Why People Should Stop Being Jerks on Twitter

twitter jerkFor better or worse, social media has changed the way we communicate. One could argue that we’re either bringing the world closer together, or we’re creating a new generation of social misfits. I can see both sides of that argument. But what really rubs me the wrong way is when people are jerks on Twitter. People are saying things to each other that they would never say in person, just because they can hide behind their Twitter handle.

It seems that some people think the mantra, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all” doesn’t apply to the Twitterverse. Well guess what? Just because you said it in 140 characters or less doesn’t make it any less personal. You may not even realize that you’re being mean, but every time you criticize or insult someone, even if you think you’re @ replying them individually, the whole world can see it. And that makes it worse — because you’re belittling them in front of an audience.

If you’ve found yourself criticizing a blogger, insulting a celebrity, bashing a local band’s latest song, or tweeting passive-aggressively against your coworkers, here are some reasons you should hold back:

It makes talented people hesitant to share their work

The internet is a great place to share new ideas, to publish your own work, and gain an audience. For the most part, people comment with appreciation for what was shared. But there are always those few people that will bash the work of successful content creators. It comes with the territory of choosing to create content online rather than just consume content. It’s also is a symptom of becoming successful — the wider your audience is, and the more people you have paying attention to you, the more likely it is that you’ll find someone who doesn’t like you.

However, there’s a difference between constructive criticism and being a jerk.

A couple months ago, The Oatmeal, a very popular web comic, published a comic  showing how there is such a thing as destructive feedback.

the oatmeal destructive feedback

Read the rest of the comic here. It’s funny because it’s true.

If you do publish content to the web, you need to have a thick skin. I know a couple popular bloggers who often share new insights and are bashed by so-called “experts” who call them morons, idiots, and the like. People seem to think that disagreeing with someone gives them the right to call them a moron or an idiot.

Would you ever interrupt someone during a meeting and call them an idiot?

Not unless you want to burn bridges, or even get fired. People on Twitter should extend the same courtesy to people on the web as they do in person. But people think that Twitter provides anonymity that lets them say whatever’s on their mind, which is interesting because most people on Twitter are not tweeting anonymously.


Celebrities are people, too

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. And celebrities — movie stars, TV stars, musicians, etc. — have been publicly reviewed for decades. It’s one thing to provide a critique of one’s work. It’s another to call them names, swear at them, and insult them, for no apparent reason.

It’s just like that magazine feature “Celebrities are just like us!” claims. They have Twitter accounts of their own, often connected to their phones — so they’ll get notified if you tweet at them. And even though they might never reply to you individually, they see your tweets.

Several months ago, Jimmy Kimmel aired a hilarious new segment on his show poking fun at this mean Twitter behavior. In this bit, celebrities read out loud mean tweets that have been tweeted about them. Here’s the first bit from May 2012.

Here’s the 2nd round from July 2012:

Here’s the 3rd round from just this past week, January 2013:

While the segment is hilarious, and the stars are clearly willing to poke fun at the situation, imagine the moment when they first read some of those tweets. How would you feel if you got a tweet from some stranger insulting your looks, or your latest project?

The point is: celebrities are people with feelings, just like the rest of us. So be nice.

It prevents people from sharing knowledge

You know how they say that some people fear public speaking more than death?

I am almost one of those people. I say almost because I’ve spoken in public several times, but I’ve never gone sky diving, texted while driving, or any of those risky things that would mean potentially dying. But it’s definitely up there on my list of fears, right along with spiders and zombie attacks.

I’ve been to many conferences for work over the past year. During those conferences, I like to follow the #hashtag conversation on Twitter so I can share my learnings with my followers, and see what other people have learned in other sessions. But I frequently saw people on Twitter bashing the presenters, who were standing just feet away from them. And because we were all following the hashtag, everyone could see those negative comments.

I have seen a lot of bad talks. But I have never said anything like, “Staring at the clock. @person is giving the most boring presentation right now.”

Then in November, it was time for me to give a presentation of own to a room of about 300 people. I hadn’t presented at a conference in years, and I was nervous. Terrified, even. I was in London, my favorite city in the world, and all I could think about while exploring the Tower of London days earlier was that I was going to totally muck up in front of everyone. I gave the presentation. It went well. Lots of people came up afterwards to talk to me and congratulate me, and I got tweets saying I was “brilliant,” that people were “glued” to my presentation, and so on.

But one person sent me a scathing tweet, mentioning my @dianaurban Twitter handle and the conference hashtag. They just didn’t care how I would feel about them bashing me in such a public way.

It was one person. Out of 300. And it bummed me out. All of those positive comments went right out of my head. If this person had come up to me and given me some helpful feedback in person, I would have learned from it and applied it to my next talk. But there is a difference between constructive criticism and being a jerk.

Public speaking in the days of Twitter is a scary thing.

I heard a story recently of a woman who was giving a presentation at a large social media conference. Apparently she was wearing a pink suit and knee-high boots. Behind her on-stage, there was a screen projecting the live tweets from the conference hashtag. Someone in the audience tweeted something to the effect of “@Person is presenting and looks like such a skank, haha, what is she wearing?!? #conferencehashtag” There was a collective gasp as the tweet was projected on the screen. The presenter didn’t think to look behind her at the screen, and just went on with the presentation.

Would that person have walked up to the presenter and said “hey, what are you wearing, you look like a skank”? Of course not.

The point is: don’t say anything to someone on Twitter that you wouldn’t say to their face.


It contributes to people committing suicide

Yes, this makes my story about public speaking seem extremely trivial. But suicide from cyber-bullying is a very real issue. You hear about it all the time on the news.

Remember this video? It was posted on YouTube by Amanda Todd a month before committing suicide. She’d been victimized by online bullying to a point that she felt there was no other escape.

And there are so many more stories like this — some have a happy ending, but some don’t. Here are a few recent ones:

It’s morbid and sad, but it’s important to remember that words sting just as much online as they would in person.

The point is: think twice before you say cruel things to people on Twitter. You might think it’s funny, but you don’t know how sensitive your recipient will be to your hateful messages.

It would be nice if everyone followed these basic courtesies:

  • Only tweet at someone what you would say to their face
  • Provide constructive feedback instead of destructive feedback
  • Don’t be mean, to your friends OR to strangers and celebrities
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your tweet recipient. How would you feel if you got a tweet like that?

What is the rudest tweet you’ve ever received? How did you deal with the situation? Share your stories in the comments below.

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