Twitter’s embittered practitioners proved our point during our "How to Win Twitter" event in Sydney last night. The platform is one of the best forums in the world for debating current topics - for now - but a clique of critics is curiously determined to ensure it is reduced to little more than exchanges of abuse.
As we asked the question at our public event - Can the level of civility be raised on social media? - our mostly anonymous detractors were busy tweeting their emphatic reply: Not while we are here.
Ironically, their enthusiasm for negative feedback generated so much interest that our event was trending at number three nationally and number one in Sydney.
Our panelists all explained that they were drawn to the platform because they simply couldn't let the mistruths that abound on Twitter go unchallenged.
“One of the best things you can do is just get out there with the truth,” said Chris Kenny, a columnist for The Australian. “There is so much nonsense in the Twittersphere. You’ve just got to inject a few facts. That’s why I got attracted to it.”
Fellow panelist and Sky News presenter Caroline Marcus warned anyone considering diving into Twitter not to get caught up in the “virtue outbidding”. Instead, be succinct and correct the record if necessary. “Then it’s best to just leave it, go live your life and watch the insufferable trolls tire themselves out trying to bring you down.”
The other of the three panelists was Martin Leonard (aka Monster_Dome), who shared his scrupulous rules of engagement. They are:
First, when debating on Twitter, never approach it thinking the objective is to convince your opponent that you are right. You will not succeed in doing this. Instead aim for the audience, whether it be your followers or those of the person you’re debating with – the many people who are undecided about the issue at hand and who pay close attention to what both parties are saying.
Second, know your subject matter. Don’t go expressing opinions on issues you know little about. People will think you’re just being combative for the sake of it, or worse, they’ll quickly refute what you say and make you look stupid.
Third, have a good memory and be prepared to research. Make use for example of Twitter’s search facility and the various newspaper archives.
Fourth, try not to lose your cool. Don’t swear on Twitter, or abuse people. Once you do so, it distracts from your message, and you risk losing credibility.
Fifth, demand that people provide their sources for questionable claims. If people respond defensively by saying you can ‘Google it’ remind them that the burden of proof doesn’t sit with the person questioning the claim.
Sixth, never let outrageous claims go by without challenging them, even if you have done so before. That may seem repetitious, but if you don’t do so these lies become accepted facts.
Seventh, call out people when they employ logical fallacies to try to shut you down, whether it’s a strawman argument, or a false dichotomy, or an appeal to authority.
Eighth, Once you’ve made all your points you’re better off not engaging further. If the debate degenerates into a competition over who has the last word, you will both look stupid, and you’ll annoy your followers.
Ninth, Respect your followers and don’t self-indulge. People follow you because they hope you’ll provide interesting tweets; they don’t follow you to hear you talk about yourself or your feelings.
Lastly – don’t worry if you’re getting abused on Twitter in response. It means what you’ve said has hit a nerve. In an age where groupthink and echo chambers are prevalent, anyone who points out an uncomfortable truth and disrupts the narrative is a troll. - Fred Pawle
We are bringing the How to Win Twitter event to Melbourne next week. Book here.