Blame @mfarnsworth entirely.
After a series of Direct Messages (or DMs, as the kids say) on 28 December, Malcs posted a primer on how he uses Twitter. I hate to disappoint you by not revealing the content of said coup planning, I mean, direct messages, but having been encouraged by the estimable Mr Farnsworth into sharing my Twitter weirdness, here it is:
1/. In the beginning …
… there were politics and elections. I joined Twitter while working as a NSW political staffer on 4 April 2009. I was probably bored during Question Time & thought, ‘I know. I’ll give that Twitter thing a go’. It could very easily have been the trapeze I decided to take up that afternoon, but I started (a locked) Twitter account under my own name.
I soon discovered that to get the most out of Twitter, you have to put yourself out there. I unlocked my account, which didn’t go down very well with some of my former political masters – not because I was giving away state secrets, but because of the old political adage: ‘if you don’t want it in the Sunday papers, don’t do it’. I was warned that my openness about my mental illness (particularly, talking about my anxiety disorder medication in what I thought was a fairly innocuous way) was setting me up as an easy mark for the then-Opposition. To this day, I think it had more to do with the potential embarrassment for a story on staffers – and again, ‘staffers are never the story’.
2/. Why Twitter?
Twitter’s allure as a news and expert opinion aggregator is a no-brainer. In 2009, I used Twitter as a way of accessing information that helped me enormously while I was studying international relations. By 2010, in real-time, I was getting booth-by-booth results in the UK General Election, followed by the US Congressional races and sharing with incredulity the most awful attack ads I could find with @chas_usa. This year, I followed the Presidential election and violence in Cote d’Ivoire closely and engaged on a deeper level with people in Africa. Sometimes the foreign policy wonks / correspondents respond to my questions or tweets; most of the time I just seize upon the links and information they provide.
3/. Human Contact
There are #wonkdrinks, which in Sydney has lost momentum, and tweet-ups if someone is in town. I’ve met people who share my passions. I’ve made friendships I hope will last a lifetime – but a word to the wise: Twitter is not your friend. Never again will I participate in real life rescue missions for people I have never laid eyes on. Sounds callous? Try calling ambulances because people say they’ve overdosed, only to have the ambos told to go away. Then more messages and phone calls along the same lines. Result: cops at my door in the early hours of the morning whose jaws dropped on the floor when I said I had only ‘met’ this person through Twitter; followed by a complaint days later that I had made vexatious calls. Fortunately, there were several people who had been contacted and if I had to prove what happened, I could. Also: I’m more cautious about meeting people (only in a group setting first) and handing out my number via DM.
If someone follows me, I check out their tweets. If they’re real, and not trying to sell me real estate, cars or their social media expertise, I return the follow. It’s polite, and why I think my follower to following ratio is fairly even. That said, I will probably cut the number of accounts I follow in the new year – as I said, I rarely use a global filter. I either want to get news from you or engage with you. If we’re not getting that out of Twitter, what’s the point? I try to keep my list ‘clean’ as I rarely apply a global filter (exception: #auspol). Which leads me to my next topic …
5/. To block, or not to block?
I look at my new followers carefully, and I don’t just block spambots. Don’t try to sell me stuff. You’re blocked. If you tweet quotes, and that’s all – blocked. If you engage in vitriolic behaviour toward people I know on Twitter (especially people I have met) and respect, I will call you out on it, probably with added swearing, in public if you’re being an utter twat and then get out the old blockity block. See more under ‘Criticism and Abuse’ and ‘The Great Unhinging’.
While I still use Twitter as a news and opinion source, the great, unbridled joy I’ve found is when you bond with people over random things, like a mutual appreciation for the built environment lovers’ wonder that is Grand Designs (especially when it comes to #ohKevin). That and seeing Malcolm Farnsworth, and lately, @mishaschubert, #tweetlikemalcolmtucker.
As in real life, if I’m having a conversation with someone, I address them first – not in the middle of a sentence. If it’s a conversation I’d prefer to have alone, I use DM.
7/. Twitter superstar, that is what you are …
I will take quality over quantity any day. There are no kings and queens of Twitter. Apply a pub test. I follow and tweet people I’d like to have a beer with (or water, coffee, whatever). If you’re so far up your own arse that you retweet praise from your boss or a #FollowFriday recommendation, get over yourself. Say thank you, to that person – don’t broadcast it or include everyone else in the #FF.
Another pet peeve? Tweeps who do not credit a source when tweeting news, someone else’s opinion or factoids. It’s not hard. If you have nothing to add, RT so your followers know where you got the information. If you’re amending the tweet for space reasons, use MT. If you’re rewriting the tweet but using the same source (I do this quite a lot when linking to articles) use ‘via’. Chances are you didn’t break the news, write the story or publish the opinion, so give credit where it’s due (including the publication if the writer doesn’t have a personal account). It will also cover your arse if the report is wrong.
Oh, for the record, I’m not Malcolm Turnbull’s sister. I #tweetlikemalcolmtucker. If you’ve never seen Peter Capaldi’s performance in ‘The Thick of It’ or ‘In the Loop’, I am fangirling a fictional character and taking the piss out of my profanity-fuelled, political media adviser past.
8/. Abuse & criticism
I’ve dished it out big time, but I don’t think (feel free to correct the record) I’ve ever trolled someone for no reason. I have a very quick temper which nearly cost me a very good friendship with @prestontowers (this is after we’d met) until he reached out to me and I realised what a stupid bitch I’d been. That’s the mark of a friendship, one forged online and strengthened in person.
I know I shit a lot of people to tears. I tweet a lot, I’m opinionated, obstinate and not half as amusing as I think I am; however, I believe you can disagree with people on Twitter without resorting to thinking people are stupid. I’m political, but I hold a lot of contrary opinions to people who I really enjoy interacting with, and increasingly, bonding with people I would never have thought possible (like @markatextor – intro’d to me by @Drag0nista). There are also times when people I don’t know will say something about a tweet I sent the day before and I react badly. I have to learn to walk away from the keyboard more often. If I believe so strongly in something that I’ll hold my ground, look for flaws in logic or ask whether you’ve pulled that one out of your arse because I believe in critical thinking. Change my mind, convince me, recommend something to read / watch / learn more about. It’s different to criticism or calling someone an idiot, sell-out or whatever else because they don’t share your view, especially if it’s slavishly party political. I’ve taken to calling Twitter ‘Twittargh’ – & last week tweeted that I’d like to see more of the ‘Twit’ and less of the ‘aargh’.
9/. The great unhinging
I have completely lost the plot on Twitter a few times. It’s never pretty. It’s generally when I’m unwell, or drunk – sometimes a combination. It’s a pretty feeble excuse for some of my behaviour; I would like to be seen on Twitter as in real life, not a special case because I am treated for borderline personality and anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, and hurtfully for the people around me (in real life and on Twitter), there are times when my behaviour is incredibly challenging and difficult to watch. If you know me well enough to DM me, tell me to get off twitter for my own good and that of others. If you don’t, tell me in public but try and understand that I may switch from bolshy and nasty to fearful and anxious very quickly. I don’t like asking for help as a walking, talking person (or online) - it’s another aspect of the crazy. If I do, I will try via DM. It’s not always a bad thing. It’s realising, actually admitting weakness; a huge thing for me. It does not mean that I’m going to hurt myself. If I see other people hurting, I try to support them in private – via DM.
I’ve only felt truly threatened on Twitter once. A politician didn’t take kindly to me cracking a joke about his footballing knowledge. Several days later, he (or a staffer), tweeted: ‘does your boss know what you tweet about?’. It was retweeted by a prominent journalist, prefaced as a political stoush. It wasn’t. It was about football! A journalist I’d never interacted with poured some more scorn on, said I swore a lot. Yes, I do. Mostly followed by #tweetlikemalcolmtucker. Then another journalist called me on my private number because they wanted to run a story on it. By this time I was hysterical, in fear of losing my job over what I saw as an innocuous joke – I wasn’t abusive. I begged them not to do write anything. To their credit, they didn’t pursue the story.
I was in a position where setting up a pseudonymous account would probably have been a smarter option, but I didn’t think about it. People have very good reasons for not revealing their names – it may affect their employment, their families, impinge on their freedom to write what they like. For others, I don’t get it. If your sole aim is to abuse other people for their opinions, or who they are, have the guts to put your name to it.
11/. It’s not you, it’s me
The issue that never fails to make me set my hair on fire about Twitter is when I receive the, ‘you tweet about XX too much’ tweet. This is invariably when I tweet about sport. I realise this leaves a lot of people cold; so when I’m about to tweet a Swans away game or a ball-by-ball account of a Test match, or cycling, I give a warning, two, sometimes three, letting people know that there’s going to be one topic happening for the next few hours about something they really hate, or don’t want clogging their timeline, I send it out, which offers people the opportunity to unfollow (and, I hope, come back) or put a filter on the hashtag. I think this is polite and mirrors what I would do with my friends: share an interest (obsession) with people I would speak to these things about. The one thing I do not, and will never do, is send other people whiney messages about what they choose to tweet because I don’t relate to it – such as their children, their culinary talents or technology. I follow people based on the totality of what they choose to tweet. It’s a reflection of who you are – or the facets of your personality you choose to put out there. Others have suggested that I create separate accounts for my different interests. That would involve me splitting myself in eleventy ways.
12/. One more thing …
Perhaps the greatest gift Twitter has presented me is the courage to write. I started a blog, and this year, was published for the first time on @ABCthedrum … maybe not such a big deal, but I’m still proud of it, mostly because of the reaction I got from friends who didn’t know I write. Thanks, Twitter. It’s been (un)real. Here’s to 2012.