Steven Moffat, showrunner and television writer for Doctor Who and Sherlock, exited Twitter with a flourish: Now to burn down this Twitter account and dance on its ashes, singing ‘This platform is a dangerous affront to good faith human discourse: anger is a slogan, reason needs nuance, and love looks you in the eye when it speaks. Matches, trail of gunpowder, BYEE!’
Oh no! I’d hoped to read more of his tweets. I suspected he’d been the target of cruel, bullying comments. Many on social media claim a love/hate relationship with the apps and websites. Yet, why would a skilled writer want not just to exit, but to burn down his Twitter account?
For this piece I’ll focus solely on communication via Twitter and Facebook. I’ll leave to others the important concerns related to privacy, children, false advertising and political disinformation.
The sites are designed to provide space to network, as well as to create and share content. What is it that goes so terribly wrong?
Most blame something inherent in the platforms for the destructive conflict. You’ve heard it: I hate Twitter! I despise Facebook!
Yet, being a “dangerous affront,” wasn’t built into the sites. It’s the users, the people who share, who bring the elements Moffat cited. Occasionally, this is deliberate. Other times, it’s the result of unintentional miscommunication.
Consider the three-dimensional spaces we inhabit. Verbal attacks occur in town hall meetings, on phone calls, in Zoom conferences, on chat shows and in the marketplace. Yet we don’t blame the hall, the phone, the camera, the studio or the market.
We know that a verbal attack springs from an individual’s inability or unwillingness to speak the language Moffat calls, “good faith human discourse.”
New mediums for communication allow us to use video, audio, photographs and written messages, giving us numerous ways to relay information and share ideas. Yet when we’re careless, it’s easy to become a self-absorbed broadcaster, an arrogant show-off or a malicious, toxic troll. It takes commitment, care and emotional maturity to be a thoughtful, careful communicator in these new spaces.
I’ve come to see social media platforms as planets in a neutral universe where non-neutral people often rush to share the rough drafts of their thoughts. They’re tossed into the flow of a social media feed to be read by anyone. Sometimes they collide. Comments or visuals range from insights, ideas, questions, comfort, encouragement and connection—to insults, abuse, contempt, slams, certainty and finally, cancel or block.
When social media sites emerged we’d not yet perfected email or text-messaging techniques and strategies. Therefore, only the most skilled communicators were well-prepared to write clear, concise messages consistently. Even these experts admit to being challenged by the inherent limitations.
The shift from speaking about experiences, ideas and opinions to writing about them brought new realities and challenges.
Communication in every space happens only when the message in the mind of the listener (in this instance, a reader on Facebook or Twitter) matches the message in the mind of the speaker (a tweeter or poster).
Talk happens when we speak in order to give information or to express ideas or feelings. Too often we settle for unintentional, unfocused, self-centered, one-sided talk. Or we fall into chatter, which is purposeless talk.
Virtually every situation can benefit from MORE communication and LESS talk and chatter. There are times and places for shooting the breeze. However, not when trying to convey a clear message to an audience.
Social media provides a new space for communication and requires renewed commitment to a greater degree of care. Blaming the platforms won’t help if the people on them don’t change.
I’ve not always seen Twitter and Facebook as positive spaces. I came to both in 2009 at the urging of a speechwriting client who wanted me to experience more of his arena of expertise, social media. Since then, the interactions there have at times bored, infuriated and shocked me. They’ve frustrated and confused me and siphoned time from my days.
Several times, I’ve zeroed in on the toxicity and considered closing my accounts.
Yet I remained curious about the mix of good and bad, the madness and caring, the courageous, the frightened, the kind, wise, silly and sometimes thoughtless ways people attempt to convey a message. As a writer, communication strategist and instructor, I find social media fascinating.
Of course some people disappoint, as they do in the three-dimensional world. It’s too easy to forget that those quickly typed words can land on, and might take root in, emotionally fragile human beings.
We are after all, to varying degrees, emotionally fragile. We must handle one another with greater kindness and care.
Many of those I’ve encountered use social media to engage in good faith discourse despite, as noted by Moffat, there being no face or eyes to look into.
During the 2020 lockdown, Twitter and Facebook became my key community and gathering places. Friends who shared music, musings, books, articles, news, historic photos, learning resources, light-hearted banter and videos could fill a day with fellowship, caring and fun. I’ve been lucky to enjoy kindness and connection that made the lockdown bearable and, at times, even magical.
Tweets or posts can be sly, clever, pointed and powerful. They can educate and work well to deliver sharp critiques of policies, leaders, the media and social issues.
For better or worse—and I think it holds promise—Twitter and Facebook democratize discourse. Everyone gets the same access, an equal say.
Never forget, a tweet or post will magnify who and what you are.
Social media preserves your words. Therefore, all of your posts, whether in written, audio or video form, become chapters in the book of your life. What’s your purpose? What do you want to say? How do you want to be represented by your words as they stand in social media?
What’s your intention or objective when you post? Knowing this, keeping it in mind, and staying true to it as you create your messages, will help you align your real-world best self with your social media avatar.
I’m sad that Steven Moffat experienced faceless rage, hate and disrespect. Words can be weaponized and launched at warp speed on Twitter. He’s correct to say that love can’t look you in the eye when you’re writing or reading. Yet he knows better than most how words on the screen or page carry love through our eyes to touch our minds, hearts and funny bones. It happens every day as people exchange stories, insights and experiences on social media.
Nothing good happens without communication. Social media provides a place for it. It’s new, a virtual space. We must make it something to celebrate: a constructive, compassionate, tolerant, smart, fun, funny, hopeful, sharp, honest space for the curious to explore, learn, laugh and connect.
You can follow this link to see my Social Media Communication Challenges and Tips. You also can download a copy and share it with friends. Let's make communication magic!
Gloria Thomas, The Communication Wizard, Positive Power Lines™
CONFIDENT. CLEAR. CONNECTED.