Sunday, November 23, 2014

The confusion of others

Our friends on the religious far right can, depending on who they are or what they’re up to, abuse us, amuse us, or confuse us. My old pal Bob McCroskrie did the latter to me, but it was the confusion of others I was more concerned about.

Bob mentioned me in a Tweet he posted yesterday afternoon, and I replied about an hour later. You can see the entire exchange above. At first, I had no idea what the point of it was.

Because of our previous exchanges, banter, and jousts, Bob knew “of” me, and knew that I’m a strong advocate for LGBT people and marriage equality in particular. Despite the depth of our disagreements, none of our Twitter exchanges ever became particularly personal, in my opinion, and they were, to the extent possible, reasonably cordial most of the time. I don’t know whether Bob would agree with me about that, since I haven’t asked him.

Bob’s Tweet was about a very strange case out of the USA and the Tweet was, I think, trying to call attention to the story by implying that advocates for LGBT equality, supporters of President Obama, or both, wanted to keep the whole thing a secret. That’s absurd on its face. In fact, I first read about the story on the gay blog Joe.My.God.* (where I also saw a follow-up post today).

In the USA, the radical right anti-gay industry was doing cartwheels over the initial arrest reports, as you’d expect them to do, so there was plenty of repeating the story in that country. In New Zealand, where HRC and who gives money to US political candidates is of zero interest or importance, I doubt there was any coverage—why would there be?

My point is that in the USA, where the story is based, it was hardly a secret, so I suspect that Bob included me in the Tweet to needle me—something along the lines of what we’ve both Tweeted in the past. That’s the spirit I took it in, so I chose to respond matter-of-factly*.

It occurred to me later, however, that Bob’s 1073 followers, not knowing our history of banter, wouldn’t know why I was mentioned at the end of the Tweet. I was briefly concerned that they might think I was connected in some way, that I condoned sexual relations with underage people, that I might be such a person, that I was an apologist who would ignore criminal behaviour from someone on “our” side of the political divide—even someone I’d never heard of—because they’re on “our” side. But I can’t control what Bob’s followers think, and the true believers among them—fewer than the total number of followers, of course—would usually be prepared to think the worst of me no matter what. That’s life.

I’m sure that Bob never meant to imply anything negative about me personally. Instead, I’m sure his intent was merely to needle me, which is fair enough in politics. So, this was a bit mischievous, but no big deal. Of course, it could have been something bigger if Bob had ten or a hundred times the number of followers, or if he’d written it to stir up trouble for me personally. Neither was the case here so, no harm done. It even made me laugh a bit, given our history, that Bob would include me in the Tweet.

However, I do think this underscores—for me, at least—the importance of using some caution online to avoid giving people the wrong impression about people they don’t know. Because other people will think whatever they want to, I don’t put people’s Twitter names at the end of such Tweets unless I put a “cc” in front of it—precisely because of the potential for confusion and misunderstanding. I may also (though equally rarely) direct such a Tweet to someone. That’s just me. What other people do is their business.

The reason that any of this matters at all is that people seem to have hair-trigger responses online, willing to launch into all sorts of attacks and fights based on little if anything of substance. In such an environment, misunderstanding and confusion can quickly lead to incivility.

To help avoid such unpleasantness, I think it’s important to be careful about not contributing to the confusion of others.

*For the sake of accuracy, the original post I saw appeared on Joe’s blog on Thursday, US time, which was Friday here. At the time I replied to Bob’s Tweet, I thought it had been Thursday our time, not USA time. I only realised my error when I went to research the facts for this post. So, I saw it the day before Bob’s Tweet, not the “couple days” I said in my Tweet.


rogerogreen said...

That's why I avoid irony and sarcasm in tweets, e.g.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Yeah, I think that one of the biggest problems with all text-based communication—even comments on sites—is that it's not always obvious when the commenter is joking. I've adopted emoticons, those often hated little smileys, to make it completely clear when I'm not being serious. I know that emoticons piss off some people a whole lot, but it's the easiest way to convey intent, especially on Twitter with its 140 character limit.

As for sarcasm specifically, I've sometimes used "" a pretend HTML tag, but that's a bit nerdy, really. Which is probably one reason WHY I use it, if I'm honest.