Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Twitter Junior High

Surviving Social Media Adolescence

Illustration © Mits Katayama

Popular kids, poseurs, drama queens, bullies, geeks and weirdos—all the the archetypes we came to love or loathe in junior high school—can be found on Twitter.

Although you'll find most people fit into the "normal" category, in recent months several occurrences took some of the shine off my otherwise happy Twitter experience:
  • A troll attacked me on the open time line
  • Someone tried to undermine several online friendships
  • I was accosted because I disagreed with an opinion
  • A person unfollowed me because I didn't divulge a secret
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO DON'T KNOW, a "troll" is someone who gets their kicks by issuing inflammatory comments with the intent to provoke. Trolls are cowards and bullies.  If you've not experienced one firsthand, congratulations. When it happened to me, it reminded me of how I felt when I was in a car accident—shaken and freaked out. Except in extreme cases, Twitter's terms of service allow their behavior. What to do? Two things: Unfollow and block.

SOMEONE WORKING BEHIND THE SCENES attempting to sway alliances, is strictly junior high. This type of behavior should not be validated. If someone tells you something offline that casts a negative light on someone else—think twice before accepting it at face value. Ask yourself what sort of person has the time to engage in this kind of mischief, and then use your own common sense. 

A "POPULAR KID" came to me with a notion—that people on Twitter are racist. I don't buy that. I view Twitter as a meritocracy as well as a model macrocosm of egalitarianism. When I attempted to deflect the assertion with jokes, the person became cross with me and the dialog quickly escalated, making me uncomfortable. At that point I disengaged, hoping a "cooling off period" would help. I raised two kids and learned: Do not give attention to bad behavior.

IF A PERSON YOU KNOW UNFOLLOWS you, it's usually an unhappy thing. Having someone unfollow because you won't disclose a secret is the equivalent of a "Twitter tantrum." Does one person's desire to know something trump another's entitlement to confidentiality? I don't think so. When you betray someone's trust, you'll never fully get it back. Tweetlevel says, " It is trust that makes someone act — for this reason alone, having a high trust score is considered by many to be more important than any other category."

So with all of this negativity, why keep tweeting? On the flip side, some positive things occurred:
  • I've met some terrific tweeps face-to-face, including @MomsofAmerica @LoriMoreno @krystynchong @JessicaNorthey @MartyMcPadden and @Zaharoff. Actually being together, exchanging laughs, thoughts, experiences, hugs—sharing a meal—mean your virtual friendship jumps to the next level: real-life. And the thing is, people are so much cooler in person!
  • My buddy, @ellies58, helped me with a complicated task to help my son, a U.S. Army captain currently stationed in Afghanistan. It demanded an exceptional amount of trust on both sides, and both of our families were a bit concerned. But in the end, Ellie and I had the last laugh because it all came together. The whole experience really sealed our friendship.
  • Two friends (@iamwhite and @dallasnagata) met at a tweetup in Hawaii, courted, fell in love and got married—all of it unfolding before our eyes on Twitter. A contingent of Seattle tweeps including myself, @slickriptide and @BecauseUAreHere, virtually "attended" the ceremony at Kona Kitchen (a Hawaiian restaurant in Seattle) "live" via UStream. A dozen people gathered to watch. It was touching to see our virtual friends tie the knot.
  • And last—the spontaneous hilarity of engaging with friends on the Twitter stream is difficult to describe to someone who doesn't tweet, but let me just say some of the funniest things I've ever witnessed, read or taken part in have occurred on Twitter! Beside giving millions of people a sense of place, it can make you smile and laugh—things proven to be healthy for all of us.
For me, negative online experiences have lowered my tolerance for aberrant behavior. But by far, my connections with people on Twitter have been positive and have added value to my life. I'm constantly amazed by the kindness and generosity I encounter there, popular kids, poseurs, drama queens, bullies, geeks and weirdos notwithstanding.

One of the things I realized while being treated for cancer: There is no use worrying about things you cannot change.

That goes for people, too. 

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