The real dangers of tweet cred
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.