A little bit about information and society

About the Ephemeral Nature of Twitter

This week research conversation featured Kathy Gill who talks about Twitter and its integration in the classroom context, but her talk went into lessons learned from usage of Twitter by people and specifically by politicians.

Gill’s motivation to research Twitter is derived from attempt to understand how technology impact society. While  looking at the presentation Twitter in the Classroom she commented that many have Twitter but don’t use them. Why? too much noise or they don’t care what others do during the day.

This presentation is her introduction to twitter to students: http://wiredpen.com/2009/02/24/intro-to-twitter/

Her insigts from using heavily and teaching Twitter:

1. Twitter is a conversation space not a publication.

2. Disinformation and information can move so rapidly on Twitter, without any easy way to correct it. More problematic the messages ephemeral nature. Since archiving twits is still in its infancy, many of the twits are inaccessible if it is more than two weeks. The case of Iran is interesting – specially the disinformation that came out of Iran and was fed to a large audience according to a specific world view.

3. Twit is not a twit is not a twit – a twit about breakfast is not a twit about a conference or a news item.

4. Twitter has the potential to be a democratizing technology. See her project “The Book” for example. The case of the wineries is a great example to how stakeholders were involved in the discussions.

Politicians: Twitter is a conversation space not a publication

Some of her insights about the elections: in 2008 we came to see politicians who started to use twitter. But there was almost no candidate in 2008 who used twitter as a conversation media, twitted by the politicians. One that she can thing of is Senator Edwards. Once Obama got the nomination, people noticed that twitter exist. But Gill warns that one shouldn’t use it like obama. The Obama Twitter was one-side channel with no interaction. His Twitter was all about “he” and “he”. Same thing happened with Clinton and McCane. the problem is that John McCanes’ twits are all gone now. They deleted all of them. Gill’s lesson from that is that therefore we should try to archive it all because the traditional gatekeepers are gone.

I think that when it comes to public figures, we should definitely find mechanisms to be able to archive them. Politicians have to know that when they twit they are not ‘off record’. The challenge is what happens ethically when you archive also conversations about people who are not public figures? How can we develop ethical mechanisms to allow eternal transparency and accountability and at the same time maintain privacy of individuals?

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There Are 9 Brilliant Comments

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  1. carmel says:

    twitter moves between conversation and publication and sometimes it’s a matter of changing contexts. i didn’t realize that myself till i experienced twitter’s non synchronous archival publication nature come into play, when a thoughtless gossip conversational tweet about a celebrity was caught by that celebrity’s info tools that probably gather for him all his name mentions and he reacted to it as if i spoke about him on public radio… lack of awareness to both natures and changing contexts between them is what causes many false perceptions of privacy too and it’s a problem on blogs and forums as well.

  2. karineb says:

    True – I remember you told me the story. But this was a temporary archive – meaning the person who saw your conversation saw it immediately. If he tries to track the same conversation today, that would be almost impossible. Or to be more accurate – it is dependent on the decision google does as to what should be archived and what not (and usually it is only an item not the whole conversation).
    I do agree that Twitter should be regarded as both – conversational and for Publication purposes (maybe there are even more types out there). I think here critic came in context of politicians who use Twitter only for publication purpose and therefore loose a lot of the advantages it may offer.

  3. Kathy says:

    Karine, thanks for your notes! I wasn’t certain how much to talk about pedagogy and how much to talk about “Twitter”. Probably should have mentioned that at the outset!

    I heard or read something like this the other day: in 50 years, there will be naked photos of everyone on the Net and no one will care. Until then, you need to care.

    I think that as we get accustomed to living in an age of transparency (“Big Brother”), the ethical questions you raise about recording routine conversations will not be an issue. “Recording” will simply be an “is.” Not making a judgment about “rightness” or “wrongness” … just the future as a logical progression of the present.

    BTW, I had something happen like Carmel’s when I was very new to email and mailing lists. A casual complaint from me — what seemed like immediate counter-attack from the person I had inadvertently disparaged. Maybe we all need to learn that lesson *early* in our online careers?

  4. karineb says:

    thanks Kathy.
    If we won’t make judgments about the recording/archival mechanisms and ask ourselves the ethical questions, we will step towards a dangerous direction. I believe the questions of right and wrong must escort us in each step when applying technologies. Specially in open technologies like Twitter which easily highlight the tensions of basic rights: privacy vs. free speech, transparency and accountability vs. privacy, etc, etc…

  5. BobM says:

    Perhaps Kathy, you may be right–that 50 years from now all that you describe will be accepted practice, but I don’t accept the technological imperative that technological capabilities fully determine what we as societies will accept. I agree that the limits of privacy are being eroded, but I’d like to see us give attention to the issues and not simply accept the trends as either inevitable or desirable. Humans need a certain degree of privacy, for example, for social sanity, and the tensions Karine mentions should be discussed by professionals, academics, and the next generation.

  6. Gad Barzilai says:

    I consider Twitter as a relatively meaningful sociopolitical tool. First, it may provide horizontal information very efficiently and expediently. Second, it is easy to use and since it is limited to 140 characters, it is easily read. Thirdly, it is relatively difficult to prevent and censor, which makes it a reasonably good tool to engender some protest . Twitter will not fundamentally change politics, notwithstanding it may be useful to assist in reforming it. We should be aware that political elite, business elite, and political rulers can use it similarly to their purposes as well.

    Thanks Karine for sharing it.

    Gad Barzilai

  7. Kathy says:

    Hi, Karine — when I said “not making a judgment” — I meant I’m not trying to judge that future state. I don’t plan on publishing naked photos of myself online, but I also don’t think that a person’s sex life should be fodder for “news” sites simply because the person is a celebrity. I think the person who made that comment was referencing our culture’s puritan ethic as much as ubiquitous connectivity.

    And Bob, I agree with you that we should not mindlessly give up agency in the face of new technologies. I am currently hanging my hat of hope on transparency when talking about politics, government, news. Computer-mediated transparency in government is a logical extension of sunshine laws as well as open records laws. We have only to look at the prior administration’s record regarding non-Whitehouse email accounts to see that without diligence, public officials can easily (deliberately or accidentally) bypass public records requirements. We didn’t talk about the almost invisible trail of direct Twitter messages, something that could make it relatively easy to conduct campaign business from government computers, for example. Arghh. I just thought of that! And I truly dislike this suspicious side of myself, because I believe that these actors are in the minority.

    Gad, we did not talk directly about Twitter’s use in organizing protests, but yours is a good point. We have many anecdotes.

    In retrospect, I think I should have given my “intro to Twitter” or my “Twitter and Iran” talk rather than try to talk about pedagogy. 🙂

  8. MarkSpizer says:

    great post as usual!

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