The real dan­gers of tweet cred

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Erica Brown THE VIEW FROM THE USA

AS OF this writ­ing, I have of­fi­cially tweeted 2,982 times. Let me ex­plain. I be­gan the cy­cle of Daf Yomi — the study of a folio page of Tal­mud ev­ery day — four-and-a-half years ago. To help me sum­marise what I study each day and re­tain a pearl, I tweet a state­ment from the tal­mu­dic page fol­lowed by a loosely con­nected quote. This is a re­ally hard ex­er­cise most days be­cause the Tal­mud is a very com­plex doc­u­ment. Think of an ox gor­ing some­one else’s ox or a de­bate on the im­pu­rity of veg­etable stalks. Hard to tweet that out, right? Right.

Nev­er­the­less, it’s been a great way to hold on to what I’ve learned a lit­tle longer. I wish I could re­tain a frac­tion of all of this an­cient wis­dom but, as a friend summed up this method of study: “Daf Yomi: for­get­ting one page of Tal­mud ev­ery day.” So true. I’ve also been struck by the amaz­ing cre­ativ­ity of oth­ers who are try­ing to do the same thing — in­te­grate and re­tain some of their learn­ing via a dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sion of it. There is some­one who does artis­tic ren­der­ings of the daily page and one who writes po­etry. That’s harder than 140 char­ac­ters a day.

In the po­etry depart­ment, some­one ac­tu­ally does a haiku each day. I once wrote one, as a joke, and emailed it to her when some­one gave me her con­tact in­for­ma­tion. She wrote back: “I didn’t know any­one else was writ­ing haikus on the daf.” I as­sured her this was only a one-time event. I would never in­fil­trate her niche mar­ket.

Tweet­ing was just catch­ing on when I started. I mocked it along with the other scep­tics. You know that celebrity who just bought a vanilla soy latte at Star­bucks and tweeted it out? Don’t care. You know that weird class­mate of yours from pri­mary school who tweets his as­sess­ment of cur­rent events? Don’t care.

Know­ing the way of all technology, I reck­oned that by the time the Tal­mud cy­cle fin­ishes in seven-and-a half years, there will still be a Tal­mud but no more Twit­ter ac­counts. We will then move to an­other inane plat­form for self-ex­pres­sion.

With your per­mis­sion, I’d like to re­vise that state­ment in the light of the past year. Twit­ter is go­ing nowhere be­cause it is now the most pop­u­lar and in­cen­di­ary form of po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. It has man­aged to flat­ten all so­phis­ti­ca­tion to naught. An­gry Chi­nese cit­i­zen Kwon Py­ong tweeted out a photo of him­self in a tee shirt that likened Pres­i­dent Xi Jip­ing to Hitler and is now fac­ing court charges of sub­ver­sion. And Twit­ter isn’t even ac­ces­si­ble in China.

But why look so far away when I can look right here at home, start­ing with our new POTUS (Pres­i­dent of the United States). Pol­icy de­ci­sions are now trig­gered as im­pul­sive rants. Peo­ple who pub­licly ques­tion the judg­ment of this pres­i­dent of­ten be­come the sub­ject of his next tweet. On Fe­bru­ary 7, the New York Times pub­lished an ar­ti­cle called, “The 307 Peo­ple, Places and Things Don­ald Trump Has In­sulted on Twit­ter: A Com­plete List.”

The po­lit­i­cal mag­a­zine, Mother Jones, con­ducted an in­ves­tiga­tive re­port on an even scarier trend. Some­one in the ad­min­is­tra­tion or close to it writes or for­wards a racist or an­tisemitic tweet, post or ar­ti­cle then quickly apol­o­gises and re­moves it.

By that time, the dam­age has al­ready been done. This strat­egy has lots of ad­van­tages: you get out your mes­sage, you fire up your base, and then you say sorry.

Trump se­nior ad­viser Kellyanne Con­way re­cently apol­o­gised for re-tweet­ing (for­ward­ing some­one else’s tweet for those still in the dark ages about technology) some­thing writ­ten by white su­prem­a­cists.

Dur­ing the cam­paign Gen. Michael Flynn, at #Nev­erHil­lary, tweeted: “Not any­more, Jews. Not any­more.” He then claimed it as a mis­take. On the same cam­paign trail, Trump tweeted — as we know — an im­age of “Crooked Hil­lary” su­per­im­posed on a pile of cash with a Star of David. He then quickly re­tracted.

Less known is that he retweeted from @ WhiteGeno­cideTM, @Eus­taceFash, who use the term white geno­cide in their header. Racially com­pro­mis­ing crime statis­tics that are not true are reg­u­larly pub­lic fare. Let’s call them al­ter­na­tive facts.

This is not about politics. It’s about re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism in an age when ev­ery­one is a jour­nal­ist. The re­mark­able ed­u­ca­tional tool that so­cial me­dia could be to­day is be­ing com­pro­mised ev­ery day, per­haps ev­ery minute. Maybe we should stop and just let the birds tweet.

Pol­icy de­ci­sions are trig­gered as im­pul­sive rants

Dr Erica Brown is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity and di­rec­tor of its May­berg Cen­ter for Jewish Education and Lead­er­ship.

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