To tweet or not to tweet
Countless cringeworthy examples prove that Twitter can be a minefield
This was before she had learnt about my short-sighted and, in retrospect, snobbish move to restrict my internship applications to The New York Times and Time magazine. But to improve my internship prospects, the administrator at the career cell of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism insisted I change the picture on my blog. It was me with a glass of Pinot.
“But it’s a culture and lifestyle blog about New York City.”
“Why give anyone the impression that you’re a drunk?”
This was still 2009, when blogs were hot, and Twitter was only beginning to warm up. It was a year before I joined Twitter, or this would have been a longer exchange.
A few years ago, while waiting to start an interview with Arianna Huffington, I noticed that she had a fat bunch of printouts with my tweets. Huffington has always appeared to be a leader in office culture—apart from sleeping pods, Huffington Post offices in New York reportedly stocked unlimited “healthy snacks” such as green-apple slices—so I was inclined to believe that this was not the work of a lazy assistant. I inquired and was told that her office believed they could vet an interviewer through a brief history of her tweets.
Pontificating on Twitter control for professionals led me to an article titled “Twitter Dustups Are A Reminder: Journalists, You Are What You Tweet” on the website of the Poynter Institute—a non-profit organization dedicated to training media leaders. It points to cringeworthy examples that illustrate how Twitter can be a minefield. “Editors and legal departments spend hours and days tweaking wording to avoid bias and liability in stories and headlines—yet, with one sloppy tweet, journalists open themselves and their newsrooms to embarrassment and lawsuits,” it says.
Who should be the embarrassed party is a minefield in itself, as recent Indian examples show. For instance, should the journalist who was effectively fired for posting and then refusing to delete a tweet be the one embarrassed or the media house, for asking her to take it down? Moving beyond the world of media: Should an aggrieved employee who left a company on bad terms go on a social media rampage against their previous employer to clear their name or does this actually hurt their chances of finding employment later?
Corporate trainers promote aphorisms like “Never send an email when you’re angry”. But rational considerations are not on tap in the heat of the moment—or a dull afternoon. It comes down to one’s own sense of political correctness. When applying for a job, perhaps tweeting “No ideas are only coming what to do” is not the best move (true story). Nor are daily tweets about your reluctance to get out of bed and how you hate your colleagues and only love your cat.
In 2012, one of my all-time favourites, the author Jonathan Franzen, launched an acerbic campaign against all writers who were on Twitter (for context, he also hates Facebook and e-books). Franzen lamented the fact that writers such as Salman Rushdie had succumbed to the social media platform, calling it “unspeakably irritating” and “the ultimate irresponsible medium”.
It did not change my opinion of Franzen. For if you’re a true-blue tweeter, the one thing you must concede is that everyone is entitled to—apart from their own choice of display picture—their own opinion, whether it comes in 280 characters or in a format you don’t approve of.
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