So, the week after Ryan Giggs attempted to sue Twitter for revealing he is the footballer at the centre of a super-injunction that had hidden his six month affair with reality television star Imogen Thomas, I have joined Twitter.
And I haven’t got a clue. I don’t know what to do with it, how to work it, and of its actual point. So far, all I have learnt about are the sex lives of The Only Way Is Essex ‘stars’ and that Jordon is in Marbella. Things I can probably live without if I am honest. I just don’t get it.
I wanted to learn a little more about Twitter as a phenomenon and the actual point of it, having heard too many people say “don’t know, just stuff” in response to my question “what do you actually write on it?”
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February (at which my mother was a keynote speaker), Dick Costolo , chief executive of Twitter, was defining his vision for the company and its product: “our mission is to instantly connect people everywhere to what’s meaningful to them”. As Charles Arthur comments in The Guardian, it is a mission statement that is “up there with Microsoft’s ‘PC on every desktop’ and Google’s ‘organise all the world’s information and make it useful’”. Microsoft, Google – these are global corporations that we use daily, having entered and taken a hold on the logistics of our quotidian. And now Twitter wants its fingers in the pie; Costolo envisions the networking site as becoming another link in that unavoidable chain of corporations and technology. Whilst Facebook is for socialising, and Linked In for business, Twitter aims to be a platform to share life, news, business, pleasure, contacts and connections.
Twitter is a space that is photo album, letter to friends, work enquiry, the joke you tell down the pub and the breaking news you see on a television channel. For some, it is a crucial and expanding arena for business connections which is now practically eliminating the recruitment agencies that have boomed in the recent years of recession and unemployment. In his presentation, Costolo displayed a picture of a sunset posted by a user who added the comment ‘What a day…in more ways than one’. What does that mean? ‘Maybe a friend or loved one knows that there’s more meaning than that in it’. As Arthur continues, “tweets can carry more information that what is simply encoded in their 140 characters… they have extra value to the user through their context” – it is a powerful message that whilst understanding and connection may be user-specific, lives are shared openly and very freely with the networking community. Perhaps that is the important word to consider here: ‘community’ implies a sense of group, society, support and kinship – but sharing within a digital domain requires no sense of loyalty or protection.
Yet is seems that we still share too freely. Recent events demonstrates as much with thinly censored photographs, thousand-tweet flurries about Ryan Giggs and hotel-room liaisons.
Last weekend, off Portobello Road and over wine, my girlfriends and I were discussing lives and jobs and boys – and the latest newspaper headlines. Sarah works for a PR and communications agency and Ruth is a solicitor and in this conversation especially, it was an interesting combination of two industries.
I had read an interesting article from Mark Lewis, a solicitor at Taylor Hampton, who argued about how far the media cry for ‘freedom of speech’ simply is a shroud for newspapers to be able to publish all revelations and allegations. As Lewis says, this media campaign is not for press freedom, it is for press intrusion into “ ‘private lives’ (a phrase the tabloid press presumably argues no longer exists)”. We seem to be obsessed with the world of celebrity, and indeed, isn’t it that which made Imogen Thomas – small town Welsh girl and beauty contest winner – famous when she entered the Big Brother house in 2006? Commentators and writers have opened this discussion on reality television and social media into thoughts that explore current cultural interests, values, education and society.
Whilst I am unsure of the legalities and procedures of this case, I find it incredible that a social networking tool has become so powerful that the judicial rules and systems which have existed for hundreds of years now must be rewritten. It is amazing that one tweet can hold such pieces of news, amazing that thousands of people find it “valuable” enough to share with yet more people, and amazing that we now have theoretical debates as to what extent the internet can be an arena for free speech.
Twitter has an estimated 300 million users around the globe – with 600,000 registering each day. And on Wednesday night, before Archer and I went to the pub, I joined up. I wrote elsewhere on here about the paths we leave throughout our lives which are constructed with written, oral and digital histories – letter, texts, voicemails, tweets. So I will give this Twitter thing a go, and I will try to leave a stream of things that are “valuable” to me – things that are interesting, provocative, worthy of thought and positive.