Unlike a lot of modern pop-culture writers, I'm something of a Luddite. I don't have a cell phone, I'm on instant messaging by appointment only, and I've only recently added Facebook, Reddit, and Hubski accounts to my social networking presence. As for Twitter, don't even bother looking for me - I'm not there.
I don't have any intentions of getting a Twitter account either. A large part of it is that I don't really feel that my thoughts are best expressed in 140 character tweets. I do, however, occasionally read Twitter, with mixed results. Some Twitter feeds are generally positive and fun to read. However, most of what I've seen leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
A recent survey discovered that 88% of online abusiveness across social media takes place on Twitter. Look at the Twitter feeds of anybody even remotely controversial, and it doesn't take long to find everything from insults to death threats launched in their general direction. Indeed, it all too often resembles an unruly schoolyard, with people calling each other out over issues that shouldn't merit more than a polite disagreement. Since a lot of this nonsense is carried out by adults who should know better, it's hard not to come away from it reminded of a Monty Python sketch involving grown men slapping each other with fish.
Marshall McLuhan once wrote that "the medium is the message," meaning that the medium of communication has a symbiotic relationship with the substance of what is being communicated. Agree or disagree, the medium certainly controls the shape of the message - and a 140 character limit is perhaps one of the worst possible mediums in which to attempt to send anything but the most simple of messages.
It comes down to what is easier to communicate, given the format. Each installment of Garwulf's Corner tends to come out to around 750-950 words, providing space to tease out some complexity in my topic of choice and get the discussion rolling. But, for an in-depth exploration, I'd need a feature length article or longer. Bring it down to a message of 140 characters, and any idea has to be boiled down to its most simple, absolute form. At this point, it's easier to call somebody an idiot than to express a good counter-argument, and the basic attack on the person is what so many people find themselves falling into.
To be fair, Twitter is good for certain things. As one of my friends pointed out, public utilities and service companies use it to good effect for getting information out, particularly during a crisis. And, it's a great way to highlight and draw attention to accomplishments. But, the discussion of complex ideas is just not something Twitter is suited for, and it's a bad idea to even try.
And this brings me to Steven Moffat. For those who don't know the name, Moffat is the current lead writer and show-runner for Doctor Who and Sherlock. He is also a highly divisive figure among fans, and by 2012 had developed a vigorous hate-dom (one anti-Moffat Tumblr went as far as to call itself "STFU-Moffat"). Moffat's female characters, such as his presentation of Irene Adler, along with Amy Pond and River Song, remain highly contentious among fans. As a result, he often found his Twitter account swamped by hateful tweets, to the point that he once tweeted the question of how one would go about setting up an ignore list.
On September 9, 2012, Moffat deleted his Twitter account (When asked, his wife stated that it was because Twitter had been occupying too much of his time lately. But while some people took it as Moffat running away from criticism or harassment, one thing was certainly clear: he had withdrawn from the proverbial fish fight. This had not in any way silenced him - his star continues to rise, he remains the lead writer and show-runner of two of the most successful television programs worldwide in recent history, and he continues to speak in interviews and the like. And, only a few weeks ago, Joss Whedon followed his example.
I wonder what would happen if anybody else who has had trouble on Twitter, from politicians to writers to game developers, took the same step. Not giving up, or ceasing to produce their writing, videos, or games, but just turning their backs on the fish fight and declaring it a waste of time. Letting their work, rather than the most simplistic expression of their ideas, speak for them.
At the very least, it might do wonders for their peace of mind.
Author's Note: As many of you are probably aware, this installment is being published as the trial of Gregory Elliott, one of the first criminal court actions in regards to harassment on Twitter, comes to a head in Toronto, with final arguments now made and a verdict expected in October. Considering the content of this particular Garwulf's Corner, I would be remiss if I did not at least provide some comment on it.
Frankly, while I think that there does need to be an active and working legal mechanism that successfully imposes consequences on those who use Twitter to stalk, threaten, and terrorize others, this has to be one of the worst possible test cases. To begin with, even the police have testified that no threats were issued by the defendant. And, while it is true that a stalker can become threatening through unwanted attention alone, this does not appear to be one of those instances. Rather than being a one-sided situation where one party was haranguing the other, this seems to be a case of two highly vindictive parties using a criminal court to settle their squabble. By all rights, both sides should have walked away from it long before the police were ever involved.
One day, there might be a worthy test case for criminal harassment on Twitter, but this isn't it. This is the Twitter fish fight, brought into real life and wasting a criminal court's time.
Author's Other Note: My latest story in The Eternity Quartet, The Conjurer's Treason, is now available for download from Amazon.com.
Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, Garwulf's Corner, and the co-author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora. His current fiction project is The Eternity Quartet, with Ed Greenwood. His Livejournal can be found here, his Patreon-based magazine experiment, Garwulf Speaks, can be found here, and he is now on Facebook. He can be reached by email at garwulf at escapistmag.com.