Twitter started off as a seemingly pointless version of Facebook’s status updates. I wondered why the hell anyone was interested in it. Then I joined, around the same time that a few of my friends did, and pretty soon it became an essential part of my day. It’s been interesting to see how the service has evolved in such a short time, from simple updates about what we’re all doing, through to the increased use of retweets (essentially, passing on things that others have said), flagrantly bad attempts at advertising, and of course the shit-storms generated by the way Twitter can be used to rally people to a good cause, as seen in last year’s Jan Moir controversy.
But recently I’ve begun to see that Twitter is becoming more and more of a bite-sized conversation tool. Taking what would be an email chat between friends onto Twitter often becomes an entertaining free-for-all, as several of your followers comment on a message ostensibly directed at only one person, the result being that a wider discussion is sparked. There are times when the service resembles a chatroom, but as you usually know the people replying to you, it’s good-natured banter.
I have come across a slight downside, however. Emails are essentially private correspondence, but Twitter’s very public. This is great on most occasions, but the etiquette of the service has yet to be properly determined when it comes to one thing: spoilers. Yes, while you may be able to avoid a forum topic about a film, TV show or videogame that you’ve been eagerly awaiting but haven’t yet seen or played (or worse, have started but haven’t got to the end as quickly as the guy with way too much time on his hands), when it comes to Twitter or Facebook status updates, you’re potentially more than a little bit screwed.
If someone wants to reveal a pivotal event or level that happens late on in a videogame, or the final twist in a movie, then there’s nothing to stop them. This is partly the case in real life, of course, but it’s far easier to scream “Nooooooo!” at someone loudly enough to make them stop, when they can actually hear you. Doesn’t work with tweets. They appear, you read them, and it’s already too late. And yet you wouldn’t spoil anything in an email without asking first – the etiquette has been long established.
So if someone writes that Verbal is Keyser Soze, who stuck Gwyneth’s head in a box before revealing that he’s a ghost who killed Dumbledore, there’s very little you can do about it. Today a good friend of mine was protesting about three of us discussing Mass Effect 2. There weren’t any major spoilers or anything, but just the mention of it to a videogame journo who doesn’t have the game yet and who mostly follows the Twitter feeds of videogamers who are mostly all… er… hammering it – well, it’s easy to see the problem, and why he’d justifiably be reading his Twitter homepage with his eyes three-quarters shut.
The question is, how should you conduct yourself when writing a tweet or a Facebook status update? I suppose you just have to be mindful of who “might” be reading, and that whatever you write could be something that someone else absolutely doesn’t want to know yet. But then, so many subjects would be potentially off-limits! Where do you draw the line? I don’t know the answer.
Maybe going back to tweeting stuff like “just had a cup of tea. Two sugars. Nice” isn’t such a bad idea after all. It’s certainly safer.