I must say I am often someone who wonders about Twitter. While I work with some of the world’s leading researchers into Twitter, such as Axel Bruns and Jean Burgess, I am also sympathetic to the view that it can be a platform for planetary level public shaming and virtue signalling.
We should not necessarily criticise people for engaging in low-cost forms of public participation. As Barbie Zelizer has recently noted, responses to images such as that of the body of Aylan Kurdi, the Kurdish boy who drowned trying to take a boat into Europe, have had a significant impact in reframing the often toxic conversation about access to countires such as those of Europe – as well as Australia – from conflict zones such as Syria.
But there is also a point to Helen Lewis’s observation that a social media hivemind can generate a political echo chamber, when one takes it to be a proxy for broader public opinion. Just as the US Republican Party succumbed to such hivemind thinking in the assumption that Mitt Romney was going to win the 2012 Presidential election despite opinion polls largely indicating the return of Barack Obama, so too did the UK left overestimate the electoral support for Ed Miliband’s labour party in the May 2015 General Election, only to be surprised by the actual votes of the real electorate. Or as Suzanne Moore subsequently observed in the Guardian:
In that respect, it was nice to find an endorsement of the argumetns I made in Global Creative industries on Twitter by Gian Paolo Manzella. Manzella is a regional Councillor for Lazio in the Italian Democratic Party, a centre-left party that is the successor to the famous Italian Communist Party. Manzella’s endorsement of the book from a policy perspective can be found here (English translation here).
The subsequent online exchange confirmed what can be described as the nice side of Twitter: the opportunities it presents for instantaneous collaboration among strangers across distances, when required.