Saturday, 1 May 2010

Twitter and twats

Twitter? Tweeting? Unless you’ve used Twitter, they’re probably a phrases you’re sick of hearing. The best description of Twitter I can think of is that sending a ‘tweet’, a short text message, via Twitter is like sending a text message via your mobile phone - the difference is that on Twitter you usually use your computer to send and receive messages and the message you send is posted on the internet for all to see, not just sent to one recipient as is normally the case with your mobile.

Granted, that doesn’t sound too exciting, but the power lies in that you can subscribe to the ‘tweets’ of particular users, so you only receive updates from the people or organisations you wish. For example, you can subscribe to news websites who publish their headlines via Twitter, follow what your friends are up to, or keep up to date with the plethora of celebrities who insist on publishing the minutiae of their personal lives. In short, it’s a quick way to scan a number of sources for the information you’re interested in.

To get a feel for what Twitter is all about, have a swatch at these Shetland related Twitter pages (type www.twitter.com into your browser followed by the page name); PromoteShetland, ShetlandArts, DaWadderMan, FiddlersBid, ShetlandHomes, ShetlandFolk, TheBeatCroft, YouthVoiceReps, ShetlandCanoe, ACarmichael4MP

The last page I noted above is that of our MP (or perhaps ex-MP depending on the election results) Alistair Carmichael. As I write this article, the internet is filled with information, news, gossip and hearsay relating to the general election and many politicians are now ‘down with the kids’ and using Twitter to get their message across.

Whilst most politicians’ Twitter pages are filled with standard political fare, others have committed career threatening faux pas through misuse or misunderstanding of the new communication medium.

Perhaps the biggest ruckus was caused by Labour MP David Wright, who posted a tweet in response to the Conservative party’s slogan “I've never voted Tory before, but ... " which read “…because you can put lipstick on a scum-sucking pig, but it's still a scum-sucking pig. And cos they would ruin Britain."

The hapless official has since backtracked, apologised and made up a series of unlikely excuses including that someone must have hacked his account. He has since retraced the “scum-sucking pig” phrase but stands by the sentiments of his original post; he has a track record of such outbursts, having used Twitter to describe David Cameron as a “horrible opportunistic scumbag”. Even if you agree with his synopsis, it’s not behaviour becoming of a MP.

But Cameron got into twitter related trouble himself by commenting on radio last year that "The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat." Presumably he meant “tweets”, not “twits”. But whether he understood the Twitter vernacular or not, he quickly got himself into deeper hot-water by describing the public as being “pissed off” with Labour. Ironically, Cameron had earlier in the interview said, “politicians have to think about what they say". An apology was quickly issued.

A sassier slip was made by Labour Councillor John Warmisham who mistakenly used his council twitter account to post dubious drunken saucy comments whilst on the lash. Having noticed his gaffe he commented, “I was on holiday and I was supposed to be sending messages on a private Twitter account, but I did it on my councillor one. They were supposed to be private chats between me and my girlfriend and everyone's having a right laugh at me now.” Me included.

But the most odious instance I’ve encountered is that of prospective Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan. The now sacked political aspirant posted a series poor taste tweets including one that read "God this fairtrade, organic banana is shit. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one, please?" In other tweets he slated fellow politicians, referred to pensioners as "coffin-dodgers", called an elderly lady the "ugliest old boot I've ever seen" and sprinkled the c-word liberally throughout his twitterings.

As David Cameron nearly said, be careful what you tweet or you’ll look like a teat.

Article for Shetland Life magazine - May 2010

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