'Amidst the swirling maelstrom of technological progress so often heralded as the imminent salvation to all our ills, it can be necessary to remind ourselves that humanity sits at the centre, not technology... It's difficult to separate us from our creations but it's imperative that we examine this odd relationship' (Chris Arkenburg).
It's been called a fad with a disloyal fan base and a home for 'generic blathering', yet around the world people are signing up and logging into Twitter. With somewhere between 200 and 500 million users - numbers are debated - Twitter has the ultimate 'send to all' option. This is a place in which the technologically-savvy and journalists can engage in new patterns of communication - witnesses tweet from the scene, while journalists have the opportunity to uncover breaking news from their desks.
We're constantly reminded that the effects of talking online are similar to the effects of communication in the real world. Some have used Twitter with the knowledge/intention (or even hope) that their message will be carried far and wide. Others have been caught off-guard by the echo of their tweets in the wrong places. Recent tweets picked up by the media regarding umpires and supporters, have come from the hands of AFL players. The response - from the AFL, media and fans - has been mixed.
Recently, Carlton player Brock McLean was fined $5000 and given a one-match suspended ban after he posted an offensive message on Twitter. In response to a fan tweeting: "Did you finally get delisted?", McLean wrote: "No, your mum has given me aids". Since being fined Brock has apologised and accepted his suspension. In the wake of this offensive 'attwack' (twictionary, the twitter dictionary), discussions about the use of Twitter, the responsibility of public figures using it and its links to the media have been rampant. People have asked if the penalty, suspension and apology are enough? Enough to punish Brock? Or enough to deter future occurrences? What about the role of the fan in all this? And of course some have wondered: is Twitter to blame?
McClean told the Sydney Morning Herald: "Lucky I'm pretty thick-skinned and I take it with a grain of salt, but we talk so much these days about cyber bullying and it is a form of cyber bullying." Should players be subject to cyberbullying? Or do they have the right to speak back? Tweets between AFL supporters and players or celebrity/fan - and even communication between regular people - have raised questions about appropriate behaviours online, or netiquette. McClean questioned whether the supporter would have asked him such a question face to face.
The consequences of speaking out online differ from those of offline communication. Yes digital spaces are different but so are the different social spaces (work/home/school) we engage with. In many respects, Twitter is just another space to natter, sometimes with people you don't really know. When people post comments or tweets they don't necessarily think about them as digital footprints, with all their timeless/media implications. Some social media commentators see digital spaces as something disconnected from everyday life, while celebritwits voice their opinion like they might in a cafe or someone else's back yard. The message is in the medium: social media sites like Twitter intersect with news media to provide everyday 'tweeple' with unprecedented opportunities to communicate to millions. If we are going to inhabit this bustling social jungle we need to understand it as a slice of life and not a bizarre world unto itself.