The Stupid File: Twitter as Cult, destroyer of moral compasses. BALONEY!


One of the most intriguing and most frustrating aspects of the “new media” is how foolish the stories become as writers search for meaning amidst the ocean of change and sea of drivel that makes up the modern information infrastructure aka “Them Dang Interwebs”.

Today’s foolishness takes the form of Jeremy Toeman’s article “It’s Official, Twitter is a Cult” where Jeremy manages to mangle the meaning of a cult about as many times as he invokes it in criticizing Twitter.    Another article actually suggests Twitter is wreaking havoc with moral compasses but I’m not sure I’ll even dignify that nonsense with a read, especially because I find Twitter to be the *least morally offensive* of the many internet venues where I hang out.

Yo TwitterCritterCizers, when is the last time a group of your friends drilled a bunch of wells to give extremely poor people in Africa water?  On Twitter the answer is “Last Saturday “, when the Charity:Water effort, funded by hundreds of thousands of small donations from Twitter folks, began a project to bring clean water to Africa.    This act alone defies much of the cult charge since it is clearly benefitting people who are far outside the “Twitter” network and represents the opposite of a totalitarian, elitist approach to social interaction.   But let’s go through the “Cult” charges one by one to note how backwards this analysis really is.

I’m harping on this partly becuase I’m a twitter fan / evangelist but also because the promise of social media is absolutely spectacular, and I think Twitter may come the closest to realizing that promise for a mass audience.    Twitter and most other social media experiments represent humankind’s best effort to date to create broad based, non-elitist, participatory democracies and social networking infrastructures.    Twitter *defies* the cult and elitist mentality that is still pervasive in legacy human interaction, especially in religion and politics where money, charisma, and connections completely trump solid qualifications and personal virtues.

At the risk of falling into Jeremy’s  trap and talking about a stupid article, I really think its’ a good idea to debunk this mythology before the world comes to an end and only me and the glorious Twitter people survive the apocalypse , whoops…. I mean before it gets out of hand.

  1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
    Nope, in fact it’s hard to even talk about Twitter to friends, relatives, or readers of this blog who mostly think it’s silly.    I like to evangelize blogging but don’t do that much with Twitter, and  in Twitter land Twitter rejection is expected and OK.   No cultishness in the “coercion” department.
  2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society
    Ummmm.  No.  There are no real “kingpins” on Twitter.  In fact the founders, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, are not even the most followed and don’t participate in Twitter all that actively with comments.   Both are pretty mild mannered geeky guys who live modest lifesyles and largely shun the fame and personal power Twitter could bring to them with the simple act of more postings and calls to action.   Furthermore, on Twitter you can follow anybody you care to, and many will probably follow you back if you don’t annoy them with appeals to buy things.   This is called an “egalitarian society” and is the opposite of a totalitarian one.
  3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma. Even the author of the article states this one is “a stretch”.   A stretch to utter nonsense.
  4. It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people
    Huh?   Twitter does not solicit funds or actively recruit people.   It is free, it is open, you can leave, join, participate at your own whim.
  5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
    First, it has little wealth at this time.  Twitter’s looking to monetize its spectacular success and most folks hope they can do it, but one thing that is clear is that unlike cults Twitter won’t ask the members for anything – not even active participation.   More importantly Twitter’s  is getting used to generate a lot of money for *charities* and good works like the Charity:Water project listed above.

Conclusion:   Twitter is not a cult, it’s a minor social miracle.

PS  To avoid an untimely demise pass this Twitter propaganda on to 1000 of your closest friends and relatives and follow @joeduck at Twitter

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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6 Responses to The Stupid File: Twitter as Cult, destroyer of moral compasses. BALONEY!

  1. Joe,

    First, my post wasn’t exactly supposed to be taken literally.

    Second, what *is* interesting to me is how rapidly and vociferously people choose to defend Twitter, as if the mere notion that there *could* be something wrong with the way people use it is offensive. Just because it’s “new media” doesn’t make it “good” and if I can get people to, you know, THINK for a second, maybe my post was worth it.

    As I said… “one other common attribute of a cult is the complete inability to handle negativity nor criticism about the cult itself…”

    Also, I do find it interesting that while you claim there’s nothing “elitist” about Twitter, one of your own “top posts” is a list of all the celebrities who use Twitter.

    Lastly, I’d like to especially applaud you for use of the terms foolishness and stupid to describe my writing. It’s an excellent way to engage another person in intelligent, thoughtful discourse. Well done sir.

  2. JoeDuck says:

    Hi Jeremy and thanks for checking in. I admit in one sense I’m overreacting as a Twitter fan boy, but when you say “not taken literally” I’m not sure I understand because it really seemed you were trying to make a serious case for Twitter cult status. In fact in your comment here you’re doing it again, suggesting what you say is my

    “complete inability to handle negativity …. about the cult itself”.

    My point is that “Twitter as Cult” is a perfectly legitimate type of inquiry that inquiring minds will reject on the surface as absurd for the reasons I give above. Twitter is an anti-cult because it encourages dialog and interaction where legacy social interaction shelters people using many mechanisms, most notably wealth or status.

    This is not a trivial discussion by any means. As we move forward humanity is confronted with enormous challenges with social and cultural interactions. Online networking has quickly risen as one of the most prominent and influential forms of social interaction. If as you suggest Twitter is cult-like then it and other social media pose grave threats to social stability and even national security. On the other hand people like me would argue that Twitter represents broad based participatory socializing, idea sharing, and community. It’s not humanity at our finest, but it is representative of humanity. That’s about the best we can ask of any major paradigm change.

  3. trainhard says:

    Twitter is dumb. Who seriously cares what people are doing. Are we that fascinated with other peoples lives. Oh, I forgot, we are considering all these stupid reality shows, like the Kardashians.

  4. Doktor Mandrake says:

    To be perfectly honest I hadn’t actually considered that Twitter or any other social networking site was actually doing much other than replacing paid communications while organising things and being used/abused to disseminate advertising and propaganda. That said, it is frequently said that Twitter is the choice of the celebrities which is probably where the charges of elitism come in.

    I would be very interested to hear of any practicable ways to render non-elitist media online in such a manner that connections, training etc were not a requisite for involvement without the system being buried knee-deep in meaningless static. I’m not sure we’re culturally ready for this.

    The general idea seems a very worthy one, even utopian. I just don’t see how it will work when scaled up. Any social network works well before it ‘catches on’. A media that is a mouthpiece for a State or simply business concerns is the stuff of countless dystopian visions. Given that this is effectively what we have, it would be good to replace it. Possibly an even worthier aim would be to break the slavish belief in the printed or televised word though, and get people asking questions about what they are told.

  5. JoeDuck says:

    Doktor I think you are asking too much here. Social media seeks to be used in popular, superficial ways by design. You can’t have broad success without tons of noise. Intelligent, narrowcasted social media may develop as it has with smart TV shows like Charlie Rose, but even though Rose’s show is 10x smarter than Bill O’Reilly’s he is 1/10th as influential with the masses as he has far fewer viewers and pretty much no calls to action.

    Interesting about scaling – I think today will be part of that test as Oprah starts Twittering and brings millions more online who may not even be all that familiar with basic internet yet.

  6. JoeDuck says:

    Trainhard, life it like a box of chocolates dude. Stupid is as stupid does and we does Twitter so….

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