arguing on twitter… like jousting with bendy straws

I noticed quite a few arguments and disagreements happening on Twitter this week, it seemed there were more than usual, and earlier in the week I found myself in a few tussles.  Maybe I just got sensitised to online conflict and the amount of argy-bargy was no higher than usual, but I had to conclude that arguing on twitter is like jousting with bendy straws. It’s a kind of futile and ultimately unenjoyable exercise. Far better to put the straw into the drink and take some refreshment.

Allow me to expand. Twitter is a great social network/platform for certain things. For sharing links, connecting with people and connecting yourself to the zeitgeist, it cannot be beaten which is why it storms onwards to ever higher levels of usage. Twitter’s enforced brevity, a kind of haiku like discipline of 140 characters is probably a key to its success.  People can’t go on rants or extended ramblings as they can on other platforms and this ensures the messages are short and punchy. The twitter timeline may flow faster than an English river in July, but users know what they are getting, and once attuned to the communicational specificities of the platform the timeline of your followers rarely disappoints.

But what about when a disagreement breaks out? What to do when you tweet an opinion and someone comes right back at you with a contrary point? My instinct has always been to go right back at the challenge, like a yappy Jack Russell who miraculously learned to touch-type. This happened earlier in the week when I tweeted about Niall Ferguson’s hijacking of the Reith lectures for political ends and his unquestioning praise for academies and free schools. Somebody outwith my following dared (dared I say) to challenge my opinion which resulted in an interesting exchange:

Although twitter can display what it euphemistically calls a ‘conversation’ (ideological dogfight would be a better term here), it’s hard to follow the exchange here. But basically my sparring partner opined (not captured above) that academies work because they can innovate. I then asked him to name an area where an academy can innovate where a state school can’t (this is known in the trade as a bear trap!); he then countered that he couldn’t answer but nor could I (which made me see a little bit of pink mist), to which I replied that state schools can innovate, (3 words here: Cramlington Learning Village..) the answer then comes back that academy status won’t guarantee anything which of course is exactly the opposite of what Niall Ferguson was arguing in his lecture where he blithely swallowed the Gove line that the increased autonomy of academies is a silver bullet to educational improvement. LIke a master Kung-Fu fighter I was well on my way to a glorious victory using the weight of my opponent to throw him to the canvas. The exchange continued for a while but ultimately it was just ‘meh!’ what is the point of this, and what am I doing, what am I proving, WTF am I doing arguing on twitter?

So I return to my original point, any victories you gain arguing with people on Twitter are pyrrhic (they cost more than you gain from them). It’s not the platform for a long argument, it’s just poking with bendy straws. My policy now is to state my point, if people disagree I can have one shot back at them (L’esprit de Twittier as the French would say), and after that I resist the desire to go back at them again in a tit-for-tat 140 txt battle. This will no doubt necessitate me taking large amounts of duct tape and binding my hands to the my desk as the sailors did to Ulysses as his boat passed within ear shot of the Sirens.

And if you want to argue with that, there’s a comment box below…

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Image is creative commons, by quinn.anya on Flickr. Original available here

4 thoughts on “arguing on twitter… like jousting with bendy straws

  1. Agreed but one possible exception i.e. when someone is paying you to maintain a silly changes-nothing argument but academics often seem to forget (internet neophytes?) that the whole world can see what would have been better left as a common room spat?

  2. No argument from me. I know the exchange you referred to this week. I found it embarrassing and tedious cluttering up my timeline. In my opinion, it is not the right place to be doing this. Incidentally, I know CLV and agree about the creativity and innovation there. When working in the NE for SSAT (as was), people in Northumberland often looked skyward and said ‘Oh, they do things differently there!’ Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I certainly think so.

  3. It’s funny – I had the exact same realisation this week, twice on the same day. First, I got pulled into a discussion I didn’t feel comfortable but felt I had to respond to, then I mistakenly took part in the ukedtalk chat. You’re right – twitter just doesn’t work for anything worthy of lengthy discussion. My new resolution is to not get drawn into any debates or arguments. Walking away seems a much better idea. Hope
    I can keep it up though!

  4. Good insight Matt.

    I liken Twitter arguements to a boxing match where the fighters can land only 1 jab at a time.

    Fights would only be won by boxers being exhausted after 130 rounds.

    As everyone Knows you can’t land a knockout blow with a jab!

    Keep up the great work.
    Julian

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