Richard Garside (@richardjgarside) is the Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.
The other day I was accused on Twitter of being anti-semitic for expressing concern about the carnage unfolding in Gaza. My accuser went by the name of ‘Angry Citizen!’; the exclamation mark no doubt being significant.
Abuse and personal attacks, along with the ubiquitous spam, are the worst things about Twitter.
They are also fairly common, particularly if you express an opinion or view. As @motoclark, a former home affairs journalist and one of my recommended follows, pointed out to me: 1st rule of online debate:
“Within 4 to 6 exchanges of views one participant will accuse another of being a Nazi”.
These exchanges are usually unwinnable. Twitter offers a platform to those with strong views and a tenuous grip on reality to vent their feelings and attack others under the comforting shroud of anonymity. It is important not to take these attacks to heart. The only sensible thing to do is to ignore, block accounts and move on.
It is important not to confuse ‘winning’ a Twitter exchange with ‘winning’ an argument in the real world. Many people must waste endless hours striving for the former while neglecting to focus on the latter.
I started tweeting back in early 2009 as a way of understanding better what was becoming an increasingly significant element of the emerging social media landscape.
My approach to my Twitter feed has developed over time. In the early days I tended to post links to things I had written or offer the odd perspective or view. These days I still do that, while also posting links to news stories, research and reports that catch my eye.
If someone has taken the trouble to think about what I have tweeted and responded to me, I am always happy to engage in debate with them.
I was recently listed by @ReasonDigital as a Twitter “influencer of interest”, in part because I engage in debate with others, which was nice.
One thing I would recommend to anyone thinking about joining twitter is to decide from the outset whether they want to share personal stuff, or keep it professional.
I do the latter.
I do not regale my followers with information on what I had for breakfast or what football team they support (toast and Barcelona as it happens). I use Facebook for personal stuff with friends and family.
Because of my professional role and position in the criminal justice sector I also think it is important to be circumspect about what I write on Twitter.
The usual “personal capacity” disclaimer applies to all my tweets. But at the end of the day my tweets can reflect well or badly on my colleagues and organisation. I take that responsibility very seriously.
When it comes to following people I want to know what they are saying or think is relevant. Follow too many people and you risk losing interesting perspectives in an overwhelming background noise.
I therefore limit the number of people I follow to around 250, following and unfollowing over time.
One of the most striking things about Twitter these days is how it operates as the nation’s newswire service.
George Osborne’s spot of bother over his first class train travel arrangements was only a story because of Twitter.
Follow the right people and you can genuinely find yourself ahead of the news cycle in the way that would not have been possible even five years ago without an expensive news agency subscription.
Journalists, policy makers, voluntary sector types and researchers make up the bulk of my follows. But Twitter is also a great place for humour and light relief. I started following @stebax early on. He has a singular take on the world and also channels some of the weird and wacky stuff that is out there.
I have also belatedly discovered @ThePoke. They are the outfit behind the ‘I’m sorry’ Nick Clegg remix and are a good antidote to some of the grimmer aspects of the modern world.
Which reminds me, about Gaza…
This is the 29th post in the criminal justice/legal Why I tweet series. Read the others here.
The blog is taking its festive break and will be back on Monday 7th January 2013.
Check out Russell’s half day courses on Tweeting for work/business: