Keeping things social: Twitter and the art of listening

toleranceGiven Twitter’s 140 character limit, it’s challenging for some people to say anything of value. For others, like Penelope Trunk,  it’s enough to start a firestorm:

I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.

Penelope was relieved that her spontaneous abortion prevented her from needing a surgical one.  The comment was dark. It was raw. It was honest. It was unedited. And, it was controversial. It shocked nearly everyone — Except Trunk’s more than 19,000 followers.

It made the news, but it wasn’t NEWS to any of us. We already knew that she was dark, raw, honest, unedited, and opinionated.

That’s who she is.

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that controversial and disagreeable opinions are expressed widely using social networks. And, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that people can be more honest and candid with their followers on social media than within the confines of a board meeting.

Penelope had more than 19,000 followers before she Tweeted this particular comment. She has more than 19,000 followers now. It’s an opt-in/opt-out world. People choose who to follow on Twitter. They choose who their friends are on Facebook.

The controversy happens conversations are taken out of context… When comments are presented as facts…When opinions are presented as editorials… When people who don’t know Penelope Trunk, or give a shit about Penelope Trunk, are asked to judge her based on a single comment.

It isn’t good journalism. It’s poor listening.

Credits: Cartoon by Benjamin Hummel, courtesy of Politix Cartoons.

Free To Be You And Me

Free to Be You and Me is a 1974 television special, featuring songs and stories from celebrities (credited as “Marlo Thomas and Friends”). Using poetry, songs, and sketches, the basic concept was to salute values such as individuality, tolerance, and happiness with one’s identity. In this segment, two newborn babies (voices by Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas) try to figure out whether they are a boy or a girl.

4 thoughts on “Keeping things social: Twitter and the art of listening

  • Hey, Troy.

    Thanks so much for bringing great social media intelligence to this conversation. I think you really nail the issues about twitter — how it’s opt-in, so the idea of people being offensive on twitter, after you opt-in, is totally different than, say, posting something on a billboard on Main St.

    And, did you just sneak Free to Be You and Me into social commentary 2.0? I love that. When people talk about convergence, I hope they are thinking of a mash-up like yours.


  • “how it’s opt-in, so the idea of people being offensive on twitter, after you opt-in, is totally different than, say, posting something on a billboard on Main St.”

    But it’s not totally different, is it? When you have an audience of any size, they are free to spread or not spread anything you choose to say or not say. It’s opt-in but it’s not *private*. And in that sense, Twitter is very much like a billboard on Main St.

    This comes close to home because I tried to convince my nephew that there are times and places for thoughts like this. And they aren’t online. I’m glad that Penelope Trunk has been honest, I guess. I’m glad she’s pulled in more followers, cause that’s the whole point of the Twitter world, right? Immortality through head count.

    I still can’t help feeling that saying something like this in front of 20,000 people is just dumb. Am I allowed to judge her for that or is that “not listening”? Are all 20,000+ fans feeding her or making her board meetings easier? Is she happier for all this public honesty? In the end that’s for her decide.

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