Musing on Twitter

Is Twitter of any practical use? What does it 'do' for you?

I've been thinking about this...https://t.co/AR8Cv215Hb

— Laurie Meadows (@Laurie_Meadows) December 31, 2018

What can twitter do for you?

Everyone acts in our own best interest, all the time, whether conscious of it or not. No exception for Twitter.

Most of us use Twitter to engage with people who are like us (culturally and intellectually), or who we want to like us (digitally and emotionally).  Wit, wisdom, outrage, information - these are the currency of twitter.  We try to be engaging. If we can't be engaging, we can be either supportive or provocative. We feel good when we get a response, a comment, a like, a follow. The more responses and retweets, the higher the reward. The reward feedback loop reinforces a good feeling; and that good feeling is provided 'by' twitter. So we press the button again, and again and again...

 But twitter potentially has more value to us than reinforcing our sense of positive self-worth, or feeling a valued member of a group.

The best use for Twitter?

Twitter is a tool that can be used for many purposes.

The 'best' use for Twitter varies according to your motive. My motive is to find and share information about my areas of interest. At the moment, primarily food plants; and avocado in particular. I will expand my argument later, but before dismissing other uses for Twitter, I'll list a few I have thought of - I am sure you will think of others. (Of course, no one of these 'uses' excludes any of the others.)

Exposure to new areas of study and new information

The 'branchiness' of Twitter rising from the re-tweets of people you follow exposes you to new ideas, activities you never knew about, recent scientific findings, and information you could never think about because it was not in your mental framework or experience. It broadens your outlooks. And as Kevin Folta points out, it helps people to pull out of the trap of self re-inforcing uncritical thought.

I completely disagree. Twitter's short format allows me to discover new topics, learn new information, be challenged by new thought. If you are enjoying your own effluvia then maybe its time to put your nose in a different place. https://t.co/uTThSarU5a

— Kevin Folta (@kevinfolta) March 18, 2019

Uncensored political soapbox

President Trump can talk directly to his supporters - evading the 'gatekeeping' and spin of mainstream media. Uninterpreted, unedited, immediate, any subject, any time. He says it, he owns it.

If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero. ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants......

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December

There’s expertise.
There’s super expertise.
There’s Godlike Expertise.

And then there’s DONALD TRUMP!
pic.twitter.com/VdYLPJdapB

— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 5, 2019
31, 2018

Record of the policy of public agencies and political actors

People record cellphone clips of publicly made remarks by politicians or Government agencies. Denials by these figures can be instantly rebutted by re-tweeting the original tweet. Even when a tweet is later deleted, saved screenshots or similar can be tweeted, keeping the facts in the public domain.

US Strategic Command (You know those People who can drop Nukes to kill all humanity) tweeted the Tweet below earlier this evening. 😳 The Tweet has now been deleted and an apology tweet substituted. However, this is very concerning.....#HappyNewYear pic.twitter.com/Pn1KbvcC2V

— Damian Kelly 🎄⚖️☃️ (@Kelly4Law) January 1, 2019

Uncontrolled distributed political organiser

The 'yellow jackets' organise 'spontaneously' via Twitter. Of course, 'special interests' on either side can try to direct and manipulate the mass feeling - also via Twitter. An important element of such 'organisation' is that embedded video tweets of current or previous demonstrations can give people a preview, a sense of what it is all about, what type of people are involved, whether it is safe (in the sense of controlled policing and absence of hijacking by small groups with a different agenda).

One of the most useful features of Twitter is that tweets on the same event are posted by different people from different angles - literally and figuratively. Video clips claiming to illustrate unprovoked police violence (or vice versa) might be 'given the lie' by a different video clip showing a violent provocation by protesters immediately before the police response. Further context is given by people who were at the event. tweeting their (again literal and figurative) viewpoint.

Uncensored world news

'Politically sensitive' world events are regularly flavored with Western Government propaganda by omission, distortion, or withholding important context. Politically, nothing wrong with that (so it has ever been) other than breach of public trust. Twitter blows apart the 'grip' on news. Reporters on the ground are people with cellphones. Of course, people 'on the ground' have been used for propaganda. The 'White helmet' deceit is the case study. But lies made with tweets are exposed with tweets - tweets from those also on the ground have contained the evidentory light exposing these dirty actors for who they really are (Al nusra = Al Qaeda 'affiliate' = Al Qaeda franchisee).

@VanessaBeeley #WhiteHelmets #thieves #isis #terrorists in my mum and dad's village #Yaqubiye in Idlib. No one knows why they're even there, we don't want them. Stole and emptied half the houses. Residents under their control. Photos sent by my auntie pic.twitter.com/A3keFLo3F9

— Lina Thomson (@linapmu) September 29, 2017
There are, of course, a large number of over-excited, hyperbolas, ill informed, prejudiced, devious, or just plain silly Twitter accounts acclaiming their brand of 'truth'. So what? They can easily be swept aside.

News

A string of tweets and responses by famous people linked by thin commentary is the news. It is now common to have tweets and responses embedded in a news story. And as Twitter is designed for a quick response, screenshots of deleted 'ill advised' tweets become even more 'newsworthy'. 

Promote yourself publicly

Google indexes very few tweets - only about 5% or so in a 2016 survey. The criteria the Google algorithm used to select 'indexable' tweets are obscure, but likely include links to major institutions. Even so, you (or your business) may be able to 'mold' your public persona to your benefit. How that works is up you, of course, but some people place images of their products, logos, or books they have written in their header photo on their Twitter page.

Scientists promote their current results, or new fields of endeavour via Twitter. I notice that the intense competition between science graduates leads to what are appeals for employment. On the other hand, various science departments look for graduates to fill project-based short duration positions. It's a Darwinian struggle - only the fit survive.

Fast public safety warnings

Forest fire in California, school shootings, tsunamis, earthquakes. Twitter excels. Maps, updates, subscriptions to civil defense.

Community news and opinion

This is probably the most popular use - sharing news and opinions in the array of intersecting and overlapping communities we belong to - political, philosophical, local, sporting, hobby, environmental, financial, and so on. We are a social animal, and casual communication is analogous to chimpanzees grooming each other. It cements bonds, releases oxytocin. Twitter has a casual feel, it can seem intimate, private, but really, each tweet is in fact a 'publication'. And the retweet facility is like a tiny exponentially self-multiplying 'newsflash' being pushed into hundreds or even thousands of cellphones.


Influencing discussion on public issues

Twitter makes it possible to connect to an audience who are discussing a particular issue. But not all participants in the conversation are equal. Some people have a very large number of followers, and these followers are likely to hold somewhat similar views. As a result, such influential people can dominate one side of a discussion. A differing point of view in replies to these dominant opinion 'shapers' introduces new ideas and supporting facts to a wide audience. This allows on-line discussions to broaden and become of more value to all participants. Such instant access to engaged audiences was impossible before twitter ('BT').


Twitter as a database of societal information

This heading is worthy of a book. About 200 billion tweets are sent every year. The more you look through the Twitter store of glorious, vain, or mundain social snapshots, the more nuggets of value become visible. A scholars dream.

But I want to talk about a small subset of the information embedded in the ever-expanding Twitterverse, the subset containing useful information, primarily as photographs.

A feature of a tweet is that it is a response to an 'exciting' or interesting phenomenon. It is usually immediate. It is fast. There is a low 'action sequence' barrier to physically sending it. You don't need to own a website. You don't need to know how to configure dedicated file upload software. You don't need a computer. Just a cellphone, on you all the time, everywhere. You don't even need to know how to type (or spell). Tweets can be sent by voice. Photos and videos sent direct from the camera.  Every second, 6,000 tweets fire across the internet, around the globe. Instantly.

Some photos are important as photos of immediate record. World events, yes, but also in science. A new plant is discovered. Instantly tweeted. An exciting paleoanthropological specimen. Instantly tweeted.

Context. Links to new scientific papers. Interviews with science communicators. Minutia from disparate fields that might trigger new insights. But these info-bytes are so small, how can they be of any importance? Individually, they may not be. In total, and with the aid of  'thread aggregating' software they have value.

Hashtags aren't especially useful for technical fact based information, as more the technical or science based vocabulary easily selects tweets of potential interest when used in a word search.

Twitter as a store of photographic images mimics Google images. Some tweeted images appear in a Google image search, but only a few. Twitter can be seen as trickling in valuable photos to the Google cache, thus expanding Google-searchable information. But the the vast swath of images on the yellow jackets social phenomenon will not be in Google. Nor will the public commentary and opinion of participants or observers be recorded, expect through the filter of mainstream (biased) media. Therefore, Twitters vast searchable cache of social phenomena is both practically unique (in size and popular participation) and irreplaceable.

Deliberate expansion of the database

Participants in Twitter can choose to deliberately expand the Twitter cache of 'higher value' information. This attracts a community of interest, comments and contributions of value, which in turn makes specific information sub-streams run 95 carat information 'gold'. The more obscure the topic, the more high value the search results. A search for Musa basjoo on twitter (https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=musa%20basjoo&src=typd) retrieves a vast trove of practical experience with this plant, mainly in Europe. Clearly, experiences are shared, Disagreements are aired. 'Firsts' are recorded. Failures, too. Both are emotional responses, highly Twitter-triggering.

The more high value tweets that are sent out, the better the resource.

I have thought about the idea of deliberately placing information in the Twitter cache, and have very recently come to the view that if tweets are confined to images and comments that are likely to record something of use to human knowledge, then it is socially useful to make that contribution, if you can. For me, that is mainly observations about plants in my climatic zone.

It is relatively low cost for me to do this - but impose a cost on my followers. But my tweets, to the extent they carry information, have only benefits for those searching the Twitter database for information.

Signal to noise

In the end, the Twitter user has to try to 'massage' their Twitter feed to maximise signal and minimise noise.

Twitter, after all, is a claim on time.

Weigh any one 'tweeters' average 'tweet value' (in your understanding of 'value') against volume of tweets. Factor in a low frequency of ultra-high value tweets amongst a large number of low, if that is applicable/possible.

Consider a 'light hearted/social' twitter account for the miscellanea of life, and a separate purposeful ('serious') account.
https://twitter.com/LaurieMisc

What is Twitters 'place' in the digitally imprinted 'infoption' hierarchy (book, web page, blog, email)?

Twitter is at the very bottom of the infopt hierarchy. But it still has some importance, mainly due to immediacy.

Permanence

All digital media is impermanent. A large electro-magnetic  pulse could wipe much of the digital record forever. Only printed pages can be permanent. I have a book whose 250th birthday is this year. Will todays digital books still exist in 250 years time? Today, the barriers to publishing your digital book are low; but the barriers to printed books remain high. Digital writing in theory will exist 'forever' due to the huge information storage capacity of businesses such as Google, but, electromagnetic impulses aside, the weakness is faith in Google continuing 'forever'. The biase of algorithms against plummeting page views as websites and blogs go silent with the disability, death, destitution, or disinterest of the owner means that even if a digital information page exists, it may be practically irretrievable.

Twitter, of course, may disappear. Nothing lasts forever.

Twitter can be seen as a pastiche of impressions that cannot last without analysis and embodiment in published works. If a publication has enduring merit, it will enter the printed record of the history of our lives.

In time, most printed records will go out of print, be remaindered, and then only found at second hand bookshops. If a printed record is enduring, it may be referred to or quoted by scholars in learned articles and books - published either on line, or in print form. And a quote tweeted to their followers...

250 year old
        book

A page from 'The Fruit Gardener', twittified, 250 years after publication in 1768