#this: Our tweets are written in stone

In #this, Columns, Columns, Opinion

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“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Not just an adage for adorable, grammatically-challenged rabbits, this is a useful sentiment in most situations.

Yet regardless of one’s attempts to stick to it, there are going to be instances when something harsh, offensive or otherwise stupid slips out at an inopportune time. People are people. Mistakes are made in moments of weakness and sometimes things are said that are better left unsaid. Words as immaterial soundwaves, however, hang in the air for just a few moments and exist only as long as people are willing to recall them.

Unless this slip-up comes in the form of a tweet. Then you are, for lack of a better term, screwed.

It’s a lesson that many have to learn the hard way: The idea that when the whole world is watching (or 85 million people daily, at least), it is very likely that a controversial comment here or an ill-taken joke there will ruffle some feathers. After all, there are reasons why there is the suggestion that those in the professional world should keep a separate Twitter account for their personal musings—preferably one that is private and protected.

Again, it comes down to the idea of permanence. It is the idea that once something is “on the Internet” it is there “forever.” That may or may not be entirely accurate, but it is undoubtedly difficult to slip something past the ever-watchful eyes of social media stalwarts, particularly if you hold a relatively public position.

The term “relatively” being operative in this case.

For those not in the know, the video game community is currently in the throes of speculation as the big console developers start the excruciatingly slow reveal of their respective systems. I won’t get into the minutiae of this process or the systems themselves (this isn’t my colleague Matt Atkinson’s column, darn it), but just trust that it has much of the Internet in a veritable tizzy.

But that tizzy turned full-on controversial last week because of previously unknown Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth.

A brief backlash ensued after comments surfaced online that Microsoft’s next Xbox system would require users to have a constant connection to the Internet in order to operate—similar to the ill-conceived concept implemented by recently released PC game, SimCity. Apparently unaware that opinions on social media fly as frequently as planes out of LAX, Orth felt it was his job to chime in and defend the rumor utilizing his worldly knowledge and faultless logic.

By that, I mean he made some semi-insulting comments suggesting consumers #dealwithit; “it” being the unconfirmed feature that Microsoft’s system might or might not actually have. It, like most tweets that cause a big hubbub, is fairly convoluted and quite questionable in just how sincere its sender is.

However, it’s here that we can take a closer look at just why this is dangerous, not just if you’re a Microsoft employee, but if you’re anyone who cares anything about your perception online. It’s currently unclear if Orth will face any concrete reprimand from Microsoft, but it’s likely that if he’d considered the following, he could have avoided ridicule.

Namely, there are two notable elements here.

Number one is to remember that while you are using social media—Twitter specifically—although you are visible in a sense, you are faceless. What I mean by this is that while people might be able to see your chosen avatar (it may indeed be a picture of your face) and while they can read what you write, they can’t very well guess with 100 percent certainty what you mean by your words.

People may indeed “know” your online persona, but when you are tweeting you are not just tweeting to those in the “know”. You are tweeting at the world at large. Many people are not going to rightly understand what you’re really tweeting about or in what way they should be taking things.

Secondly, and this is more to the heart of the matter, what you tweet should be perceived as permanent. Even if the delete button is hit moments after a tweet is sent out, it might still exist. For example, Orth currently has his Twitter account locked down under privacy settings, yet his offending tweets exist in screencaps on every news source caring to write about his misstep.

But even if you pay close attention to these two and still find yourself staring at your Twitter timeline—fingers at the keyboard—wondering whether you should tweet out that next biting comment, then you probably already know if you should or not.

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