Twitter is not a thing, a place or even a collective (although it is often described by the media in those terms). It is perhaps easier to think of it as a virtual soapbox: it is a far-reaching communication tool which can spread opinions and information around the world. One finds one’s audience (or, perhaps more to the point, they find you) and one chooses one’s feeds of information and opinions, much as in real life. The attraction is that people who might never encounter each other in the real world can find kindred spirits and explore ideas together.
Many of the occupants of the Twitterverse are affable and thoughtful souls; others may not even be sane. Think of them as friends and family. Now, naturally, any debate held in an open forum may attract its fair share of halfwits, bigots, racists, conspiracy theorists and even Tories, but they also have their place and are entitled to their voices. As I said, think of them as friends and family. [There are also lunatics, of course, but they can be blocked, muted or simply ignored. Think of that as locking them in the loft or cellar…]
Naturally, if one is to hold and express an opinion in this public forum – on politics, society or any other topic – then one really ought to be prepared to explain the rationale behind that position and even be ready to defend it to a potentially hostile audience. This is simple debating and it is the foundation of intellectual discourse and, indeed, democracy.
The problem with social media – well, one of the problems – is that it can occasionally whip good people into a frenzy over the merest perceived sleight. Online life seems to somehow encourage individuals to react with emotion over intelligence at times (and thus often without making the effort to understand the deeper story behind an event, let alone check sources…) but that is entirely a human failing and one which has very often been quite deliberately fostered – our tabloid media has been especially guilty in this regard.
The web is the new frontier, an unexplored environment of pure (and not-so-pure) mind, and social media is a territory upon which many people have set out on a voyage of self-discovery, often seeking to fulfil their need for “validation”. In the same way that the new frontier of America, back in the days of the Wild West, could not be held to blame for the rise of outlaws and gunslingers, nor can social media be held responsible for an occasional tide of outrage among those who populate it. A “Twitter-storm” is but a symptom, for social media merely hosts opinions; the puerile nonsense, alas, stems from humanity itself.