Back in the Playground: Bitching on Twitter

I’ve really got into Twitter this year and can see how it can become quite addictive. However, one aspect of it I just can’t get my head round it the bitching.

Social networks unite people but they can also do a good job of being elitist and alienating people. For some reason Twitter seems to be the right application in which to be clique and have a dig at people.

This revelation has been a long time coming. I’ve watched Twitter back channels at events for some time now and have on occasions felt quite uncomfortable reading some of the personal comments made. It’s almost as if people think that because it’s being said using a social networking tool (rather than in the ear of the person next to them) it’s OK. Quite the opposite. I’m sure there is many a presenter who has put themselves through hell reading the unkind comments written about them.

Last week I read a really interesting article recently on How to Present While People are Twittering. I’d recommend it. Olivia Mitchell offers tips on how to manage the back channel telling us that when presenting we need to embrace this new feedback method by monitoring the channel and being prepared to change course and adapt.  Mitchell reminds us of an occasion at the SXSW Interactive Festival 2008 when Sarah Lacy was interviewing Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. She explains: “Audience unhappiness with the direction of the interview spread through the back channel and ended up with the audience taking over the interview.”  In Jeremiah Owyang’s account of the event he explains that Sarah Lacy’s reputation has been marred as an interviewer by the extensive coverage of blogs and even mainstream media.

It seems to me that we now expect people to be like the Internet – fast, immediate, know the answer to everything, always on the ball. If they don’t deliver (straight away) than it’s OK to have a dig. I’m just not sure about this. What ever happened to giving people a chance? And being polite?

I’m all for positive and constructive criticism and tweeting at events can be a really useful activity for everyone but people need to remember what you say is out there for everyone to see. Some of the comments I’ve seen could even be construed as cyberbullying. I think events that have a Twitter back channel need to make sure they are upfront on Twitter etiquette and include something in an acceptable use policy. I intend to do this for the  Institutional Web Management Workshop event I co-chair.

We are all grown up now. Let’s not go back to the school playground…