Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Going private as publicly as possible.

Two things happened recently that sort of go together. I had at least four different friends independently ask what the value of Twitter was, and Miley Cyrus quit Twitter in a very public fashion.

Well, I've certainly found value in Twitter. To me it's very much like a cocktail party. Whether or not you have a good time depends on whether you sit in a corner, or get out there and mingle.

I think there are three basic areas where 140-character conversations can be beneficial (I'll explore each in depth in future posts).

1) Personal - You exchange small talk at parties, and a standard complaint about Twitter is that small talk makes up the bulk of the conversation. But is it really worthless? Small tidbits and personal observations can help you get to know a person better. (But you can't always control who listens in.)

2) Professional - Many people are on Twitter to further their career in some fashion. Sometimes I'm one of them. It can be a great vehicle for collegial discussion and promotion. (Celebrities get this part, including Ms. Cyrus.)

3) Informational - Virtually every news organization has a Twitter feed. There really isn't a better vehicle for pushing out breaking news. I follow several news sources.

Like that proverbial cocktail party, Twitter can be whatever you make of it, which leads us to Miley Cyrus.

When celebrities first discovered Twitter (Ashton Kutchner, Oprah, et al.), there was a concern that the Twitter would be awash with vacuous tweets by the famous (or more likely, their assistants).

But Miley Curus seemed to have used Twitter for another purpose -- as sort of a micro-diary to do quick asides and further connect to her fans (see point 1). Unfortunately, Twitter can be a very public forum. Yes, in theory you can block people you don't want to follow you, and retain a certain amount of privacy. But if you have followers numbering over a million, it isn't difficult for at least one tabloid journalist to sneak in posing as a 14-year old girl.

And (no surprise) it wasn't long before information shared in tweets started showing up in the news. For some celebrities, this was gold and a dream come true. Because when reporters use celebrity tweets as their news sources, they're reporting the information the celebrities themselves provide, and so the celebrities get to shape (but not totally control) the message.

Ms. Cyrus, apparently, felt differently, and closed her account.

Now the story might have ended there, but she then produced and posted to YouTube a (cringe-worthy) rap video explaining why she closed her account -- which makes things a little more complicated.

Twitter is like a cocktail party. It's not a private phone conversation. Whatever you say can be overheard, because you're saying it in a public forum. And one thing we should have learned by now is that content released to the Internet often take on a life of its own, with no guarantees that the originator will have any control over where or how it's used.

It's one thing to quit the conversation if you're not having a good time. But when you decide to leave a cocktail party by standing on a chair and screaming your displeasure -- well. That's something else indeed.

Respect my privacy! Don't read my tweets (but please watch my video)!

A mixed message, to be sure.

- Ralph

Day 181 of the WJMA Podwatch. (No, WJMA doesn't have a Twitter feed -- but WTJU does!)

1 comment:

  1. Privacy is always a concern when we enter the social networking platforms anyways.