Shabbat Goy: Don’t be a twit while you Twitter

The networking service can be useful if you want to reduce the debate to the level of a truculent teenager – but sometimes it really isn’t the medium.

By AKIN AJAYI
June 11, 2010 22:15
Shabbat Goy

shabbat goy kid 58. (photo credit: Pepe Fainburg)

I still can’t make up my mind about Twitter. Since I’m sure you all know about Twitter (and if you don’t, what’s about to follow will probably bore the pants off you, so feel free to turn the page), suffice it to say that it can provide a useful stream of up-to-the-minute information about the things that matter in the world today.

Twitter, for instance, was quite influential in spreading the news around the world last year about the Iranian protests. Pretty much everyone who is anyone has a Twitter feed: writers, musicians, newspapers, governments. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a Twitter feed too. I’ll come back to that later.

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So Twitter, in the broadest sense, can be pretty useful, with succinct (140 characters, maximum) updates pointing users in the direction of handy information. When used effectively, it keeps people connected and in the loop, which is no bad thing.

But on the other hand, Twitter is also home to a large and rapidly expanding tribe, a group of people gradually colonizing the interface and cluttering it with information of no use or interest to me.

I am, of course, referring to that group of people who describe themselves as fans of Justin Bieber.

Bieber, for the mercifully uninformed, is a 16-year-old singer and teen heartthrob du jour. The possessor of a distinctly unusual hairstyle and a range of dance steps that recall Michael Jackson in his prime, Bieber performs a rather neutered version of so-called “Urban” R&B music. He’s not really to my taste, as you might guess. But then, since I am not a member of his core demographic – girls aged 11 to 14 – this probably matters not a jot to him.

But back to Twitter. Twitter keeps track of the most actively discussed topics through a process known as “Trending.” Bieber, it seems, has been a “Trend” since the dawn of time, more or less. This shouldn’t surprise: According to his Twitter homepage, he has just under three million followers, who no doubt hang on to his every utterance.



This ought to be all very well and good; it’s a big world after all, and I’m sure that Man and Bieber-Lovers should be able to coexist in harmony. However, since there are so many Bieber fans lurking malevolently on Twitter, it is pretty hard not to get bits and pieces from the Bieber world injected into my reading matter from time to time.

Take this sample from young Master Bieber that somehow wound up in my Twitter feed the other day: “yeah I said it...after the show 2night we r jumping the pond to play WEMBLEY STADIUM 2morrow!!” Gosh, I’m really excited.*

Actually, I’m being dreadfully unfair to both Mr. Bieber and his fans. Twitter, for all its advantages, probably wasn’t designed to be a medium for sober and involved conversation. It’s a convenient little gizmo, and one that fits neatly into the world of the digital generation. But I’m not sure that people of my (ahem) advanced age ought to use it without caution and some self-awareness. It has its uses, no doubt; but one shouldn’t presume that it can replace the channels of communication that our generation are accustomed to using more effectively.

I was out of the country when the whole Gaza blockade business erupted a couple of weeks ago, on holiday and contentiously ignoring the news. So, the first I knew of it was after noticing that the word “Flotilla” – one that I’d never consciously used in speech or writing nor known anyone without a suitably nautical excuse to use – was “trending” on Twitter. Naturally, I was curious, and followed the link... I shouldn’t have bothered.

One principal shortfall of Twitter is that it isn’t shaped toward encouraging measured and reasoned debate and discussion. No wonder. There isn’t very much that one can say in 140 characters, and thus the objective seems to be for one to throw one’s point of view into the melee without any reference to anything that preceded it, or that is likely to follow.

Much like teenagers arguing, really. But then, Twitter is a teenager’s tool...

Anyway: Remember that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a Twitter Feed? Good. Naturally, it went into overdrive once everyone and his uncle started tweeting**  about what did and what didn’t happen on the high seas.


Fair enough, one must get one’s side of the story across – hasbara, and all that. The only problem was that the MFA seems to have entered the spirit of Twitter a bit too eagerly, and left the job of getting the message out to the world to a 15-year-old. And a rather confused one, at that.

Between the poor grammar, the misguided – if perversely admirable – attempt to take on each and every tweeter with something contrary to say about Israel, and an all-round shambolic approach to spreading the word, one thing became clear: Twitter is not the place for conducting important arguments; at least not by the organs of state.

True, it can be useful if you want to reduce the debate to “liar, liar pants on fire” – in short, to the level of a truculent teenager – but when important discussions are waiting to be had about the rights and wrongs of Israel’s policy in Gaza, for example, then Twitter really isn’t the medium.

Unless, of course, the MFA subcontracts the job to Justin Bieber. If nothing else, it’ll get an appreciative audience, something Israel is rather lacking at the moment.

Actually I lie. Here’s something worth tweeting: “The State of Israel will not be tried by its riches, army or technique, but by its moral image and human values.” Thus spake a chap called David Ben-Gurion.

Twitter was a bit before his time. But there still are some important things that can be said in fewer than 140 characters.

*Actually, I might be excited if Justin decides to tour Israel, given that everyone else seems to have canceled on us. But that’s another matter altogether...

**People using Twitter tweet their messages, apparently. I wonder if it makes them – us – a bunch of twits?


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