We all know the benefits of Twitter, I think. It's an informal "chatroom" where you can connect with people who have the same interests as yourself. It can provide a resource for research purposes - Lauren Beukes thanked a few people on Twitter in her novel Zoo City for information they had given via Twitter. It enables you to follow editors, publicists, authors etc and find out information such as when novels are coming out, what signings your favourite author will be doing.
But there is such a darker element to Twitter, and, having been bitten by this a few times so far, I thought I'd point out some of the ways that Twitter can be dangerous.
The reason why this post struck me came from a Twitter message put out today by someone I follow. They have been vomiting since this morning, unable to keep anything down - and they asked Twitter for help. This astounded me a little, to be honest. With resources such as NHS Direct and, if it gets worse, the local NHS walk-in centre, why would anyone ask people who are not medically trained for advice? *incredulous* At best, they don't manage to solve the issue. At worse, they could end up far worse for taking advice offered.
That is a rather extreme case, to be honest. But here are some other warnings for Twitter usage.
Unless you lock your account, anyone can follow you without your explicit approval. That means your boss or co-workers could be following every single thing you say. They can see your bitching about them. They can see how often you post on Twitter during the day when you should be working (God knows, I am guilty of that one and, no matter how much you say to yourself that you are keeping it to reasonable amounts, you are still doing something that your company would probably not appreciate). It has led to people being fired from their jobs, so definitely something to bear in mind.
The act of unfollowing a person can be deemed to be 'political' or a statement that you don't like that person anymore. You might be thinking that they won't notice because they're followed by hundreds of people; they're getting themselves worked up wondering what they did or said to cause you to unfollow. One piece of advice I would offer here: if you are the unfollowed party, please find out privately why that might have happened, or just shrug your shoulders and accept it. The worst possible thing to do is to @ them publically and ask - it potentially causes a really awkward and uncomfortable position for both parties, and looks a little desperate to those looking on.
For authors working via Twitter, they could be less than professional and bitch to someone else about either their agent or their editor. Even if that person isn't following them, a quick search via Google could bring up what they have said. Sure, it might have had different context in the conversation occurring, but it will remain forever for that person to find at a later date when all context has been stripped.
Just as drunken texting can cause issues, drunken tweeting can do the same. We've all been there - home from the pub at an unreasonable hour, feeling happy and giggly, and straight onto the Net. Drunken tweeting can be amusing to others, but it can lead to public statements that you would never have typed out and posted normally. Best not to put yourself in that situation!
Again, concerning the "private" conversations between friends who seem to believe no one else is reading their tweets to one another, these tweets can be used and immortalised in blog posts. I myself used some tweets to make a point in a blog post, and then encountered a very indignant person on Twitter who was mystified that this had been done. I did feel a little uncomfortable afterwards for having taken the tweets, but then there is a private message function on Twitter, plus private email, plus private phonecalls to conduct any conversations that you might feel bad about other people seeing in the future. And, remember, any of your words can be pointed out to others. I had this happen myself. I tweeted something about someone, and that someone was then informed about it. Just something to bear in mind: if it's on Twitter, it's not private anymore.
Twitter journalism is another dark side of the phenomenon, as far as I am concerned. This year there have been at least three occasions where the news about an event hit Twitter before it reached official news channels, such as the tsunami in Japan and the death of Lis Sladen. On the one hand, this is a positive about Twitter - I have NEVER been so aware of world events as since I started using Twitter; however, what of misinformation? Some celebrities have had to issue direct statements saying they haven't actually died to ensure that the news doesn't spread too far. The dark side to Twitter journalism is that *nothing* is being verified before it is issued - this instant form of communication can, on occasion, be *too* instant.
I still love using Twitter, even though I've fallen foul of some of the problems in using it. Any form of communication that allows me to find and then share joys such as the below can never be 100% terrible *winks*
Thomas Paul Bedding Line - it's a KRAKEN!
So there you have it - some of the dangers, in my opinion, of using Twitter. What other dangers have you encountered? What would you advise new users of Twitter to avoid? Conversely, what do you most love about Twitter?