I ran across an amusing little incident (via MetaFilter) that happened recently in San Francisco, and I felt I needed to share. Members of the Fred Phelps-led Westboro Baptist Church gathered recently for a protest outside the offices of Twitter. I’m going to be smart and stay well clear of discussing the ministry, its protest signs, or the counter-protest to their small rally—you can read and see more of that at either of these not-safe-for-work links—but I have to address what one of the protesters was reported to have said. To quote the Asylum article by Harmon Leon:
As the verbal assault continued, I raised my hand and asked the obvious: “Why Twitter? Does God hate Twitter?”
“We have not quarrels with Twitter. Twitter is a great platform,” stated a gray-haired WBC woman juggling several signs that could be interpreted as funny and ironic if they were actually funny and ironic. Gesturing to one of the younger WBC women, she added, “Meagan, she’s Twittering right now.”
But she explained the reason behind the protest: “Twitter should be used to tell the punks of doomed America that God hates you!”
As a staunch advocate of the use of social media, I have to say this shows a complete misunderstanding of how Twitter works, and reveals the difference between the old and new schools of mass communication. Protesting at the Twitter offices to get the platform to be used in one way or another presupposes that Twitter is a one-way channel that controls all the messages sent through it. It’s like seeing a soda can on the ground next to a recycling bin and complaining that the bin doesn’t reach out and pick up the can.
The new model of social engagement starts with interested parties reaching out to other interested parties. The correct action to take if you want Twitter to “tell the punks of doomed America that God hates you” is to start telling them yourself via Twitter.
Of course, that’s going to be somewhat problematic, since Twitter doesn’t work by telepathy. You can spout all the hate you want (subject to Twitter’s terms of service) but if nobody’s following you, you won’t be heard. The punks of doomed America aren’t going to follow these people to receive daily reminders of how a fringe group thinks they’re damned—well, the masochistic ones might—so the message dies. That’s how it is with social: If you want to reach people, you must have something worthwhile to say.