Twitter is a very useful site. My professional account has helped me to keep contact with computer people who share my interests and even to get paying work. It has a few distinctive problems of its own, though. It’s very easy to retweet something without giving it any thought. This can snowball into large numbers at times. When the absence of thought is particularly obvious, “twit mob” is a good term for what happens.
There was a protest by veterans at the World War II monument in Washington, which was senselessly closed off to the public even though it isn’t normally staffed. Some veterans protested this bit of nonsense and walked past the barricades. One person was carrying a Confederate flag; it’s no surprise that this jerk got an undue proportion of attention from the media, as people doing outrageous things always do. I don’t know what his aim was; he could have been a pro-Confederate jerk, or he might have been trying to discredit the rally. Either way, he was one person in the crowd.
Today I saw a tweet claiming that this flag was there at the direction of the Republican Party, and another implying that there were 2000 people carrying “separatist flags.” It shouldn’t take more than a moment’s thought to realize both were nonsense. Nonetheless, lots of people retweeted them. A moment’s thought was more than they gave, and they built a twit mob around absurd claims.
On a few occasions I’ve been hasty myself in retweeting. Fortunately, it can be undone, though perhaps not before some people have seen it. It’s also true that a retweet isn’t necessarily an endorsement, but if there’s no context it’s going to be taken as one.
It’s always worth taking an extra moment to think about retweeting. Does the tweet really make sense? How will reasonable people interpret my retweeting it? Am I competent to evaluate what it’s saying? It’s most important to do this when the emotional impulse to retweet is strongest.
Update: Some followups I’ve seen show that some are engaging in deliberate mudslinging at everyone who was in the protest. An Salon.com article makes an especially transparent attempt at this with the headline “D.C. protestors wave Confederate flag, tell Obama to ‘put the Quran down.'” Later on in the article, possibly realizing the image of multiple protestors waving one flag together sounded silly, the writer said there was “at least one large Confederate flag.” I haven’t seen a second one reported in any account, but yes, one is “at least one.” Most people can count to two, though. Likewise, one person claimed Obama is a Muslim. Another article I encountered yesterday actually used “protestors” as a singular noun in its headline to pluralize the one scumbag who carried a pro-slavery flag.
In September I attended an anti-war protest in which one of the protestors was a 9/11 truther. I’m probably lucky that no sleaze media ran the headline “9/11 truthers protests against war” and tried to tie me into his views. They still could. At an earlier protest there was a singer (sorry, “a singers” or “at least one singer”) advocating class warfare. People who had started to sing along dropped out as they realized what the song was saying, but the same smear could have been used there.
I’m still trying to understand just who (outside of Washington politicians) has an ideological stake in ridiculing opposition to shutdown theater, so I’ll leave that for another time.