City Centered: Tweetle Dumb

Why do smart journos become tone-deaf on social media?

Tweeting Heads

I joined Twitter nearly three years ago and use it regularly. The stats Twitter provides tell me I tweet just under four times a day and have amassed 699 followers since 2011, or roughly 20 a month. I am a piker in both categories.

I follow only 70-some souls, most of them journalists or other content specialists. To me, Twitter is not a place to see what people are doing, eating, or thinking, but a source of information and links to longer-form content. Used this way, Twitter is fantastic, and I’d recommend it to everyone, including geezers like myself who believe they want nothing to do with social media.

But the more time I log on Twitter, the more I grow weary of many of the folks I follow, which unnerves me, because I consider most to be friends or respected colleagues. Here are three of the more extreme examples of journalists whose Twitter presence deviates wildly from their work:

• MPR’s Bob Collins writes the smart NewsCut blog and offers witty commentary on The Current. On Twitter (65K total tweets) he berates people who complain about the weather, whines daily about the Cleveland Indians, and publishes photos of himself and family members in social settings. Collins also routinely insults those who “unfollow” him. I like the Bob at mpr.org. The Bob on Twitter does his “brand” no benefit.

• I love Patrick Reusse (25K tweets), a sports writing and broadcast legend, among the best who ever worked in this town. But I wonder if the folks who know him as the snarky, occasionally bullying presence on Twitter know who he is in print?

Aaron Gleeman (20K tweets) was one of the smartest, most courageous baseball writers in town, but he blogs less and less and tweets more and more, mostly about his personal vices and social life. The tweets reflect so oddly that one follower asked him if he was engaging in a fictional performance. I wonder if that follower even knows how great a baseball mind Gleeman is.

This tendency to get personal on Twitter in a “look at me” way is reinforced by a culture obsessed with “reality” content. Which makes the inanity and narcissism self-reinforcing.

The saddest cases are when journalists reveal biases that damage their credibility. One respected local policy reporter’s contempt for the affluent has become so obvious on Twitter that I lost respect for her work. Even circumspect newspaper journalists’ political values are often evident in the content they choose to re-tweet.

But that’s the problem with Twitter: It’s too easy to tweet, and as that follower count rises you begin to think every urge is worth expressing and every opinion deserving of an audience. (I fall victim myself at times.) We tweet too often, on topics with which we have little expertise, and reveal things only our closest and most indulgent friends should see.

Twitter raised the curtain between public figures and their audience. It fosters dialogue and connects like-minded strangers. But it also holds many up as jerks and obsessives because it reinforces the worst aspects of our self-regard.

Adam Platt is the executive editor of Twin Cities Business Magazine and formerly held the same post at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. City Centered is his monthly column in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine that examines the cultural climate of the Twin Cities.