Everyone has become awfully snooty about Twitter recently. In part, this is because it has reached the critical mass of followers necessary for any social networking mechanism to stop being cool. But to an ever-growing number it is also being seen as a genuine threat to the way we gather news and process information.
Undeniably, the Internet has shortened our collective attention span. The intertextuality of the web – all those hyperlinks! – encourages us to get bored quickly and move on. But, along with the threat of news aggregators like The Huffington Post, which summarises the day’s most significant events into more easily digestible epigrams, Twitter is being heralded as the greatest danger; the final proverbial Horseman come to bear us to an Apocalypse of Stupid.
And this is just not the case. If Twitter is guilty of anything, it is of furthering the alarming belief held by so many keyboard-wielding loons that everything they say is interesting. The 140-character limit may encourage brevity, but it doesn’t do much to filter out myriad varieties of virtual navel-gazing.
Still, nothing can obscure the fact that whatever hypothetical detriment Twitter may pose to man’s ability to regulate the distinction between ‘Ideas to say out loud’ and ‘Thoughts to keep to one’s self’, it has proved itself to be of actual value in far more material ways.
Think back to June of this year, when the site was used to voice dissent for the alleged incidences of electoral fraud taking place across Iran. When every other channel of the media was closed to disenfranchised Iranians, they turned to Twitter to alert the rest of the world to what was taking place.
Still, surely this is not a function that we will ever have to utilise, no? Well, yes, actually. On October 12, The (other) Guardian reported that it had been prevented from reporting on Parliament by a so-called superinjunction, which not only forbade the newspaper from mentioning what was said in Westminster, but also what law had been invoked to forbid them from doing so, and even what client had paid for the invoking.
One tweet from editor Alan Rusbridger and soon the whole thing was out in the open: oil traders Trafigura had been accused of dumping tons of toxic waste off the coast of Africa, and a question had been raised by an MP.
So perhaps Twitter can serve some useful purpose in disseminating the news. And we may not report on oil scandals, but you can still find us at http://twitter.com/glasgowguardian