Tag Archives: Twitter

Talking Turkey on Twitter’s Birthday

It’s Twitter’s 8th birthday, and for those among my readers who still don’t use it or see its relevance, today’s headlines may give you a taste of just what all the fuss is about.  Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the midst of fighting both a re-election battle and corruption allegations, announced yesterday that Twitter would be banned in his country.  In a move which has brought both domestic and international condemnation, Erdogan obtained judicial authority to block the millions of Twitter users in Turkey from the social media network, describing it as a “menace to society”.

In becoming one of only a handful of countries to attempt to, using Erdogan’s word, “eradicate” Twitter, Turkey has joined a rather unsavory club.  Both the People’s Republic of China and North Korea have been blocking the social media platform for years, and have used tweets by individuals as the basis for imprisonment of those criticizing their regimes.  While tech-savvy users in these countries have found ways to get around the blocks put in place by their respective governments, for the average account holder no doubt the prospect of being prosecuted (or worse) for speaking their mind online has had a chilling effect on their level of Twitter participation.

For those of us who live under less autocratic governments, as part of marking their birthday Twitter released an application which allows you to type in a Twitter user name and see what that account’s very first tweet was.  It’s been great fun sharing first tweets with my Tweeps, i.e. the Twitter users whom I follow and interact with regularly. Here’s my first tweet, showing what a snot I was – was? – at the time I signed up for an account:

Tweet

Although I love using Twitter, I’ll admit there are many things about it that are problematic.  There is a tendency to gang up on those whom one does not agree with, and repeatedly knock them down, rather than just delivering one solid blow to an ignorant tweet and then moving on.  There is smut/foul language galore, although one quickly learns whom not to follow if this becomes a problem.  And there are “troll” accounts, which seem to exist solely for the purpose of trying to attack others.

I expect that these negative aspects of the service are what keep some people from using it. Yet when used well, Twitter can be a tremendous resource for good, particularly because of the succinctness of tweets, at 140 characters or less.  I have seen, first-hand, what is possible via Twitter which no other social media application, including Facebook, is capable of, at least with anything near the same amount of speed, penetration, or effectiveness.

I’ve seen Twitter provide many people with both material and emotional support during those hard moments in life, such as losing a loved one or a job, suffering from an illness, or just plain loneliness.  I’ve also seen Twitter offer practical help on little issues, like trying to find a decent hotel in another city, or figuring out how to fix a software issue.  Twitter is always knitting human relationships more closely together, by bringing those with shared interests but little or no chance of physical proximity into contact, whether it is a group of Tweeps watching and commenting on a sporting event together from all over the country, or discovering you’re not the only survivor from the Planet Krypton.

Eventually, I expect that Turkish people will find a way to express themselves on Twitter again.  Human beings are far more interested in being able to freely communicate their thoughts to one another, than they are in upholding the ideology of a single person or political regime.  Whatever its faults, Twitter has done a great deal of good for a great many people, and so I raise a coffee cup to it this morning and say: Happy Birthday, Twitter.

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Thanks to the American Principles Project!

I want to thank everyone at the American Principles Project for the opportunity to live-tweet for them last night at their annual Red, White, and Blue Gala here in the Nation’s Capital.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, running into old friends and meeting new ones, and was impressed by the organization and flow of the evening.  Everything was very well planned-out, from the media table and press arrangements that APP staffers ran, to the excellent food and beverages at the Mayflower Hotel, to the beautifully designed signage and programs by Ampersand.  And those in attendance got to hear engaging, challenging speeches from Senator Rand Paul, talk-show host Michael Reagan, and APP’s Chairman Sean Fieler and President Frank Cannon, among others, who each gave us some ideas for the future to think seriously about.

From a practical standpoint, I was glad to see that APP’s Twitter account picked up a couple of dozen new followers as I tweeted throughout the evening.  Live-tweeting from an event can work to your advantage, if you want to attract attention to what you are working on.  I learned when I live-tweeted the Media Research Center Gala here in DC a couple of months ago, and also from tweeting at the Catholic New Media Conference in Boston, that there is a snowball effect when you get several people interested in following your event on Twitter, whether they themselves are attending or not.  If you can get them and others re-tweeting and discussing what you are talking about at your function, particularly if the hashtag “sticks”, then as more people enter into the conversation, the possibility of adding additional followers becomes more likely.

In any case, my thanks again to APP, both for the opportunity to help them get their message out to their followers old and new, and for putting together a terrific evening!

Last night's cocktail hour at the American Principles Project Gala

Last night’s cocktail hour at the American Principles Project Gala

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A Gala Evening with the Media Research Center

Last evening I had the great pleasure and privilege of being invited to live-tweet from the Media Research Center’s annual Gala here in Washington.  I thank Scooter Schaefer and everyone at the MRC for the opportunity to attend, and to share some of the festivities with my readers and followers.  It was terrific to catch up with friends and acquaintances, as well as to be in the presence of well-known journalists, commentators, and civil servants, including the redoubtable Charles Krauthammer, who received the William F. Buckley Award, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, and many others.  I also had the chance to personally thank the lovely Monica Crowley of Fox News. who was one of the judges for this Top 20 list I somehow managed to land on earlier this year; she even said I was cute, which made me blush like a 13-year-old.

It did not strike me until somewhere around dessert that the reason all of this was happening was because I took a chance, some years ago, and decided to reach out to people I did not actually know through Twitter, a social media platform whose utility for a long time had escaped me.  Unlike blogging, where one puts out into the deep not knowing whether anyone will read what one has written, or podcasting where, similarly, one does not know whether anyone will listen to what is recorded, Twitter is designed around the potential for immediate interaction.  Merely sending a message on Twitter to another person is no guarantee the recipient will respond, of course.  Yet if you have something to say and people like the way you say it, chances are you can not only meet interesting people, but find an audience for what you have to say in a fashion which allows virtually instantaneous opportunities for response and interaction.

The lesson to be learned here however, is something much broader than that of a single new media platform.  When you have something you like to do, and are reasonably adept at, whether it is writing and public speaking, cooking and baking, fishing and hunting, etc., if you take a chance and reach out to others with the same interests, the rewards can be quite tangible.  I would not have been invited last evening if I had not been demonstrated my ability to craft a collection of words into something which a reasonable number of people enjoy reading on a regular basis.

And because all of this stems from having been a blogger for a number of years now, in the end the people whom I really need to thank are you, my readers.  If you did not like what you came across here, you could just as easily be using your limited and valuable reading time to visit someone else’s pages.  So a hearty thanks to you, as well, for allowing me to share my thoughts and opinions with you on a regular basis, something for which I am most deeply grateful.

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At the MRC Gala catching up with two smart young ladies of my acquaintance

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The Man Behind the Avatar

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about those engaged in social media, particularly those who feel hurt or isolated in some way.  Some of these people turn to social media for an outlet, to make connections to help them with their troubles, and some turn that hurt into motivations to attack others.  So yesterday I posted a question to my Twitter followers, asking whether they would follow or befriend someone on social media out of a sense of charity.  I was surprised to receive a huge range of responses, and these generally fell into two camps.

The overwhelming majority of those who responded said they would not connect with someone, such as following them on Twitter or befriending them on Facebook, simply because they seemed a bit out of place and had few connections.  To do so was described, among other things, as potentially patronizing, or encouraging stalker behavior, particularly because the more active one becomes in social media, the more often one does not actually know all of the people with whom one interacts online in real life.  These respondents indicated that while they might be willing to interact with someone who appears to be alone or friendless, a feeling of empathy alone was viewed as too transitory a basis for creating a relationship that in the end could not hope to be real.

The other, much smaller group of respondents, suggested that connecting with someone who seemed shy, lonely, or non-adept when it came to using social media, was a good thing, but needed to be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Pity was not seen as a legitimate reason to establish an online relationship with someone else, in this view, but it was however legitimate to consider whether a great deal of good could be done to encourage someone else by making such a connection, provided there were other commonalities.  Apart from celebrities, of course, most people get their start on social media platforms with few connections, and so as was rightly pointed out, everyone has to start somewhere.

In the end though the single best response I received was one which does not answer the question I began with, but which goes to the heart of the matter: we have to remember that each of these accounts is run by a human being.  Whether the person is famous and has thousands of friends or followers, or whether they have no friends or followers at all, or even if they are a troll, i.e. someone attacking others online for whatever reason, these are all our brethren, with souls and consciences, thoughts and feelings, needs and wants.  After a fashion, this even includes the infamous Twitter spambots, i.e. those accounts set up to automatically send links to how one can get a cheap mortgage from some bank in Vietnam or how one can purchase a bride from Russia.  Even if those spam-sending accounts are automated, they were of course set up by human beings.

Unless one feels a compelling need to go out and minister online to those who are lonely, in sorrow, and so on – and I know some who in fact do this – most of us are not called upon to befriend, follow, or connect with everyone online who happens to reach out and connect with us in some way.  That would be decidedly odd, and ultimately unsustainable.  However it is also decidedly too easy, through the anonymity of the internet, to treat each other as though we were androids.

None of us are going to achieve perfection on social media – whatever that might look like – any more than we are in real life.  We do not have to always accept social media connections out of charity, any more than we always have to sit idly by and allow someone to spout untruths or insults at us without responding to them.  Whatever your problem is, if you bring it to me online in social media, the way that you bring it to me is going to determine, at least to some extent, how I respond to you.  Hopefully I do so with charity, or where necessary with some aspect of restraint, but let’s face it: both of those can be difficult, at times.

That being said, recalling the fact that behind each of these accounts is an individual, ought to give us at least a moment’s pause.  We ought all, this scrivener included, to take a bit more time for the sake of civility to try to think of a measured response, whether we are expressing support or criticism.  This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, because if each of us active on social media is, in effect, a creative contributor, then we ought equally to be aware that what we put out into the world has consequences.  Sometimes the consequences can include drawing people to do us, and sometimes the exact opposite.

Being aware of this fact, then we must also be aware that if the medium drags down the culture, because it is not being well-used by ourselves and others, then surely it is our job to try to pull it back up again.  Perhaps a kind word to the fellow with 5 followers, or a restrained word to the fellow with 10,000 who is spouting garbage, may be a far better response than either ignoring or simply blindly attacking. These are not simply avatars who type, but human beings just like ourselves.

Baucis

“Baucis’ Landscape” by René Magritte (1966)
Menil Collection, Houston

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It’s All Straw

The Twitterverse exploded this morning because of a tweet by Pope Francis: “My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.”  Many of my fellow conservatives in particular were infuriated that the Holy Father would appear to lay the blame for unemployment at the feet of capitalism, which is not in fact what he was saying.   Yet in writing what he did, the Pope called attention to something which many devout Christians in the Western world regularly forget: this life will end, and sooner than you think.

Before we begin, a bit of history should be kept in mind here by conservatives who are hopping mad at the Holy Father today, and who will then jump for joy at what he might tweet next week.   Pope Francis was not advocating some sort of socialist economic model, or saying that capitalism is the work of the Devil.  Keep in mind that he was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires until just a few weeks ago.  If you know anything of what has happened to Argentina economically and politically over the past decade, the Pope is all too well-aware of the impact of various economic theories and practices.  Moreover, he was certainly no ally of the current populist-socialist President of Argentina, who imagines herself some sort of Kmart version of Eva Perón.

There are many areas of overlap between conservatism and Christianity, but there are also many areas of tension.  While recently a number of Christian denominations have adopted a policy of going along to get along, with regard to various societal and political issues, the Catholic Church remains immovable on a number of fundamental points, as she has for the past two thousand years of her existence.  One of those points is that love of both God and neighbor is the basis for the truly Christian life.  And while not in principle against the possession of wealth, the Christian does not make its pursuit his reason for living.

As we heard in the Gospel reading at mass this past Sunday, “‘I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ ” (St. John 13:34-35)

Nothing the Pope tweeted today was new, as you can see here for example, from two sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which point to the inherent dangers of both atheist socialism AND unfettered capitalism:

2124  The name “atheism” covers many very different phenomena. One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be “an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history.”  Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. “It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man’s hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth.”

2424    A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order.  A system that “subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production” is contrary to human dignity.  Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Secular materialism is not an illness confined only to those who practice socialism.  There are many conservatives, including those who call themselves Christians, who bow and worship at the feet of people like economists and market gurus, leaving God out of the picture entirely, or relegating Him to some sort of secondary place in their lives.  This is a very dangerous path to tread, and a choice which Catholics believe has eternal consequences.

In St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy, the Apostle to the Gentiles lays out, very simply, why the pursuit of wealth leads nowhere:

For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.
If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that.
Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.

(1 Timothy 6:7-10)

Please note, no one is saying that wealth is something which is inherently evil.  After all, the ministry of Christ Himself, and later that of the Apostles and the Church, would have been impossible without the material support of those Christians with the means to help.  Rather wealth is a tool, and what one does with that tool, for good or for ill, will give lie to what is really important in one’s life.  For in the end, no matter how much wealth one creates or accumulates, we are, all of us, worm food.

Many Catholics and non-Catholics alike are familiar with the prolific medieval writer St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest thinkers of the Church.  One of my favorite passages from his copious output - and be assured I have not even read 1/100th of it – is something which I not infrequently recall to myself.  It is useful to keep in mind both when things go wrong in life, but also when things are going well.

While celebrating mass one day in 1273, St. Thomas apparently received a mystical vision of Heaven; as a result, he stopped writing to prepare himself spiritually to go home to the Lord.  “All that I have written seems like straw to me,” he is reported to have said, in response to urges from others that he resume writing, “compared to what has been revealed to me.”  St. Thomas was by no means rejecting the work he had already done, nor its value to those whom it had helped and indeed continues to help to this day.  Rather he realized that all he had been working on and doing in the material world paled in comparison to what was coming across the great divide, and knew that he had to prepare himself for it, even as close as he was to God.

The fact is that the Pope is right.  Many times hard-working people find themselves unemployed not because they are lazy, or because they are doing a poor job, but because the wealthy chose to protect their own fortunes, and not care for their struggling workers.  This is not a blanket statement, nor an endorsement of trade unionism or forcible wealth distribution.  Rather it is a simple fact of life: these things do happen, and are happening all the time, all over the world.

The Pope is also correct in reminding us of the inherent human tendency of selfishness, and this is why Christianity, which is founded on a Divine act of loving unselfishness, is not as easy a Faith to take on as many of us would like to believe.  The Catholic Church was built on sacrifice and blood, both of Christ’s on Calvary, and of the countless martyrs who suffered torture and death rather than submit to selfishness and sin.  Human beings never like to be reminded of the fact that we are sinners; we all like to think that we are, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, nice folks.  The truth is that under the right circumstances, we will not only take whatever we can from one another, but we will actually relish doing it – and that is what makes self-sacrifice such a very hard thing to achieve.

Thus Pope Francis’ job, lest those reading this forget it, is not to help the Republicans take over the Senate or lower the cost of crude oil.  The Holy Father is on Twitter not to chit-chat, but to get as many people to Heaven as he can.  You may not have thought about that, when you posted your snarky comment about the Pope this morning, but there it is.  He is trying to teach us both by word and by example what it means to be a Christian.  Sometimes that instruction is easily palatable, and sometimes we find it bitter and difficult to swallow.

For at the end of your life, God will not care whether you had 100 or 100,000 Twitter followers, or whether a celebrity re-tweeted you, or whether you appeared on Twitchy, BuzzFeed, or any other aggregate site.  Nor for that matter will He care whether you died a rich man or a poor one.   Rather, when you die and go before Him, you are going to have to show Him that you loved Him, as He loved you, and that you demonstrated that love in the way you treated other people, sacrificing your own comforts to meet someone else’s needs, in imitation of the same self-sacrificial love that Christ demonstrated to His followers.

Remember that, as He Himself pointed out, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head.  He was laid on a bed of straw which did not belong to Him at His birth, and He was laid in a rock tomb which did not belong to Him at His death, and from which He rose on Easter Sunday.   So now would be a good time to ask yourself, if you were angry at the Pope today, whether you are so detached from the world and materialism as to remember that if you are a Christian, these three things are more important to you than absolutely anything whatsoever having to do with the economy.  You are not made for this world, but for the next.

Tomasso

Detail of “The Vision of St. Thomas Aquinas” by Santi de Tito (1593)
San Marco, Florence

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