How to survive Twitter

How to survive Twitter

Christmas Day this year marked the ten-year anniversary since I first joined Twitter. In many senses, that single act changed the course of my life.

If it wasn’t for Twitter, I’d probably still be working as a highly-paid corporate shill. Instead, I’m scratching out an existence as a writer in the gig economy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Polite and not-so-polite exchanges on Twitter taught me to challenge my own views on a whole range of issues, to distinguish what I really thought from what I’d been told to think, and to find better ways of explaining these views to others.

And in a round-about way, Twitter led me back to writing. It was someone on Twitter, with whom I was having a ‘vigorous’ discussion, who suggested that I should blog about the contested subject. At the time I didn’t read blogs, let alone have one, so this was an almost completely foreign concept to me.

However, I did start the blog and the rest, as they say, is history. These days, I post on the blog infrequently. It’s more a repository for posts and columns that were published elsewhere. Most of my current writing is either for The New Daily, the Despatches newsletter or on my Patreon page.

But given it’s my tenth anniversary on the twits I thought it might be worth sharing a few thoughts on the blog about how to survive Twitter.

Mute and block: If you do nothing else, at least take control of your interactions on Twitter. Your experience can be improved considerably if you curate your tweetstream. The easiest way to do this is to mute and block. If you hate reading cricket tweets over summer, mute the hashtag that most sports fans use. If there’s a troll or bully who won’t leave you alone, but you don’t want to give them the satisfaction of being blocked, then mute them.

I tend to use the mute button if I don’t want to see someone’s tweets, and the block button if I don’t want them to see mine. It’s not a perfect system, but it does the job most of the time.

Use lists: An even better way to improve your Twitter experience is to create a list of your favourite tweeps and follow their tweets instead of everyone that you follow. Make the list private (you can do that in the list settings) so that no-one can see who’s on it (not even the people who are on it). Every time someone new engages with you in a friendly or interesting way, put them on the list too.

Before long, you’ll have a little community of interesting and engaging tweeps to chat with. Remember to avoid creating an echo chamber though, made up only of tweeps who agree with you. Be sure to include people who civilly disagree with you too. They’re the ones who will help you to improve your own thoughts and arguments. I owe a great deal to people like that on Twitter.

Snark alert: I don’t need to tell you how tempting it is to post a quick snark to someone or about someone on the twits. Most of us get a little thrill when the post gets retweeted or faved, which only serves to reinforce our nasty streak. It can be equally tempting to jump into an argument that has nothing to do with us, or to participate in a juicy little pile on.

None of us are perfect, but if we all thought twice before posting such tweets, the Twitter experience might be a lot more pleasant for everyone. Be nice, it won’t kill you, and ask yourself whether you really need to buy into/create that war. Yes, I know there are exceptions, when people are ‘asking’ for it by being total arses themselves, but perhaps even in those cases it would make more sense to ignore the tweep than give them the attention they clearly seek.

Similarly, don’t fall into the trap of arguing with bots (their Twitter handles often end in a list of numbers), megaphones (usually political partisans) or sea lions. They’re just not worth the emotional energy.

Two glass rule: My final tip for surviving Twitter is to embrace the two glass rule. This is a carryover from my time as a media adviser, when I would never answer a phone call from a journalist if I’d had more than two glasses of wine (I pretty much exclusively drank wine in those days). That way I’d avoid saying more than I should.

The same applies with Twitter – if you’re going to enjoy more than a couple of glasses of your favourite beverage, invoke the two glass rule and leave Twitter for the evening. It will still be there in the morning, I promise. And you will have avoided saying more than you should!

Those are my top tips for surviving Twitter. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.

And if you’re into making new year’s resolutions, this might be a good place to start.

AFP raids: Turnbull’s undoing or a non-event?

AFP raids: Turnbull’s undoing or a non-event?

A corner of the internet went into meltdown last week when the Australian Federal Police raided the office of a federal Labor politician and a staffer’s home as part of an investigation into a series of leaks from the Government’s NBN Co.

It was the confluence of progressive concerns that whipped up the social media frenzy. Not only did the raid dramatically pit the physically intrusive powers of the surveillance state against the high morals of an apparent whistleblower, it was a reminder that Malcolm Turnbull had snatched away the dream of fibre-optic cable to every Australian home when he was Tony Abbott’s communication minister.

The moral outrage was further leavened by the reminder that the leaks had exposed the hollowness of Turnbull’s “fast, affordable and sooner” broadband alternative. Turnbull had not only cancelled the order for Australia’s broadband pony, but it turned out the perfectly serviceable rocking horse he had proffered instead was actually an expensive but nevertheless poorly cobbled-together hobby-horse.

Even so, Turnbull might have been forgiven for this apparently heinous crime if he had delivered on other progressive issues once becoming Prime Minister. But no, the PM also disappointingly squibbed on gay marriage, the Republic, climate action and asylum seekers.

Today’s Newspoll shows the extent of voters’ disappointment. The Coalition’s primary vote has dropped from 46 to 41 per cent since the beginning of the year, while Labor’s has increased two percentage points to 36 per cent. After the hypothetical allocation of preferences, this gives Labor a 51-49 lead for the third fortnight in a row.

More alarmingly, Turnbull’s net approval rating has dropped 50 percentage points from the peak of +38 in late November last year. Newspoll says it is now -12 per cent. Meanwhile, Shorten has improved from a low of -38 per cent in early December to match Turnbull at -12.

The precipitous state of the PM’s drop in approval ratings suggests increasingly restive progressive voters are seriously considering bringing Turnbull to account come election time. His failure to deliver the NBN is on the list of crimes.

Accordingly, at least in these progressives’ eyes, the AFP raid quickly became less about the state’s intrusion on civil liberties and more about whether the former communications minister knew about it.

In reality, it matters little whether Turnbull knew about the AFP’s investigation into the leaks, or that the raid would take place when it did. It would matter if the Prime Minister directed the AFP to search an Opposition MP’s office during an election campaign; however, there is no evidence that any such direction was made or that the federal police would accept such an order.

Labor has nevertheless implied the PM’s fingerprints are all over the raid by claiming NBN Co, which asked the AFP to investigate the leaks, is a government entity and therefore at the Government’s command.

In saying this, the Opposition gives the impression NBN Co should not investigate the leaks because the leaked information was in the public interest.

This of course assumes the motivations of leakers are always pure. But as we have seen with others who have made private information public, ostensibly for the public good, there may be other motivations at play that the public should also know about.

In the case of Treasury official Godwin Grech, only by investigating a leak did it become clear he had fabricated information against then PM Kevin Rudd, which was then used by Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull to wrongly accuse Kevin Rudd of misleading parliament.

 And then there is former adviser to the Speaker, James Ashby, who allegedly provided excerpts from Peter Slipper’s diary to Mal Brough. The AFP investigation of this leak may also demonstrate that the partisan settling of scores can be a key factor behind political leaks.

It’s just not as black and white as the champions of the NBN leaks would like to have us think.

As for the everyday voter, who at this stage is barely paying attention to the election, do they care about the raid or whether the PM knew in advance?

Most likely not: the NBN doesn’t rate as an influential election issue, and the community is cynical about politicians at the best of times.

In one recent poll, only 17 per cent of voters rate our elected representatives as ethical and honest. In another, only 39 per cent of voters said they found Turnbull more honest than most politicians, compared with 26 per cent who made that assessment of Shorten.

So despite progressives’ gasps of shock and horror about the raid, and demands that the PM ‘fess up to his role, many voters would have been left nonplussed.

It may have been seen by the left as a jack-booted attempt by Turnbull to suppress the truth, but most voters would have seen the event as just another skirmish among the disreputable, about an issue that wasn’t particularly important.

Originally published at ABC’s The Drum.

Dragon’s diary: Tragedy and farce

Joosep Martinson/Getty Images
Joosep Martinson/Getty Images

I won’t add my thoughts to the likely millions of condolences expressed at the sudden death of Phillip Hughes. Mainly because I’d never heard of him until this week as I don’t follow cricket.

That’s not to say Hughes’ death didn’t affect me. I was reminded of my own fragile mortality, gave thanks for the health and safety of those I love, and also looked afresh at the week’s political antics.

Continue reading “Dragon’s diary: Tragedy and farce”

Images of the dead – a plea for humanity

Images of the dead – a plea for humanity

Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of graphic images including death, disfigurement, violence, abuse, and suicide

I don’t need to see a photo of Luke Batty lying battered in the morgue to bear witness to the senseless domestic violence that stole his young life.

I don’t need to see a photo of Jill Meagher dumped in a shallow grave to bear witness to the flawed justice system that placed her in the path of the parolee who raped and murdered her.

Continue reading “Images of the dead – a plea for humanity”