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Stormy debates and burned-out wrecks on the social media super-highway

Opinion

The Twittersphere is no place for the faint-hearted, so first-timers should make sure they’re wearing adequate protection, writes Michael Blucher

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I stumbled across an interesting tweet during the week.

It was posted by Clyde Rathbone, who rugby supporters will know had a very respectable professional career in the early 2000s before a cocktail of injuries forced his premature retirement.

South African-born Rathbone was always one of our more cerebral sports stars, and from my very limited exposure to him, a heck of a solid citizen.

This week Clyde announced his intentions to reduce the number of people he follows on Twitter to 0, then over the coming months, gradually re-engage with people whose views he disagrees with. All in the name of “extracting value from Twitter”.

Wow. Brave move, that one. But good on you Clyde for having a crack. Look forward to hearing how you get on.

In the comparatively short time I spend on social media, I’ve come to realise there are lanes. Left lanes, right lanes, extremist lanes, irreverent lanes, and of course a whole highway full of angry lanes. People just yelling at the clouds, hoping that somebody, anybody, will engage in their vitriol.

Pretty clearly, you don’t have to go too far out of your lane before you’re hit by serious on-coming traffic. The type of people you feared might exist, but hoped for the sake of humanity, they didn’t.

Yesterday, in a momentary lapse of conversation, my hand slipped off the steering wheel and I veered violently into the path of on-coming Donald Trump supporters, spitting insults at America’s aspiring first lady, Stormy Daniels. (Google her, if by some small miracle, her achievements to date have escaped your attention).

Stormy had reminded her 1.1 million Twitter followers (yep 1.1 million – Go Team America!) that Trump always exaggerated about the size of the things, goading President Orange about the monster crowd he predicted would turn up to a rally in Tulsa, but on the day, didn’t fill half the hall.

Wasn’t there some charming commentary in that little exchange – a race to the bottom that you’d have to call a draw. I guess that’s the game Trump is playing – divide and conquer.

Putting to one side the mood in the US right now, I’ve often wondered what the dissemination of news and the daily exchange of views will look like in 10 years’ time.

Given that most Gen Y and practically all of Gen Z now source their “news” through social media rather than the traditional (once-reliable) mainstream media outlets, the prospects of them developing a broad and balanced understanding of what’s going on in the world are reducing with every year that passes.

More and more, we’re staying in our own lanes, getting swept along by views that are broadly consistent with our own. We have our “tribes”.

Debate far outweighs discussion, and often, it quickly becomes personal, if not predatory. People who don’t agree with us are troglodytes, who have no idea what they’re talking about.

If you think I’m exaggerating, duck over to Route 66 and take a peak at the exchanges between Stormy D and Team Trump. Granted, it’s not your average audience, but at the very least, you’ll come away feeling pretty good about yourself.

So Clyde, I wish you well in your endeavours to “extract value out of Twitter”.

As you set off on your brave journey as a “learner driver”, please make sure your windows are up, and your seat belt is firmly fastened.

There’s a fair bit of road rage right now, and sadly, I can’t see a time when it’s going to simmer down.

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