Our latest Twitter round-up’s just appeared on Cricinfo. It was an unusually tough assignment. We’d sign into Twitter, get distracted by the latest developments arising from Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography and then find that we’d lost an hour or more. We’d then force ourself to close down Twitter so that we could get some work done before remembering that Twitter was our work. Repeat.
Twitter isn’t fundamentally bad
Despite what many believe. It’s just people, after all. People are good and bad. If your experience of Twitter is always negative, you’re following the wrong people. Follow good people and it’s an always-accessible sounding board for thoughts and ideas; a friendly online pub full of witty, erudite people who like to discuss things and trade one-liners.
However, of late logging in has been to waltz onto a medieval battlefield sans armour. A 24-hour argument is being maintained and even if you don’t get involved, it can be a bruising experience. If you ever feel emotions for other people, you won’t go long without sympathy or anger welling up in you. Absorbed in the debate, you don’t notice it happening either – at least until you go to bed and realise that it will take literally hours before the tension subsides.
Pick a side
The annoying thing for us is that the Pietersen story raises lots of interesting questions about the way the sport is run in England. We’d like to discuss these things, but we can’t. We always consider this website to be quite a friendly place, but even here it’s impossible to criticise the ECB without people assuming you must therefore be on KP’s side. Conversely, criticise KP and you are ascribed all sorts of other opinions as a consequence.
It’s like English cricket has devised two new stereotypes and is getting busy with its label maker, tagging everyone. On Twitter, this polarisation is even more pronounced.
Fight your corner
The word ‘tweet’ sounds so fey and inconsequential, but reading them at the moment is exhausting. Even when we broadly agree with someone, we’re often put off by the vehemence with which they put their point across. People we otherwise enjoy speaking to – often contemporaries; the pseudo-colleagues of the freelancer – seem incredibly militant all of a sudden.
Perhaps the chaos is addictive. Perhaps people enjoy the feeling of being at the centre of something major that is unfolding, surrounded by well-known names, not knowing where things are going.
A lot of KP/ECB-related Twitter output is a kind of directionless rage broadcast to the ether – almost an invitation to combat. At other times, a target is identified – and if there is no target, it doesn’t take much to create one. Disagree forcefully enough with something someone says and they will respond in kind. A quick to and fro and two people who thought they occupied middle ground suddenly find themselves entrenched at opposite extremes. Suddenly you find you have a stance – and then everyone else piles in.
And oh how they pile in
Maybe it’s the number of people who can get involved in a Twitter debate that causes all of this. Crowd behaviour is greatly influenced by a reduction in each individual’s sense of personal responsibility. That’s how mobs form. But a reduced sense of personal responsibility is something that can surely only be exacerbated by the pseudonyms and physical distance that come with Twitter.
You can say what you like and you can get carried along with the crowd. That’s dangerous enough, but compounding this is the fact that the more people who are discussing something, the more quickly the debate moves. This is exciting, your adrenaline fires. Yet if you’re involved, you may feel you have to become more and more extreme in what you say so as to be heard above the noise.
In short, things escalate.
What’s your point?
No point. Modern world, self-control, polarised debate.
And even for conscientious objectors, it’s hard to ignore a medieval battle. It takes willpower to look straight ahead when you pass an accident on the motorway. When this sort of melée is just a click away, what chance have you got – particularly when you can sit on the sidelines, invisible to all the combatants?