How Twitter have made the worst, the best, and the false version of you.
The car collision incident on Sunday (22/01) in Gambir, Central Jakarta was tragic. The driver, a 29-year old woman under the influence of drugs and alcohol, lost control of the car while speeding and subsequently killed nine pedestrians and critically injuring three others.
What happened afterwards, was even more worrisome. Curious minds and itchy fingers have made it possible to find the driver’s Twitter handle. Soon after, images of the driver allegedly doing drugs at a party the night before the crash was posted online. It was continuously retweeted and severe name calling, mockeries, and public hatred was targeted to her countless times.
I believe no crime should go unpunished, but what I have witnessed on my timeline was trial by Twitter, herd mentality at its finest.
It was a concerted effort to condemn drunk-driving, but the aggressive means was bullying in nature. Perhaps it was because alcohol and drug abuse a morally wrong behavior in supposedly religious Indonesia, though I did not see the same animosity towards corruption. Perhaps the persecutory movement was provoked by the lack of trust in Indonesia’s criminal justice system and the lack of protection for its citizens. Or perhaps, it was just society’s favorite pastime – witch-hunting – only that it does not involve pitchforks and torches this time around, but smartphones.
It is apparent that society hasn’t evolved much, and in a particularly reactive society, Twitter have made it possible to amplify any stereotypes you have in your head. It is easy to judge a person, a company, or a product, and Twitter just made it much easier.
PR practitioners and political strategists are ultimately aware and make the best out of the Indonesian Twitter scene.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have been criticized of too much image politics, but the blame shouldn’t entirely be put upon him. There’s a demand for image created by the public, and it becomes the matter of supplying the right commodity.
For instance, Mr. Gita Wirjawan, the Indonesian Trade Minister, was scrutinized over his ministry’s minimum TOEFL score policy, something that I see as a miniscule of importance compared to his rattan export-ban policy. The former policy was spun in the hopes of making him look like an elitist, while the latter has the tendency to be pro-domestic industry.
Another case would be Mr. Dahlan Iskan, the Indonesian State-Owned Enterprises Minister, supported by some as a presidential candidate for 2014, because he was humble enough to take a commuter train for a meeting despite any breakthrough policies in his ministry. It is sadly image above performance and this is the reality of civic awareness in Indonesia.
The presidential race is still two years ahead, but hopeful candidates have prepared themselves on precisely this image building process. Official, unofficial, and even anonymous Twitter accounts both supporting and countering the hopeful candidates have been set-up, in the hopes of gaining and swinging the votes of mostly urban and middle class Indonesians.
Granted, the bulk of many PR activities still need to be done outside social media, because many Indonesians don’t have access to electricity, let alone the internet. However, the middle class is still an important battle ground for votes and what better way to infiltrate the contest for best image through social media.
On a personal level, I have been using Twitter as an interest-network tool. I follow people or accounts who I have similar interests with, whether it is about the environment, politics, current affairs, or comedy. I also follow my friends in real life whom I have real relationships with and interact with them online. Whether I am followed-back in return, it is not my main purpose although there’s no denying that the number of followers you have does create that false sense of achievement in your ego.
Recently I have done tweetups, or meeting in person the people you meet on Twitter. To be honest, at first it was indeed awkward because you feel you know them because of their tweets, but in fact, you don’t. As you engage in the conversation, you find out who the person behind the screen is, beyond of what is written in their timeline.
I would imagine that the process would be difficult for some if they’re projecting an image of who they are not. Are you as funny, smart, idealistic, cynical or delightful, as you would like them to think? Or was it an unintended consequence because people are easy to judge in the first place?
I’ve asked a high school best friend of mine of what she thinks about my online persona. Have I unconsciously projected an image of who I am not on Twitter, knowing that she knows me for who I am in person?
Her answer, much to my surprise, was that I might be more intimidating online than I am in real life. She then continued with a question, asking why I tweet what I tweet. My response was that I share what I find interesting online and since I am opinionated I tweet about it as well (although thankfully blogging has become a more satisfying outlet). In the process, however, I did not share “me”.
I did not share much about my hopes and dreams, my fears and insecurities, because I want to keep that in the realm of my privacy. I consciously intend to not give people whom I do not trust (online especially) the complete picture of me, fearing that it might hurt me in the future. Twitter, however, has conflated my private and public spheres and managing it is a tricky balance.
I could just keep my account protected, or stay out of it and deactivate my account, but it has so far given me more benefits than costs. What I’m struggling at the moment, is figuring out whether people’s false expectations of you based on what you tweet is more of a cost or benefit, because it can easily be swayed into both directions.
Perhaps Twitter is just another fad and people would soon grow out of it. No matter the form, however, this process of building the image of you would still be there.