Is Twitter Evil, or Just The People Using It?

The ways in which we use Twitter have certainly mushroomed since the social media service arrived on the scene in 2006. The most recent case of Twitter being used for purposes the company’s founders couldn’t foresee happening may be the beginning of an alarming trend.

On December 30, Dallas Police Chief David Brown took to the social media site to announce firings of several of his staff. According to a Vocativ report, the head of the Dallas PD has fired or disciplined—via Twitter and Facebook—27 employees in 2013. The first Tweet sent on December 30 read: “I have terminated 911 Call Taker Moises Limon today for driving while under the influence and not reporting his arrest to his supervisor.”

As news of this contemporary form of public shaming spread, the police chief found himself on the defensive—answering questions from the media about his disciplinary choices. When a Dallas Morning News reporter took him to task January 4th, Chief Brown once again took to Twitter to administer another dose of discipline, but this time the Tweet was likely sent while still in a state of anger: “I don’t care for being called an asshole and co**sucker though by the Belo folks.” (He sent the Tweet without the asterisks.)

This is probably the most blatant example of social media being applied in an effort to air out workplace firings. But using Twitter for questionable purposes is not at all a new occurrence. Here in Canada, you may recall back in September when three Toronto firefighters were… well… fired for insensitive Tweets. One of the Tweets in question: “Reject a woman and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also weak arms.” Although the Toronto Professional Firefighters Association was “outraged” by the firings, we should all take a step back and consider how powerful social media has become and the ramifications of its misuse.

Did Twitter founders Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey ever think that their brainchild would be the centerpiece of a Canadian criminal court case, a trial based entirely on Twitter activity? There is an ongoing trial in Toronto involving a 53-year-old artist and father of four named Gregory Elliott, who is charged with three counts of criminal harassment against three Toronto feminists for Tweets he allegedly sent. According to a report, one of the harassment victims herself has sent almost 170,000 Tweets. 

And then there are the Internet haters. Twitter is a godsend for these people who love to hide within the fortress of anonymity and spew out hateful comments—often towards celebrities. If you want to see how awful the Internet trolls can be, look no further than a collection of (totally NSFW) tweets hurled against comedian Natasha Leggero over comments she made on New Year’s Eve. Appearing on Carson Daly’s New Year’s Eve special, Leggero took part in discussing some of the funniest stories of 2013. When the topic of the infamous SpaghettiO’s tweet came up—in which the canned spaghetti maker’s cartoon mascot asked followers to “take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us”—Leggero quipped, “It sucks that the only survivors of Pearl Harbor are being mocked by the only food they can still chew.” 

Insensitive or not, nobody deserves to be called the C-word over and over on Twitter.

With the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, WordPress, etc., we are all essentially our own media companies. We are the reporter and the publisher or broadcaster. Once we’ve said it, it’s on record. We can’t take it back. 

It’s like this: you know when you’re in a heated argument with your friend, lover, or spouse, and you say something hurtful you regret as soon as the words leave your mouth? What if, instead of simply uttering the words in anger, you took pen to paper and wrote out your nasty comments and signed your name on the bottom of the page and had it notarized? Wouldn’t you feel even worse? Isn’t that what we’re doing on social media when we do and say things that really aren’t meant for public record?

Think about it. Before you hit the Tweet button on Twitter or the Post button on Facebook, take a step back for a moment and consider the potential ramifications of your words becoming public. Even if you only have a few friends or a few followers, they can easily re-Tweet or re-post, or copy and paste anything you sent as a “private” message.

If Twitter has evolved so drastically in seven years, where will social media be in 2020? 

A potentially scary thought.