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Holly Swanson: All the Cool Kids are on Twitter

by on January 30, 2013 6:00 AM

Are you on Twitter? No? You really should be.

I joined Twitter in November 2011, when even the 24-hour news cycle couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing events surrounding Jerry Sandusky and Penn State. I didn’t know anything about Twitter at the time and didn’t understand the point of it. Why say things to people you don’t know while limiting yourself to only 140 characters?

But I signed up and started following the accounts of local journalists. From there, I saw other people who were talking about topics that were important to me, so I followed them, too, and slowly, I began tweeting. Much to my husband’s dismay, I’m now on Twitter a lot and use it to keep up with news, both local and national, and to chat with a few friends I’ve made along the way.

Most days, I don’t tweet more than a few times, I just follow the others in my timeline. I’ve learned a lot, from suggestions to local restaurants that I never would have tried to reading recommendations to tailgate invites (but only meet online friends in public, safe areas). I have found the vast majority of fellow tweeters to be intelligent and passionate about their views.

It’s different for everyone, but I use Twitter much differently than I do Facebook. On Facebook, I post photos of my kids, ask for prayers when family members are sick, or catch up with old friends from high school. On Twitter, I engage in lively debate with people I don’t know in real life. And I like it that way. Although I’ve formed some bonds on Twitter, I don’t care if the people there don’t like me. It’s helped me express my opinions and thoughts without worrying much about the reaction. Some of the things I’ve said on Twitter would cost me a friend or two on Facebook who may not know about my political leanings. But I like expressing these thoughts to an audience that I hold at arm’s reach.

Tweeting is a lot like standing in the middle of Wegmans and making a brief statement using your outside voice. Something like “I love broccoli.” Maybe no one responds. Maybe a few people say, “I love broccoli, too.” Eventually, you’ll probably become involved in conversations with other people who share your affinity for broccoli. On Twitter, you’ll carve out a little pro-broccoli niche.

That’s not to say that everything is rosy. There are plenty of trolls who like to argue with anyone who has a differing opinion. This became painfully obvious to me when I first joined Twitter and talked to other people about Penn State. I’d then get a tweet from someone who had only ugly things to say about the university, regardless of what I was saying about it. But I realized that these people are just bullies hiding behind their computer. Like in real life, they don’t really care what you have to say, they just want to cause trouble and feel powerful. Ignoring them takes that power away.

In the Wegmans broccoli conversation, it would be like talking recipes with someone in the produce section and having a complete stranger tell you, “Broccoli sucks! How dare you like broccoli. I hate you and your broccoli.”

Like anything else on the Internet, Twitter is what you make of it. You could spend hours a day tweeting and chatting with other people, maybe even arguing with them. It can be a huge time suck, but it can also open you up to new ideas.

The same can be said for any social media, but you have to be careful what you share on Twitter since anyone can see it. You also have to be on the lookout for scammers who want your personal information. And, you have to remember that you have no way of knowing who is on the other side of the Internet. Recently, a group of Twitter friends and I may have been tricked by a catfishing scam, a term I had never heard of until Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and his imaginary girlfriend made the term famous. Someone we regularly tweeted with may have died or he may have never existed in the first place. We’ll probably never know. Weird and disturbing, yes. But there was no personal information shared and no harm done, other than the confusion that he caused.

The best thing about Twitter? The “block” button. Anyone who bothers you, annoys you, or makes a pest of themselves can be silenced with the click of a button. If only it were that easy in real life.

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Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at hollyannswanson@verizon.net.
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