Charlie Fox, @defencegirl is a well-known legal tweeter who is also the author of ‘The MOD Stole My Boyfriend’ Blog which is supported by leading military charities and is shortlisted for this year’s DefenceIQ Blogger awards.


I am an LPC student and trainee police station lawyer, trying to crack the legal world and become qualified as a Criminal Defence Solicitor.  Not easy in a double-dip recession.  I am also a long suffering Army girlfriend; you see a few years ago I decided the stress of pursuing a tough career wasn’t quite enough and that I would quite like to add to it the worry of being in love with someone lots of people regularly try to kill.

I joined Twitter during the final year of my degree whilst my boyfriend was deployed.  I had been keeping a paper diary and it was not long before I was encouraged to transcribe the entries onto a blog I called ‘Letters to Nowhere, The MOD Stole My Boyfriend’ which attracted a loyal bunch of readers I am honoured to say are still with me today.  The Twitter account therefore operated as an interactive companion to the blog but also became a place where I talked to others in similar situations.  It also became a place for legal and criminal justice system discussion as I sometimes tweeted about my degree and experiences working in offender rehabilitation.

 

With the help of Twitter the blog really took off.  The Royal British Legion publicly declared their support for it and the Ministry of Defence have used one of my pieces as an unofficial ‘how-to’.  I have also had an article published in the Royal Air Force Families’ Federation Journal ‘Envoy’.

As the years have passed, my Twitter follower numbers have swollen.  The great thing is that as my life changed, my twitter account changed with me.  My feed has become almost a 50/50 split of legal discussion and military life with the majority of my tweets being chatter with other users.  I try to keep my ‘public’ tweets limited to as few as possible.

Why I use an alias

I don’t write anything particularly controversial, and I don’t troll others.  I have a pseudonym simply because my other half is a serving soldier who occasionally undertakes sensitive work and as anyone connected to the military will know, things said and done by one’s family in the public arena can have an unwanted effect on a career.  There are also personal safety risks which need to be considered.  To put it frankly, I do not want any hassle, I do not want to cause him any hassle and he will always be my priority.

The best and worst things about tweeting

I have made some wonderful friends; I have had opportunities opened up to me both in respect of my legal career and my writing. I have won a barrel of sweets, two books and three mugs!  There is a mix of everything on Twitter and you can tailor it to meet your personal interests, no matter how varied those are.  I keep up to date with sports scores, stories of close friends’ drunken debauchery, job vacancies, latest legal news and updates from Afghanistan using one scroll.  There really is nothing else like it.

Sadly there are downsides, too.  I have received some hideous messages, including ‘you live with a babykilling rapist’ amongst other uneducated drivel.  Fortunately it doesn’t affect me enough to actually do anything about it, and most of the time I just find it funny.

Unfortunately, Twitter contains people who lie about themselves in order to gain popularity.  From women who claim to be bereaved military spouses to those who have made up specialisms to get people to seek their advice, to those who have committed full-scale real-life fraud and theft I have quite literally seen it all.  The military in particular has long been an area where fantasists craving status and social acceptance have fabricated careers and relationships in order to obtain public appreciation.  We call them Walts, after Walter Mitty.

Dos and Don’ts

Don’t recycle news.  When Twitter was in its infancy, recycling one sort of news category (e.g. military, medical) was helpful as it sifted out what followers might be interested in.  Now there are dedicated news accounts for everything.  If you have found a specific story interesting then include a link to it combined with your own opinion, otherwise you will just annoy people through repetition.

If you want someone to follow you back then TALK TO THEM! I have turned off all my notifications so have no idea who has followed me recently.  Of course I am more than happy to have those who never say anything to me at all, but don’t expect me to know that you are there.  I’m not being rude, honestly.

Set yourself a limit of RTs for the day (say 5, or 7) and try not to go over it.  Constantly retweeting (RTing) things is just irritating.  If I notice someone interesting talking to someone I follow and decide I might like to follow them myself, I scan their feed.  If the majority of it is RTs then I close the window and don’t press the follow button.

Be careful when giving personal information out to someone you have just started speaking to.

There are lots of perverts on Twitter.  You’ll probably discover this for yourself, just a heads up really.  When my picture was of half my face I used to get filth sent to me on a daily basis.

The best way to get thousands of followers is to automatically follow everyone back. However, your Twitter feed will become a fast moving stream of incomprehensible rubbish and you will only be able to reply to what is written directly to you.

Remember that everything is written down.  Although you are using an application on your phone or computer, unless you delete what you tweet it will be stored on the internet forever.  Similarly, direct messages are sent via email, so even if you delete from your end the other person will still have a record of what you sent.  Do not post tweets unless you are sure that you are happy with them being available to other people for months or even years afterwards.

Ultimately it is a fantastic tool and a great way of staying in touch with friends, sharing pictures and reading current affairs updates tailored to your tastes.  You can follow me at @DefenceGirl and you can read my blog at www.themodstolemyboyfriend.com.  Thank you very much

Charlie

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Next week: Dr Brian Stout, @drbrianstout,  Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Western Sydney, writes about different academic approaches to Twitter and why he tweets.

 

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