Social media are now a pervasive feature of life. They have notable benefits. Some research suggests that young people are so engrossed in social media that it has resulted in a drop in crime. Their use enables people to engage with the wider environment (even if at times at the expense of their immediate environment). It can counter loneliness. It can help spread important news quickly. There are downsides. Some people may become addicted to it. It may be used to abuse others. It can result in people making public comments that they may wish they had kept to themselves.
The positives generally outweigh the negatives. I find Twitter helpful for keeping up with news, for hearing people’s views on issues (though not taking them necessarily as representative of anyone other than those making them), for valuable links provided by academic colleagues in politics and law, for learning about other people, and for humour. There are some gifted commentators who use Twitter and some whose quick-witted observations are brilliant. Laughter is good for you, so I now follow Eurovision on Twitter – it is one of the funniest nights of the year.
I tend to write tweets regularly. A good number, probably most, are never sent. This is in part because I am tempted to send witty responses to some tweets, but I am wary of gaining a reputation for making funny comments. I have seen some politicians become known primarily for witty one-liners, which then undermines their reputation for making serious contributions to debate. I am also wary in case my comments are misconstrued and have unintended consequences. I find it helpful to leave a gap between writing one and sending it.
My general rule is if in doubt, don’t send. On odd occasions, one gets through. I sent one yesterday which was meant as a comment on the police and their public relations. (‘If you’ve been burgled, we likely won’t turn up, but if you want to claim you were abused by someone who’s now dead please do get in touch’.) It clearly touched a chord and was quickly retweeted and favorited by many readers, including some lawyers and a former senior police officer. That, though, didn’t stop me worrying in case it was misinterpreted. One or two responses reinforced my worry. There was the added concern for me in that it was outside my area of expertise. Whereas some parliamentary colleagues will comment on virtually any topic (in my view diluting their effectiveness), I usually confine myself to my areas of specialisation.
Blogs have the benefit of enabling one to develop one’s views at greater length than in a tweet and, the longer the time taken in composing them, the more opportunity one has to reflect on them. Short blogs, though, are not necessarily those written quickly. My shortest posts, rather like short speeches, are probably the ones that have taken the most time to compose. And this is shorter, notably shorter, than it was a few minutes ago…