I don't get twitter

Last night I signed up for a new social media platform. It was suggested by my daughter, who has moved to Japan for four years with her husband who is serving in the United States Air Force. The new platform will allow us to exchange text messages, engage in online chats, and even make video calls over the Internet using our mobile phones. I’m eager to keep up with the events of their lives and learning how to use a new application on my phone seems like a very small price to pay.

I wasn’t very far into the signup process, however, before I began to wonder what I was getting myself into. The new application wanted to create a link to my Facebook account. Then it wanted to search my address book for people in my address book who are participating in the new platform. Right away it made the mistake of recommending that I include in my social network a person who had the same name as an acquaintance of mine, but whom I’ve never met and with whom I may have nothing in common.

I’m no master of social media. I might be described more accurately as a reluctant participant. I was slow to get caught up in Facebook, but when a nephew was traveling outside of the U.S. it was the only convenient way to keep up with his travels and see his pictures, so I signed up. Not long after I signed up it became obvious that Facebook was one of the places where we could communicate with people who were hard to reach through other media, so the church established a Facebook page. It has been a good way to communicate some messages. Interestingly, we have to keep track of which media work best for which people. In our small youth group, for example, there are those who are best reached by text message, those who are best reached by voice phone, those who are best reached by Facebook, and on and on.

The days when the church would print a newsletter and send it through the mail and assume that most of its members would know what is going on are past. Our newsletter goes out in the mail, is placed on a table in the entryway for physical pick up, is sent out by email, is placed on our web site with links posted on Facebook and sent out through Twitter. And I’m fairly confident that the number of people who actually read the newsletter has been in steady decline despite all of the different methods of disseminating the information.

I have to admit that I simply don’t get Twitter. I have an account, which is used only for sending out the church’s newsletter. I don’t “follow” anyone on twitter and only a few dozen of those who follow that monthly link to the newsletter are recognizable to me. Most of them don’t live anywhere near Rapid City, South Dakota.

As you can tell by my blog, I’m an essayist. I rarely confine myself to 140 characters. The reason for the 140 character limit is that at the time Twitter was established, SMS messages (phone text messages) were limited to 160 characters. So Twitter dropped the number by 20 to allow for the @ names to be added at the end. The format ballooned to 300 million customers and then stopped growing. The number sounds impressive, but the reality is much less impressive than the numbers indicate. A few other statistics about the format might reveal a bit of what is really going on. 87% of Americans know about Twitter, but only 7% actually use it. Fewer than 1 in 13 of the Americans who know about Twitter actually use the format. And of those 53% never post any updates.

For all of the attention Twitter gets in other media, more people get information on what is going on in the format from other media than directly from the format itself. Twitter posts are known as “tweets” and are reposted on television, in print articles, in online websites and dozens of other formats. To the extent that Twitter was a factor in the recent presidential election, it was probably because news people followed the candidates and quoted their posts in other formats.

What gets reposted are the most outrageous and inflammatory comments. When a presidential candidate reposts comments made by white supremacists, what had once been a fringe group suddenly has an audience of millions. Views previously relegated to the darkest corners of the Internet somehow become mainstream.

Since I don’t like much of what is circulated on twitter, I thought I might at least try to circulate something more positive. Here are some great quotes. Each of them, posted as a separate paragraph below, is less than 140 characters:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Here are a couple more posts worthy of re-tweeting:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?

You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

If we are going to play to a media form that encourages simply passing on information without considering its source, perhaps we should post a few items that come from a very solid source indeed.

Then, again, I’m no expert on Twitter. I suspect it might be better for me to stick to my usual: “The December issue of The Call newsletter is now available.”

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!