Online Politeness – A Glimmer of Hope

There are lots of horrendous stories in the media each week at the moment of people suffering awful abuse on Twitter at the hands of trolls.

I’m a middle aged, middle class, white, educated guy. So the worst offences I tend to experience on Twitter is their advertising algorithm occasionally getting things a little bit wrong and showing me something I’m not interested in a few too many times.

I do run a few twitter accounts and have noticed – rather unsurprisingly – that the larger the following you have, the more people tend to invade your space asking you to retweet stuff or ask questions etc.

One such account is @kunstart, from where I tweet info about art exhibitions in Belgium.

The other day I had a lovely experience that I wish happened to a lot more people on this very open, but rather fragile medium of Twitter.

Someone interrupted me (that’s what Twitter is after all, a great big interruption machine), but they actually said “Excuse me”. It totally bowled me over. This is of course how we would act if we approached a stranger on the street and asked them a question.

Of course in the early days, Twitter started out as a great leveller, stripping away layers of hierarchy, giving access to people most of us would never be able to reach. It still achieves that, but there are so many more of us on Twitter now that it has lost some of the original feeling.

I’m not suggesting that we all waste 10% of our precious 140 characters on introductions, formalities and excuses whenever we connect with a stranger on Twitter. It’s a fast moving, open place where anyone can have their say. But the occasional injection of politeness into a Tweet goes a long way to reminding people that there’s another human on the opposite end of the tweet.

But more importantly, we shouldn’t just idly stand by when we see appauling behaviour and abuse on and off line. They’re our social networks and most of us are decent people. Let’s not offer a few bigots the opportunity to thrive.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t know the answer to the question. If you do, please let @nuedd know.