Twitter, as many social media experts know, is a wonderful medium for communicating with and keeping track of your friends and your favorite media sources, both local and national, as well as celebrities, sports stars, brands, and more. It’s an unbeatable way to market your business online, it can help you find a job, and, as the media have noted, it can help foment a revolution.
Still, Twitter and other social media platforms of its ilk do have their downsides. What doesn’t get as much press, although we know it to be a pretty bad offender in the social media realm, is the phenomenon of mob viciousness. Of course, the horrors of mobs have existed from time immemorial, but when they go online, the vitriol is carried out with such a disgusting sense of impunity that I’m not sure quite what to make of it. Here are my complaints as manifested in the recent Rebecca Black scandal.
Obsession with insta-celebrities.
The recent hate parade launched against Rebecca Black, a thirteen-year-old girl whose parents had paid for her to star in a semi-professional music video produced by a vanity company that placed her song on YouTube. Of course, the video, a tween pop song of the Kesha oeuvre called Friday, went viral very quickly, eventually ratcheting up about forty million views. The little girl’s popularity resulted from the “it’s-so-bad-it’s-good-phenomenon”, which is fine in my book, but this can become a setup for the mob going wild.
Hateful commenting gone way too wild
As I’ve said, I have no problem with celebrity adulation in healthy doses. I’ve got my inner fan freak, too. But the mob that held Black up to some twisted form of hatred and fascination, took their fandom to a whole new level when Twitter users began barraging their epithets in tweets to her account, many of which crossed from insults into death threats.
The lack of cleverness when insulting others.
As someone who occasionally dabbles in arts and cultural criticism, I feel that the art of insult is very important. And to see this art form taken to such a low level absolutely amazes me. In a recent Guardian article, culture and arts critic Charlie Brooker makes this point wonderfully clear:
It’s a soulless lack of self-reproach that makes the predominant Perez Hilton/3am Girl/Holy Moly/TMZ gloaty online sneer-culture so unbearably dull and depressing…And this culture dominates Twitter. Twitter is great for disseminating news, trivia and practical instructions on when and where to meet up in order to overthrow the government, but it also doubles as a hothouse in which viral outbreaks of witless bullying can be incubated and unleashed before anyone knows what’s happening.”
Whether it’s tasteless, morally questionable, or just plain dumb to tweet short, trite insults that sometimes transform into malicious intimidation, is debatable. One can say that it is almost always all three. But as Twitterers who use the social media tool every day, whether for personal or professional purposes, how do we reconcile ourselves with a platform that is both incredibly powerful but incredibly conducive to spewing such hatred? What are your thoughts?