How to have discourse on Twitter

This week I’ve been taking some time to enjoy time skiing with the family. It’s been a good break and I’ve been glad to mostly stay away from the news and happenings of the world.

A regular concern of mine in recent months has been the seemingly relentless lack of good form by people commenting on other people’s Twitterings. There are a good many people who take what is said on social media seriously, and when things go left of right, it’s just that much harder to argue that social media continues to be a medium for open debate.

So, as the Internet loves a listicle, here’s one on how we can help each other be better at discourse via Twitter.

1. Recognise that most things on Twitter are just a snapshot of what we know and understand about a person. Just because their bio only states certain things doesn’t mean that’s the entirety of what makes that person. There is always more to the person.

2. If you read something that triggers a reaction in you, that’s not the responsibility of the other person to do anything for you. They’ve written something to share – sometimes that will be to provoke and most times by most users it will be to share their thoughts.

3. Recognise that most people on Twitter are there to be part of a network and a connected world. A good many of us thoroughly enjoy being on Twitter. If the things you’re reading and getting annoyed by are regularly in your timeline, then you need to change either your searching habits or stop following so many accounts where you get updates reinforcing what you believe.

4. If you are reading something that doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to respond with an attack on the person. You are allowed to take the time to understand why you’re reacting like that. If you’re still convinced that you’re right in your assertion, find another way to express yourself that doesn’t involve attacking the person who wrote the tweet.

5. There are trolls. And lots of them. There are also bots. And lots of them too. You can just ignore them completely, mute, block and anything else to get them out of your timeline or notifications.

6. There are people I’ve experienced on Twitter who come across as benevolent ones. And yet they can’t resists getting drawn into arguments or standing up for the crowd. I don’t mistrust their intentions, but I do have little patience for their social outcrys.

7. The current state of world affairs means it’s too easy to comment on things without knowing a full range of facts. We don’t have to respond immediately. We can just allow ourselves times to see what unfolds. A considered response with the facts trumps poor opinion every time.

8. If you see someone being attacked on Twitter, report the attacker. Don’t go after them yourself, cos you’re just increasing the noise from the attacker. Support the victim and help them know they have your support and help. 

9. Surprisingly most trolls and attackers have regular lives and regular jobs like you and me. That doesn’t excuse their online behaviour, but we never really know why someone is behaving so badly when they do. Don’t attack the person. If you know them, maybe check in with them and find out how they’re doing.

10. There are some resilient people on Twitter who don’t give attackers any quarter and it’s great to know people like that are out there. They help us know attackers are unimportant in our lives.

Most people who’ll read this will be in the broad field of HR and L&D. I suspect mostly I’m writing to those who will nod vigorously and agree. That’s all aces, so this is more a call to take the above and not just share it, but consider how we all show up and be present and what kind of example that sets for others. I’m sure I’ve left out other useful advice above, so if you have more to add please do in the comments.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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