Ask not what’s wrong with Twitter…

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Matthew 7: 3-5

What’s wrong with Twitter?

Nothing. Not a damn thing. Twitter does what it does brilliantly and I for one am jolly grateful. There are few better ways to communicate with people; if you have something worth saying, it will find an audience. The draw back is the 140 character limit – it’s often lamented that scope for nuanced discussion is limited. And it is, but this gap is admirably plugged with blogging. Twitter + blogging make for an incredibly powerful communication tool and one which John Tomsett claims might bring about an Education SpringI wrote a homage to Twitter at the beginning of the year and I haven’t changed my mind since.

So why is it that Twitter comes in for periodic flak? Why do so many influential educators complain about what Twitter doesn’t do rather than celebrating what it does? It’s tempting to dismiss such moaning with the truism that you get out what you put in. If you’re not getting much out of Twitter then maybe the quality of your contribution is somewhat lacking? Recently various ‘tweachers’ have been bemoaning the fact that debate on Twitter seems to focus on deriding the ideas of others. And that it’s crammed with gurning egoists only interested in grandstanding and self-promotion. Have they got a point? Well, heck, if you look for it, you’ll find it. I’ve even done a bit of deriding & gurning myself – sometimes such derision is amusing, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I get a bit hot under the collar at the obviously wrong-headed opinions of those who fail to see the flawless logic and unassailable reason of my own positions. And there have been times (although hopefully few and far between) when I’ve RTed compliments, thinly veiling such activity as ‘sharing’.  As a result, sometimes I, and others, compose tweets which are a little ill-advised. But you know what? I don’t have to. I don’t have to read anything that anyone else writes and they don’t have to read any of my outpourings either. There is an off button.

If there’s someone on Twitter you find irritating, don’t follow them. If they really get your goat, block ’em. If there are blogs you find tiresome, offensively self-congratulatory or badly argued, don’t read ’em. It’s all a matter of choice. But, I do choose to listen to folk I don’t agree with cos, you know, maybe they have a point sometimes; maybe they’re not completely out there all the time. If they happen to be saying something particularly witless on any given day, I can just tune them out.

I can’t tell you how witless, boring and hypocritical it is to carp and complain about other people’s negativity: if you’re unhappy with your experience of Twitter (or anything else really) have a good look at yourself. What are you contributing? Could there be a plank in your own eye? As Gandhi may have said to Socrates and Einstein over a pint: Be the change you want to see in the world.

So, next time you find your gorge rising, try one of these idiot proof suggestions:

  • Chuckle indulgently and remember that you too have behaved foolishly in the past.
  • Rise above it by writing something positive and constructive.
  • And if all else fails, put down your phone, walk away from your computer and do something else.

OK, rant over. As you were.

PS – If you attempt to argue that this post is a failure to follow my own advice, you really need to reread it carefully. If you’re still not happy, let me know and I’ll happily unfollow you.

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16 Responses to Ask not what’s wrong with Twitter…

  1. […] via Ask not what’s wrong with Twitter… | David Didau: The Learning Spy. […]

  2. I do agree that “contribute” should be the focus in Twitter interactions.

    However, sometimes you do need to be more persistent in fighting group-think (which Twitter also allows for, aside from the largely positive impact). And that implies criticism.

    I am not the easiest person to follow – Twitter is not a popularity contest, nor a way to pat ourselves on the back. I intentionally tweet things that should make educators *think* rather than “inspire” (although I do the latter, too – I hope). It is a part of who I am – I prefer to learn/ read about things that create cognitive dissonance than relentlessly being fed same cliches over and over. Because it is the former that make me rethink my practices, take a closer look at my beliefs and change.

    • David Didau says:

      Quite right Cristina. You are one of the people I have found most useful to follow on Twitter. You have knocked the wind from my self-satisfied sails on more than one occasion and I’m much the better for it. You’ve really helped me to “rethink my practices, take a closer look at my beliefs and change.”

      And you’re right about group-think – this is just one of the reasons I can’t bring myself to take part in some of the #educhats out there. This is why I follow some people who I know disagree with me. It is in anticipating and countering their arguments that I learn.

      But as to being “relentlessly being fed same cliches over and over” – that’s a judgement call and I choose not to listen to it.

      Thanks, D

  3. […] And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  […]

  4. Glenyan says:

    I Agree with what Cristina is saying, for herself and for myself and for anyone with this perspective, however part of the power of a platform like Twitter is that can serve many different purposes for different types of people. Unfortunately, many people do use Twitter as a popularity content, as (even less dramatically stated) as a way to find agreement and/or to interact within their increasingly less rapidly expanding circle (read: clique). I’d say this about many of the highly influential, respected people using Twitter, as well.

    On more than one occasion I’ve found myself wishing to find more people like Cristina to follow – but that’s just me. I wouldn’t change what Twitter is to achieve this wish, however. I’d say that ‘Twitter shouldn’t be a popularity contest’ rather than ‘Twitter isn’t a popularity contest’, because it surely is for many – you can’t take the ‘human’ out of ‘social media’.

    • David Didau says:

      I’ve not said anything about popularity – those were CM’s words. It’s interesting though that some voices become more popular than others. There are a few people I follow that I don’t particularly respect but have huge followings. Popularity is often the problem. If your message appeals to too wide an audience maybe it’s edging on populist?

      • Glenyan says:

        Yes, sorry David, I should have made that clear in my comment – that my quote was from CM’s tweet.

        I do think popularity is a major element of the Twitter-flak that you bring up in your rant (which I enjoyed, btw – I find “Twitter is Dead” themed articles rather pointless). Messages that appeal to a wide audience may or may not be populist, it depends on the message. The more relevant issue may be in the type of feedback the message can generate at such wide exposure. Perhaps, as a popular tweeter, it’s more difficult to filter the useful from the noise…and even easier to fall into the trap of riding the noise that supports the message.

  5. Bill says:

    The ‘you only tweet about your lunch’ type comment has moved from needing contradiction, to amused tolerance, to the realisation that the people who utter it are saying far more about themselves than they realise.

  6. Colin Goffin says:

    I’ve interacted with David quite a bit over the nature of Twitter of late and on his suggestion will try to summarise my thinking here.

    Firstly I reject the notion that having an issue with the negativty and raising it is an hyprocrictical standpoint. A tired cliche I know but the only thing needed for evil to flourish etc. And as such I can’t take the advice to just stay quiet as in some way it’s a fault with the individual if we find the behaviours of others unhelpful or unpalateable. This seems to me to be similar to the advice given to female writers. politicians and campaigners when they were being trolled of late – you can always just log off. Imagine how delighted Mr Gove et al might be were we to take the line that if you don’t agree can you just keep quiet and let us get on? There’s a good lad.

    Along with others I have noticed a forum which I greatly enjoyed and found massively beneficial becoming at best tiresom and at worst vitriolic and unpleasant and feel that whereas before I would trumpet Twitter as a place for idea sharing and CPD to teachers either in my own school or wider when delivering training I would feel less comfortable doing so now as – and I appreciate I am looking at the worst side but that’s the side I’m commenting on here – I’m not sure how useful some of the exchanges would be to someone making sense of their professional direction and it also seems less, well, friendly.

    The ego tripping and back slapping that has been referred to already is frustrating but not necessarily damaging or concerning – it may be sickening at times but it is at least supportive. To be honest I don’t see the use in RTing when someone thanks you for an idea that works or have read your blog post etc and enjoyed it. Take the thanks and move on without shouting about it! It also drives me mad when I see people conducting conversations about how great they think each other are publicly when they could be done privately as a DM or maybe a text or ‘phone call – or alternatively in person as these are often between people who work in the same office!

    All this aside, and not least because it just makes me sound curmudgeonly, the popularity contest side of things comes through at it’s worst during the ‘debates’ which seem to have taken over my timeline recently.

    I have found the focus of blog posts or conversations to have moved from positive ideas exchanges and suggestions for development to take a more smug tone of late where all ideas and thinking seem to be derided. Again here I know by taking issue I may be being hoist by my own petard but I would disagree. As I said earlier my aim isn’t to deride those making the posts or indeed Twitter as a forum but rather to take issue with the tone and ask, as David has done here and as was done brilliantly in Alex Quigley’s excellent post for a positive contribution rather than to attack what has gone before.

    This has on a number of occasions coincided with the popularity contest or the cliques and groupthink mentioed by other contributors and it’s here where I think Twitter is at its worst.

    Of course we will have disagreements and we will have different ideas and I am happy to concede here that this may include questioning exisiting and perhaps long established practices (and I emphasise questioning not attacking or ridiculing) but do we need the ganging up that goes alongside it? When someone has decided to say ‘Do you know what? I disagree.I actually think ‘x’ is useful’ they are immediately rounded on and people will RT or draw others in in order to prove the other wrong not through debate or dialogue but brute force and sheer numbers. On frequent occasion this is accompanied by some often unpleasant smugness about how foolish the other person may be for thinking such nonsense while I am clearly more informed because I can call on a far greater number to plague your timeline. It’s disappointing and frustrating because when as a profession we are being sniped at on an almost daily basis a forum where we should be able to work together seems to turn on – not discuss or debate – anyone who suggests a differing view.

    I’m painting a bleak picture and I’m not saying it’s all there is. In the last couple of weeks I’ve had some really useful interactions but it seems that where these used to be the norm they are now less of a feature in my timeline. I’m also very aware that it is just my timeline I can refer to but I know others are seeing the same thing. It was a discussion around the idea of a Royal College that started it off for me. There seemed to be a sudden shift to discuss who should be allowed in and what the rules should be and various people attempting to define these while pedagogy seemed incredibly irrelevant and I was left humming Billy Bragg. ” Who are these people? Who elected them? And how do I replace them with some of my friends?”

    So I’m afraid I do ask what’s wrong with Twitter and hope I’ve summed up my thoughts here. I may well be a plank for doing so but maybe there are issues with others’ eyes as well if they don’t recognise the way that some of these recent exchanges will deter others from getting involved. Maybe by taking a closer look you’ll see that while the emperor my not be naked his suit is looking a little shabby.

    And just in case you’re still worried I’m trapped in a circle of negativity

    Lots of Love


    • David Didau says:

      Thanks for taking so much time and trouble to respond Colin.

      I have a few points I’d like to add to the ones you make:

      1) You say “Firstly I reject the notion that having an issue with the negativity and raising it is an hypocritical standpoint.” God! So do I! There’s nothing wrong with raising objections and making your views known. My issue is with those who complain incessantly about an issue without seeming to contribute anything positive themselves. Interestingly, this seems the be the crux of your argument too. No one, least of all me, is expecting you or anyone else to suffer in silence. But being negative about negatively isn’t particularly helpful.

      2) You go on to say “I have found the focus of blog posts or conversations to have moved from positive ideas exchanges and suggestions for development to take a more smug tone of late where all ideas and thinking seem to be derided.” Obviously this is your view and your entitled to it. But I can’t really understand why you want to read blog post or Twitter conversations of this nature. This isn’t me dismissing abusive behaviour by saying you can ‘just log off’, rather it’s incredulity that you would choose to spend your time this way. You say Gove would like it if we stopped discussing ideas but the secretary of state seems to go out of the way to read education blogs so this doesn’t appear to be true.

      3) You raise the more serious issue of bullying. You describe situations where people are “immediately rounded on” for expressing contrary views and the fact that some people will “RT or draw others in in order to prove the other wrong not through debate or dialogue but brute force and sheer numbers”. It’s hard to respond to this without specific references. I know I’ve sometimes felt bombarded by negative and abusive comments from people who don’t like my point of view. My response is a 3 stage one:
      – first I try to concentrate on the ideas, the substance of an argument and resist getting drawn in to name calling.
      – then I resort to flippancy. Not saying this is right, but it’s what I do.
      – if people continue to bait me I will then either ignore them and stop responding, or in extreme cases (this has only happened twice) I have blocked them.

      But this is rare. Almost everybody I engage with on Twitter is reasonable if occasionally prone to getting hot under the collar. Anyone else can swivel.

  7. Colin Goffin says:

    Taking each point in turn – and I won’t be as long winded I hope.
    1. I think we do need to speak up about the negativity in order to discourage it as it will deter people from becoming part of the dialogue. it’s not simply being negative about the negativity but trying to stop it so more positive voices can come to the fore again.
    2. I don’t go out of my way to find the negativity it’s there front and centre and unfortunately seems to be RT’d ad infinitum so it’s hard to avoid those views even when you’re not following an individual. I also disagree that Gove looks to these blogs too seek real discourse and establish the viewpoint of the profession. It seems to me that his doing so is partly to ingratiate himself with some by mentioning those who we may look to as valid voices or alternatively to use the views of those whose sole aim seems to be sensationalism and promoting themselves as ‘dangerous’ to further his own agenda when the two correlate.
    3. I don’t think it’s useful to provide individual examples as this would potentially continue the issue for those on the receiving end in the same way as I wouldn’t give examples of those I feel to be ego tripping or grand standing but I have been shocked and dismayed by some of the responses. I also feel that your response strategies are fine for someone like yourself with an established confident voice and this may also be why your contact is with people who respect this so don’t get quite as unkind. However if I was new to the forum and was thinking of putting ideas forward I might be intimidated by exchanges of the nature I’ve seen and alluded to here and not get involved which would mean we would lose the development of new voices and thinking. Although this might suit some of course.


  8. […] blog by David Didau discusses the impact of Twitter. David points out how so many people are complaining about Twitter and how they still use it even […]

  9. […] I kicked off the blog writing nonsense it was in response to David Didau and his post about Twitter. In our exchanges I suggested that it was all vey well for the likes of David who is big enough to […]

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