To Respond or not, that is the question…

Posted: 26 July 2013 in internet, life, don't talk to me about life, personal, politics

I’ve been on Twitter for about six and a half years, from the start of 2007.

In that time, somehow, I’ve managed to attract a few followers, and I currently follow about 500 people’s tweets. Some of those people tweet more than others, fairly obviously, so it’s not like I’m reading 500 people’s views, opinions, and what they had for lunch.

Lots of these people I know, as in I’ve met them, or known them online for years. Some of them I’ve not met, and am never likely to. And some people I follow because I admire them, and – as much as you can, having never met them – like them.

I like Twitter. I like the to and fro of conversation. I like how Twitter can simultaneously lift your sprits, lower your expectations, bring a smile to your face, and hugely embarrass you in a coffee shop as you burst out laughing at something you’ve read.

But there’s a darker side to Twitter. A nasty side. In fact, there’s more than one. I’ve written about the horror and nastiness of ‘@ attacks’ previously, a problem for which I’m still genuinely struggling to find a solution.

Another less than pleasant side of Twitter is both far easier and far harder to solve. Even though the solution is well-known, executing it, following through with the policy, is sometimes one of the hardest things in the world for someone online: it’s simply not responding to specific tweets.

At this point, I would be remiss (and I’d probably be fired from the Internet) if I didn’t refer to one of the smartest and most perceptive of all the cartoons produced by

So, ok, we all recognise that, I’m sure.

So what makes it worse when it’s someone you know, or someone you like, or someone you respect and admire? I don’t know. But it does. In spades.

Recently, I had an experience on Twitter where I suspect I did not cover myself in glory. Someone I respected and certainly admired for her work and how she’d led her life made a comment that was ignorant at best and astonishingly plain stupid in respect of comic books. It ‘pressed a button’ of mine and I responded less than politely, calling her ignorant, challenging her reasonably aggressively. I meant ‘ignorant’ in the literal sense of the word, but in retrospect I probably should have used a different word. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility (probability even) that she was simply unaware that comics had changed in forty years; I should have taken the opportunity to hopefully educate her rather than make her think that I was one of ‘those’ twitter users.

Ah well, hopefully a mutual friend will ease that particular rocky patch.

The two golden things that are pretty much guaranteed to rile any Twitter user are, inevitably, religion and politics. And, fortunately, there are more than enough places in the world where the two are conflated by everyone concerned (residents, onlookers, commentators and the Internet) so you can offend twice as many people at one go!

So what do you do when someone you like, someone you admire, someone who’s work you respect, makes a comment that is just so wrong-headed, so.. just so… just so WRONG (in your eyes) that to leave it there unchallenged is equally wrong?

Me? I’m going to try to start realising that whether or not I respond is irrelevant. It’s unlikely that I’d ever change their mind over a deeply held opinion; debating the subject is equally unlikely to change either of our minds. And if I don’t respond? Hey, 30 seconds later it’s gone from my timeline, scrolled into the electronic ether.

There are some exceptions, of course. Provably incorrect urban myths, mistakes and just plain errors of fact are worth correcting. (I’ll leave it to others to judge the line for themselves where something crosses from opinion into fact; if you believe it’s an easy decision in all circumstances, try discussing Israel online sometime…; it’ll cure you of that certainty in a fucking heartbeat.)

I’m reminded of an occasion where a comedian I hugely respected made a crass comment about Jews, repeating a quite widely believed but flat wrong myth. He was corrected by many people and not only apologised but did so in a way that the honesty of the apology and how foolish he felt for repeating the myth were plain to everyone.

There are subjects I don’t discuss ‘in real life’ with friends. It’s not worth it. One friend of mine genuinely, honestly, believes that the Jewish practice of circumcising infants is child abuse. We don’t discuss the inconvenient-to-our-friendship-otherwise fact that my son is circumcised.

You know what? I’m going to try and follow Wil Wheaton’s advice, and try not to be a dick. It’ll be for others to judge how successful or not I am.

  1. An ongoing battle waged by many of us, Lee. I’m fairly certain that I’ve failed to hold to Wheaton’s advice myself on more than one occasion. Sometimes miserably so, to tell a truth already well known to several mutual acquaintances.

    We’ll both have to keep trying.

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