This afternoon, I’ve been having an interesting exchange on Twitter with @flayman.
It started with a Retweet he made.
Ho hum, thought I, and responded to the originator, on my own account; not on behalf of, or associated with, @flayman.
Twitter being what it is, I responded in my customary terse manner.
This lead to a bit of a ‘tiff’ not with the originator, but with @flayman.
So after some intervening mincing and slapping, we got around to discussing where I was coming from.
Somewhere on the Internet, I expect there’s a rule about forwarded emails, texts, tweets or whatever, that claim to be some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy.
Forward this email and Bill Gates will give all his money to 2 million African children.
Forward this text message to support breast cancer victims.
So to my first point. My reaction would have been precisely the same, whatever the ‘cause’ was in which I was being implored to retweet.
The reason for my reaction is two fold and while I’m applying it to this instance on twitter, it applies equally to SMS messages, emails or chain letters.
Firstly, there’s the bandwidth consumption, on Twitter’s infrastructure, on the internet, on 3G networks and on client devices themselves.
The second part also applies to the recent fad of wearing plastic wristbands to denote support for this or that cause. And it is this:
What good does it actually do?
It marks you out as a ‘good’ or ‘right-thinking’ person. As such it’s self aggrandising, whether it be for popularity or self-esteem.
@flayman thinks that, “if your friends see that you stand up for a demographic they may have pause to think.”
I don’t stand up for demographics. And if the mentally ill are a single demographic then I doubly don’t stand up for it. I don’t support schizophrenics who fail to take their medication then go out and kill people. I don’t support sociopaths or psychopaths.
Also, most of my friends are cynical bastards who would have responded much as I did. Moreover, if they were people with a bigoted or stigmatising view of mental health overall, they wouldn’t be my friend in the first place (or at least would be audited out pretty sharpish).
But is it also, as @flayman would have it, “better than nothing”? Is it a ‘nothing-to-lose’ act? I don’t think it is.
If I’m correct, and people are motivated to act in ways they perceive to be altruistic for their own self-interest, then their perceptions bear scrutiny.
What if the act of forwarding or retweeting a message (or wearing a wristband*) satisfies that urge, whereas otherwise, it would have been necessary to donating money, goods or your time?
Some, and I don’t doubt that @flayman is amongst them, willingly donate to causes, whether or not someone retweeted something. Did the retweet benefit them or raise their awareness to the cause? I doubt it.
Did some other twitterers simply retweet the message as a way to grab some reflected glory without actually doing anything of actual use? I’d bet my car on it.
So the net result then? Bandwidth was consumed, no additional real-terms yield for the cause, and a bunch of twatterers got to make themselves look like they’re something without actually ever being of any help at all.
Less than a zero-sum game.
* the argument about wristbands yielding cash donations is moot due to the existence of, and market for, counterfeit wristbands, which shows that enough people care more about the appearance that the principle.
UPDATE: A good response from @flayman in the comments.