A friend in Australia just asked me what I thought about an article on celebrities leaving Twitter as a result of trolls and the amount of vitriol they increasingly face. My initial response was “Don’t follow celebrities or people who post bile! Oh, and stop reading newspaper articles about it.”
I said this for two reasons. The first is that I see none of what she was talking about. I don’t see celebrities, nor the appalling behaviours that they unfortunately attract, when I visit Twitter. My experience is deliberately limited to the 100 smart people who I pay attention to on there.
The second is that the journalist who wrote the article works for a newspaper and is part of the media engine that has a commercial interest in building up celebrities and thereby making them a potential target for the envy, and at the worst abuse, that they attract.
Many years ago, when Stephen Fry began using Twitter and the early conversations he was able to have in the relatively small world of Twitter users began to turn into something very different, someone commented that “On Twitter celebrity doesn’t scale”. My response was that the problem was with celebrity not with Twitter.
But Twitter chose to aspire to be a media company. They chose to be part of the problem not the solution. If they are going to play that game they have to take responsibility and be more assertive in managing the behaviour of those who use their service.
As to the long term, the Internet is a mirror that is forcing us to see aspects of our behaviour that we may not be very proud of. I remain optimistic that, eventually, more of us will realise that “we all have a volume control on mob rule.” We will take responsibility, both individually and collectively, for what we link to and what we ignore, what we react to and what we resist. We will more actively manage the attention which both celebrities and trolls crave.
We will realise, at last, that we are the media.