The YouTuber and social media critic known only as Fidelbogen, one of the prime movers behind Coalition JS38, has created a meme for Twitter that is well worth repeating:
If there is any flaw to this meme–and it is barely a flaw, for you can argue that what I suggest is unnecessary–it is that Fidelbogen did not make sure that the people at the White Ribbon campaign got the message directly. To understand this, it is probably necessary for a digression and short tutorial on Twitter, how to use it, and why you, as a Men’s Human Rights Advocate, probably ought to be using it.
I am frequently told by friends that they “do not understand” Twitter. These are invariably older people (“older” in this context being almost anyone over the age of 25), and are usually veterans of online forums, blogs, and/or places like Facebook. They are frustrated by Twitter because they expect it to be something it is not: a forum for lengthy discussions. It is no such thing, it will never be any such thing, and to use it effectively you must throw away and forget every preconception and look at it as a different thing.
Fuming that Twitter does not work the way you want it to work is as pointless as railing with anger that a movie is not in 3D, or that a book you are reading does not include smells and sound effects. Further, if you fume that you are “better” than Twitter and proudly insist that Twitter is pointless, that is an exercise in arrogance. It is a reality that Twitter is one of the most influential information platforms in the world. In some ways, it is the most influential. Television show and movie producers and ratings organizations use and watch Twitter to measure how popular a TV show or movie is. Politicians use and watch Twitter. Major industrial leaders watch and use Twitter. The White House uses Twitter. So do the Pope and countless other religious leaders.
Shaking your head and saying this is some sort of proof of the decline of Western Civilization is also pointless. It exists. It is massively popular and, more importantly, it is massively influential, and to understand why, it is important to understand what it is, and what it is not.
It is not a blog. It is not a discussion forum. It does not have convenient threading. It does not allow lengthy discourse. You should instead think of it as an exercise in discipline and restraint, like writing a haiku. You must distill your message to its absolute essence. If you cannot make what you say extremely pithy, with a straightforward and easily-digested message, you need another medium. If you find this frustrating as a writer, think of it as a challenge: how can you make your point in as few words as possible? And if you have multiple points to make, which of them are truly important and which can you do without if you must?
First time Twittering
Tweeter tries to write a tract
Message goes nowhere
Why so few words? Because Twitter is not a a forum, and it is not a blog. Twitter is not and never shall be those things. Nor will a submarine ever be a helicopter, nor shall a penguin ever be an antelope. Nor will an article be an encyclopedia. So you must stop wishing for Twitter to be what it isn’t, and embrace it for what it is.
So what is it? Simply put, it is telephone texting with a few creative twists added.
Let me repeat this point for emphasis, so it sinks in: it is telephone texting, with a few creative twists. Only instead of using a telephone number to send the message, it uses a Twitter address, and all twitter addresses start with @. My Twitter address, for example, is @deanesmay
Twitter was designed to work primarily as a telephone app. For added convenience, they created a web interface which you may also use, although it was really designed to fit compactly into a telephone. And because it uses technology that is fundamentally the same as telephone texting, you are limited to 140 characters.
The other twist is that whatever you tweet is public information. So imagine that anyone could connect to your phone and see every text you ever sent out. Does that seem not-very-private? That’s because it isn’t. So bear that part in mind, what you tweet you should treat as you would any public communication. Anyone who Follows you, and even those who do not, can see anything you tweet, any time, unless you block your account.
If it seems impossible to say anything meaningful in such a format, contemplate that you sound like someone in 1890 complaining that the Telegraph was destroying the art of letter-writing and that you could say nothing useful by telegraph. So, you know, a telegram like this must have been a completely useless communication, right?
DAD HAD STROKE STOP CAN’T FIND YOUR BROTHER STOP PLEASE COME HOME STOP
Hmm, yes, nothing meaningful in such a short message rendered in such primitive text. Why did anyone ever use such worthless technology as the telegraph?
The truth: Twitter, like the old telegraph, is an exercise in restraint, in learning to put the maximal information in a minimal amount of space. If you can’t be pithy, that’s not Twitter’s problem, it’s yours.
So whether you put Twitter on your phone, or, like me, just use its handy web interface, you must take off your author hat and put on your announcer hat: you have something you want to say and you must say it in as few words as possible. In fact, not just as few words as possible, as few letters. Because of this, abbreviations abound. And before you whine that you don’t like some of today’s abbreviations, ask yourself why modern abbreviations are somehow inferior to classics like QED, SOS, etc.
As a bonus, however, you have a choice: you can address your message to a single party, a small number of parties, or, to anyone generally interested in a particular subject. To address to a single party, you use their Twitter address. To address multiple parties with an interest in a subject, you create or follow an existing group called a “hashtag.” Hashtags always start with the # character. Thus anyone following the subject of the White Ribbon campaign is likely checking #whiteribbon at least now and then.
Twitter also sometimes makes it possible for you to see a “conversation,” but frankly it does not do this very well. You are, most of the time, better off at thinking what message you want to send to an individual, and it’s up to them whether they respond or not.
Contemplate the fact that million-dollar decisions, and questions affecting millions, are now frequently answered (or at least first asked) via this medium, and you realize that any fulminating that you dislike the medium is foolish; it is the message that matters. Saying nothing important can happen in 140 characters is like saying semaphore has no purpose.
Oh yes, there is one other nice feature: you can “retweet” a message. All that means it that you’ve repeated the message to anyone who happens to be following you on Twitter. You can follow any individual you want to see their tweets, and any individual may follow you to see yours. Every time you retweet, you help to spread that same message to others. It’s rather subversive that way, really.
So. It can be argued that Fidelbogen made a minor oversight here: he did not send his important, 100% accurate, vitally important message directly to @whiteribbon (and @whiteribbonaust), which is the address of the bigoted hatemongers, the enablers and encouragers of domestic violence and child abuse, who run the hate campaign known as White Ribbon. In my own tweets on the matter, I made sure to include @whiteribbon directly, and not just anyone who happened to be reading the #whiteribbon hashtag.
Some will probably call this form of activism “slacktivism.” This, I submit, is like suggesting that political tracts served no purpose in 1770s America. Yes, taking a revolutionary stance may make you unpopular in some circles. It may even cause family members and so-called friends to deride you or try to shame you into silence. What rabble-rousing troublemaker ever lived who did not have people in his life who mocked him or advised him he was being foolish?
If you want to change the world, you’ve got to spread the message that change is needed, and let the powers that be know that they must either change or perish–and that their only way of shutting you up is to either kill you or change their ways.
One last tip on Twitter, which I otherwise hope you will sign up for. When you tweet, try not to call people names, swear sparingly (saving such usage for maximum effect if you use it at all), and never issue anything that could be confused as a threat, or even a threat-oid like “I hope you die in a fire” or other such hyperbole. Choose your words carefully. Say exactly what you mean. Here was my message, inspired by Fidelbogen’s, for example:
@Whiteribbon is a sexist, anti-male hate group which spreads vile propaganda and false cultural narratives. #whiteribbon
You can feel free to retweet that (which the White Ribbon hatemongers will receive copies of), or you can make up your own.
Good luck to my fellow workers in the vinyard. Go FTSU on Twitter. And discover how much fun it can be.
Editorial note: Image of hatemonger Patrick Green of the White Ribbon Campaign used under Creative Commons license as found here on Wikimedia Commons.–DE
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