While about Twitter, this essay is also about the larger sphere of social interactions, in person or by way of social media, How kind are you to Twitter and how kind is Twitter to you?
Erving Goffman (1922-1982) was an eminent social theorist who had interesting stuff to say about how we present ourselves in social situations. He described our social interactions as a series of performances – we are all actors trying to control the impression others have of us in order to avoid embarrassment and shame. Extending the performance metaphor, he describes our front-stage and back-stage performances – those we are prepared to show to our wider networks and those we keep hidden away. He also wrote about Stigma (1961) in which he explored how people manage impressions of themselves when they carry ‘marks’ which mean they don’t conform to approved standards of behaviour or appearance. So how does this play out in your Twitter ecosystem – the people who you follow and who follow you?
This would easily apply to blogging. especially if you have comments, but the various interactive buttons: rate this post, like, post to Facebook or Twitter, and positive and negatives comments tend to be ways that bloggers play to their audience and on some level shape the content, tone and even length of posts.
As an experiment I just tweeted ‘I’ve got a big bad miserable headache’ (which is true FYI) – not the biggest share in the world but even that felt uncomfortable! Not one single person responded. But when I tweeted about my pottery lesson success then I got tons of interaction. Perhaps we only want to hear the good stuff.
I think the reactions we get probably depend on the online ecosystem we have created around ourselves. I happen to follow a lot of people who use Twitter as a source of support and connectedness to other people with similar mental health diagnoses and they routinely tweet about how they are feeling and are quick to offer support each other. Check out #BPDChat on a Sunday night at 9pm to see people with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder sharing learning and supporting each other on a different related topic each week. It fits the social norm of that ecosystem because that is what it was set up to do. It is routinely kind and generous and affirmative.
That is an interesting phenomenon in that while the stigma associated with any level of mental health problems has improved over the years, even if relatively anonymous, the participants are exposing themselves to a vast audience of public judgments. Though as is often the case, despite the on going presence of trolls, most of the feedback on that Twitter feed is positive. Obviously 140 characters is not going to make even a mild emotional issue go away; it is the nod of acknowledgement, the digital smile as an affirmation that someone has acknowledged someone’s pain. Sometimes just knowing that is enough for a participant to feel better.
Happy birthday Lydia Maria Child (February 11, 1802 – October 20, 1880) was an American abolitionist, women’s rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and journalist and Unitarian.