Is Twitter Text or Speech? The Answer Is: Yes

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There are so many great points about Twitter and language in this article, Is Twitter writing, or is it speech? Why we need a new paradigm for our social media platforms  by Nieman Journalism Lab’s Megan Garber I highly recommend you read it in its entirety. But first, here are a few points I found particularly interesting.

What, specifically, is Twitter? Is it writing or is it speech? Or, is it a new communications form entirely. This is not a trivial matter especially as it pertains to the law. Publish damaging text with malice aforethought (as they say) may be libelous — speak disparagingly and it may be considered slander. Different offenses; different remedies and penalties. So what is Twitter? The published word or simply speech made visual? Or, in this world of hybrid pets, plants and cars is it an entirely new species, evolved from technology? (Yes, it is)

And what gravitas does it carry? It’s a communications medium for sure but is it the Twitter of toast; self-aggrandizement and over-zealous marketers or the modern way to spread doctrine, mobilize the citizenry and expose the failings of elected officials, companies and brands? Garber states:

On the one hand, there’s Twitter, the cheeky, geeky little platform — the perky Twitter bird! the collective of “tweets”! all the twee new words that have emerged with the advent of the tw-efix! — and on the other, there’s Twitter, the disruptor: the real-time reporting tool. The pseudo-enabler of democratic revolution.

Twitter, like other social media, is (of course) both. In an age where ‘text’ used was originally a noun, but is increasingly used as a verb, it is a tool, a medium for exchange of ideas. For some to condemn social media as being the cause of failed marriages, leaked documents and the spread of salacious information and material are missing the point, it is a reflecting pool of its users and society as a whole. Communication is ever changing as are the ways it is consumed.

Garber adds, “The framework of text and speech falls apart once we recognize that Twitter is both and neither at once. It’s its own thing, a new category… Twitter is emblematic, if not predictive, of the Gutenberg Parenthesis: the notion that, under the web’s influence, our text-ordered world is resolving back into something more traditionally oral — more conversational and, yes, more ephemeral.”

And that’s the point. Twitter and its social media cousins have adapted, adopted and evolved earlier forms of communications into a new species (and with it a new communications discipline, the social media professional). Companies, brands and organizations that embrace that understand the power of social media and will use it to its best advantage. The others will condemn the medium as the message.

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

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