David Staples: How to survive on Twitter — a guide for Edmonton’s new city councillors
EDMONTON - Twitter is a riddle that a politician must solve to rise to the top.
It is a boom-town tavern of public discourse: rough, chaotic, funny, fast-moving, complicated, profane, deceitful, informative and open all hours.
These days, it makes and breaks political candidates and movements. If your faction can’t hold its own on Twitter, you have little chance in the voting booth.
Nowhere near everyone is on Twitter, but you will find there the chattering classes, loud and opinionated folks from all political spectrums. They visit the hive to feed on the latest news and gossip, to give and take advice, and to sharpen their own arguments.
Twitter is a keen test for politicians for at various times, no matter who you are, you will be ignored and berated there, critiqued and made fun of, cursed and shamed. As one prolific local tweeter put it, “Twitter is about millions of vultures circling, waiting for blood & when they see it, they dive into emotional, opinionated chaos.”
With all that in mind, and with Twitter being central to my own work for several years now (@dstaples for Oilers talk,@DavidStaplesYEG for city news), here’s my primer for our newly elected city councillors on how to survive on Twitter, starting with insights on best practices from some heavy tweeters:
Colin Rice: “If you won’t say it in person, don’t put it on Twitter.”
@WildcatOil: “Just because you’re entitled to your opinion, doesn’t mean it’s not stupid.”
@RKM17: “Twitter is like life. If you can dish it out, expect to take some in return.”
@KurtLeavins: “Before you respond to a hater or negativity ... breathe. It’s ‘only Twitter.’ :)”
@RyanHastman: “(1) You are less funny than you think (2) Twitter is forever (3) Be nice (4) There was one undecided guy on Twitter once, but he deleted his account.”
Mike Cockrall: “Don’t be afraid to block trolls and negative people.”
John Hozack: “Thick skin needed but lacking. Learn to assassinate grmr and spelln.”
@DaniDontknowtec: “It is better to stand for something than to fall for anything. Don’t be an i-Sheep. Use your own voice.”
Adam McKale: “Reply to EVERYONE. Even a ‘fav’ will do. For me, Twitter is about communication. No one likes to be snubbed.”
And my favourite response, from the tongue-in-cheek Cory Dakin: “Take everything seriously. Then get easily offended by the most innocuous things. Seems to be most people’s philosophy. I almost forgot ... Make sure you determine your self worth by the number of followers you have. Also, be wary of sarcasm.”
For more advice, I went to the new master of the Twitter domain, Iveson himself.
“Keep it short. Don’t argue. Beware grumps,” he tweeted.
Excellent advice for politicians. They are indeed wise not to get into major fights on Twitter. They should save their rhetoric for council debates. And as they’ve all vigorously promised to engage with citizens, they also have to be careful not to “block” too many disagreeable ones on Twitter (electronically shun them).
That said, no need to put up with the profane, the deceitful and the malicious. It’s also reasonable to “unfollow” those who really bug you.
My advice? Well, having made almost every rhetorical and interpersonal blunder in the book on Twitter, here goes:
Don’t expect others to be nice. Expect fierce disagreement. Twitter is a debate, not a dinner party, and people often have a lot riding if the debate is about their job, property, taxes or reputation.
A funny response will almost always get your point across better than an angry one.
Give zero weight to personal attacks in any debate. Make it clear you ignore them.
Be wary. The annoying, anonymous person you just lambasted may have the computer skills to hack you.
The best response to a sharp attack isn’t to get hot. Instead, get cold. Carefully study the point being made, then as coolly, impersonally and blandly as possible, reply.
Remember, if a critical comment stings, maybe it’s because the truth hurts. We are all wrong-headed far more often than we’d like to believe.
That said, don’t back off your argument too fast. Highly intelligent or persuasive people aren’t invariably more ethical, wise or correct, even if they can come up with endless arguments to push their points of view.
Finally, remember Twitter has a per tweet limit of 140 chara
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