, or that Knightmare wasn't anywhere near as good after they introduced the Eye Shield.*

In other words: the priority is on affirming a particular world view and taking the moral high ground on an issue, not taking action to sort it out.

And then, like a call and response formula in a church service or a political meeting, you get those repetitive retweets bouncing around the echo chamber. I get it, we like to amplify our cause, but too much re-tweeting of opinion pushes the signal to noise ratio beyond usefulness.

Still another similarity to the pub meeting is the tendency of some tweeters to monologue their anger - to use tweet after tweet to hold forth, rather than sticking it all behind the click-through. Justified if you're tweeting live reportage from an event; if you're just venting your spleen not so much. 

So, comrade, some fraternal advice: 140 characters is a creative limitation, not an invitation to spam my timeline.

And then when a monologue gets retweeted tweet by tweet - aieeeeee! It burns, mother!

And I'm an activist, mark you. I should be interested in injustice in everywhere, all the time, right? But  if it's having this effect on me, what it's doing to the less committed? Those tweeters who we want to listen to us, or else we're just talking to ourselves. The people who will probably un-follow you if you wear them out by coming on 24-7 like Cybercitizen Smith.

If Twitter makes us all citizen journalists, then to be heard, it's not enough to be outraged, to feel you're right or that something is important. We need to follow the first commandment of journalism: be interesting. Heck, be inspirational, if you can.  
  • Write in such a way that the people who follow you want to read your tweets, reply to them, and help your cause. 
  • Talk about the actions you take - be the change in the world.
  • Re-tweet your causes selectively not compulsively
  • If you have a lot to say, you should probably find another vehicle for your thoughts and tweet links to it. Unless you're say, Lady Gaga, Piers Morgan or some other global megastar.
Be angry, by all means. But make your anger funny, heart-breaking, compassionate, unmissable and always, always connect it to real world action.

*Knightmare wasn't anywhere near as good after they introduced the Eye Shield. FACT.


  1. I found the volume of injustices overwhelming, to the point of unable to take action because what do you choos? Then, as you say, the overwhelming amount of communication, positive and more often than not, negative comments about said thing, whether what you did was good or not. At some point, it's time to withdraw and do something else.

    1. Thanks Carol - I know what you mean, how to choose between causes and the sheer volume of communication that go with them, and then having to deal with the feedback of others. It can get too much IRL, and it's amplified online.