Just because you can encapsulate your entire point of view on any given subject into 280 characters, really, should you?
Perhaps one of the most intriguing phenomena in modern society – only in the last 10 years has this even become a “thing” – is how anybody, at any time, can put themselves and their opinions on a platform and be seen by potentially millions of people simply based on what they say, how they say it, or whom they say it to.
That platform, of course, is social media. And between Twitter – the afore alluded to site which is the website equivalent to an attention deficit disorder diagnosis – and the uncontrollable mammoth that we call Facebook, there is more than enough opinions to go around.
For some, the platform is quite literally a stage – an extension of their already-popular personas that were crafted elsewhere, like movie stars and acclaimed authors who crave an opportunity to project themselves, not just their characters, to the world.
For others, especially those not accustomed to what exactly it means to be on a stage with countless numbers of people waiting to pounce on what you thought was an innocuous statement, a step onto the stage will only result in broken legs – and not the kind that denote good luck.
Take, for instance, a recent Twitter spat had between two adult members of our own state legislature. Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Providence) began by, innocently enough, expressing her opinion about how she believes Rhode Island will only ever improve its students’ educational standing “when we begin to value their teachers,” signing off the tweet with a hashtag proclaiming that she is a teacher.
She followed up with another message, which is already an indication that Twitter is not your ideal platform for such an opinion. Very few things can be adequately condensed neatly into 280 characters, let alone a strategy to improve the state’s educational ranking.
“Most people who offer opinions abt teaching & learning have never been in a classroom haven’t taken a course in education or educational psychology have never had a real conversation with teachers or students Then you should just stop giving opinions U are not an expert,” her second tweet read.
Despite the, let’s just call it ironic, necessity of outright butchering proper grammar in a message talking about being an expert in education – again, why was Twitter the appropriate means to get this message out when the legislative session has just started? – Rep. Ranglin-Vassell is still, of course, entitled to her opinion.
What doesn’t sit well with us is what happened next. Part of opening your thoughts and opinions on the internet is that you open yourself up to criticism for those opinions – and don’t you worry, the hordes of armchair experts on the internet will find ways to pick apart your argument (just glance at the comments on our Facebook page) no matter how ironclad you think it to be.
North Smithfield Rep. Brian Newberry responded that, “All part-time legislators have expertise and experience in some areas and not others. That said, we should all respectfully listen to the views of those we represent and, if we disagree and know better, seek to educate and inform, not rudely dismiss. Give Respect, Get Respect.”
For those familiar with the world of Twitter responses, Newberry’s retort was pretty much the internet equivalent of a smile, hug and a pat on the shoulder while respectfully disagreeing with a friend. It was actually a shining example of how discourse should – but rarely ever does – occur online.
Instead of taking the reply from her across-aisle colleague in stride, however, Ranglin-Vassell immediately accused him of trying to “cyber bully her with your racist attitude.” After another level-headed response from Newberry, Ranglin-Vassell doubled down on her comment, again calling him a bully that was trying to “bully [her] off of Twitter.”
The back and forth was a snapshot into why our legislators should probably resist the temptation to react in real time on social media. Legislators are elected in order to provide thoughtful analysis into topics that affect our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Thoughtful analysis on Twitter is inherently an oxymoron – it is simply not what it is intended for. We would hope that these individuals understand that social media is not a private message board or a self-contained echo chamber where your opinion is untouchable, nor is it a platform that forgets.
From the Oval Office to Smith Hill, please, we implore our elected officials, some things are better left un-Tweeted.