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This is me

August 14, 2010

The past few weeks have seen me question myself quite a lot. This in part because I’m reading a book called “Change Your Thinking”, a marvellous step by step approach to correcting faulty thinking in seemingly stressful situations. Increasingly I’m finding it a vital resource to help me in what I have to acknowledge is a necessary daily existence on the internet.

I say it’s necessary because during the few hours I spent introducing some journalists to Twitter earlier in the week, I found myself acknowledging why I use it. I admitted I use the micro-blogging tool is not only to shamelessly self-promote myself in pursuit of the dream if potentially unreachable career in radio presentation, but also to engage in conversation. In that respect Twitter is what might be disingenously referred to as a “stroking tool”. It has the potential of offering positive affirmation.

For me, it’s helped me grow as an individual too. There’s truth in what I heard during a work presentations about the other social networking behemoth Facebook. Those of us who use it and Twitter do to a greater or lesser extent necessarily think of the outside edges of our network as essentially private even though we’re all too aware of the potential pitfalls of its public nature.

But at the same time as growing more confident as an individual using the tool – making contact with people, establishing audiences and networks (yes I know that sounds cold but it is the truth) – I find myself increasingly back-tracking over stuff I’ve published, perhaps more so than I do than with my blog. Blogging does demand a bit more time to consider the beginning, middle and end. Mix 140 characters and an impulsive nature and perhaps its no surprise reviewing one’s own output is just good practice.

I did that last night. I review a week of tweets asking myself a simple question: was it OK to tweet that? Aside from the fact that my Twitter profile makes it quite clear that my views are my own and not those of my employer the BBC, does the content of my twitter updates cause me to wince at the same time as it causes brows to furrow, noses to curl up and fingers to tap frantically on the keyboard whilst someone senior at the BBC waits for HR to pick up the phone?

I think I was OK with this one – it was complimentary about news online. The fact that someone from BBC News Online said thanks in a way that led me to conclude he might have been being sarcastic shows how I need to spend more time reading the book.

But was it necessarily a good idea to retweet this message complaining about a tautology used in the on-air description of an orchestra at the #bbcproms? BBC guidelines for personal use of social networking sites suggest that its probably better to provide some additional comment when re-tweeting a message in case other users see that action of re-tweeting as endorsement of the sentiments in the originating message.

I’d argue that it was absolutely OK for me to retweet that Proms-related tweet. Why? Because it made me laugh. Secondly, it talks about language and (indirectly) on-air presentation (a subject I’m interested in for obvious reasons). And thirdly because I want other people to see the tweet. In getting people to see the tweet I’m not suggesting I’m in agreement. I’m merely showing it to others.

Mind you, having said all of that I’m reminded of another tweet about whether or not hyperlinks are in themselves potentially libellous.

Was it OK to express opinion about the album in the number one slot in the Classical Music charts? Clearly its not a serious call to arms to boycott buying Andre Rieu’s Foreever Vienna Album, but some might see it so.

Whilst it was obviously fine to tweet the fact I was watching Mark Thompson’s discussion about the pension thing at the BBC – nothing contentious here – was a bit off to mention that at the beginning of the presentation we only had visuals and no sound? Was that an attack? Did others see it as me attacking technical staff for an error? I’d say “Obviously not, don’t be so stupid” but others might not share my dry sense of humour.

Finally, given Erik Huggers blog post about HTML5 on Friday, was it questionable for me to then tweet …

Best not let Mr Huggers see whats on my to-do list today I think … http://bit.ly/cJghQG << HTML 5 & the BBC. *clears throat*

I would argue that it’s absolutely fine. Implicit in the asterisked ‘stage direction’ is self-deprecation. But just because I think it, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else will see it.

And then there’s today’s trot around the internet about BBC URL shortening. There’s another question which – on my day off – has reared its ugly head and prompted me to reach for the personal handbook.

I ask the question ‘What does the twitterverse think about URL shortening‘? This question fuelled by a personal view that showing the user in receipt of a shortened URL exactly where they’re going might be a little nanny-state, like there’s a perception it’s important to hold the user’s hand in case there’s any misunderstanding.

Why ask that especially given there are probably quite a lot of people who worked on the project at the BBC who follow me on Twitter? Was I at risk of offending people by asking the question?

To be honest, I didn’t really think about that when I posed the question in the first place, largely because my motivation wasn’t to offend anyone but merely find out what people thought. Plenty of people were quick to respond – saying it was a good thing. I learnt of lots of good business reasons for it. But it wasn’t until I mentioned the nanny state point that I learned of one very important angle which hadn’t crossed my mind.

Just because I use Twitter via a 3rd party client – Tweetdeck – which shortens URLs for me already, that doesn’t mean that other Twitter users do so. Thanks to @nickyrowb for clearing that one up. I hadn’t considered that angle at all.

That’s what I’m increasingly finding beneficial from Twitter. As I move from using it as a self-inflicting ‘stroking machine’ into a ‘what does everyone think about this – help me form my own opinion’, a new benefit from the tool emerges. It’s less water-cooler, more senior common room/debating chamber. It helps – in a journalistic way – shape stories and understanding. That, is important to me. Although the path I take to get to that stage will – inevitably – result in some feathers being ruffled, I’m sure.

I’m reminded of two totally separate incidents which share similarities with each other as well as my occasionally naive questioning on Twitter.

Years ago at school I remember (and have blogged elsewhere) about how I dared to challenge a new teacher’s techniques on his first day in the job. He’d been aggressive although I didn’t doubt he had good intentions. At the end of the lesson – one to one – I questioned what he’d said to the class. His reaction was severe. He barked at me. I saw anger in his eyes and fully inflated red cheeks. I ran from the classroom. I didn’t cry but I was genuinely shaken up.

Eighteen years later (thereabouts) I’m at the Eurovision Song Contest in Latvia. Faux-lesbians Tatu had just completed their ‘rehearsal’ they’d been late too. They sat at the press table doodling, oozing attitude and refusing questions as journalists stood before them getting quotes. Their attitude was incredible. One big publicity machine had descended on Riga. They wanted the publicity but they didn’t want to answer any questions. Tiresome pair. I stood up and posed a question about their late arrival at the rehearsals that day and their subsequent refusal to sing because of their sore throats. It went something like “I was sorry to see you weren’t able to sing at the rehearsal, do you know what you’re suffering from and whether you’ll be suffering from it on the night of the live final.”

Unsurprisingly I received no answer – certainly not one I could understand. Everyone else in the press centre – as I recall – applauded. I found it quite a strange experience, moving in fact.

And yet a few months after that, someone else who was present in the room made a point of asking, “shouldn’t you think twice before asking questions like that – being all provocative – after all, you got that press pass there via the BBC. Wouldn’t be on to keep the BBC ‘sweet’?”

I spluttered in to my drink when I heard it. I was amazed to think that anyone might consider that my behaviour (at the time I didn’t work for the BBC) would look badly on the broadcaster. I was standing up asking questions. I was doing the journalistic thing. True I was being daring and yes, I was being provocative but I’d rather be asking relatively challenging questions to gain an understanding of the individuals in my sights than merely asking whether they’d kiss each other stage during the live Saturday night show. The latter seemed so puerile not to mention of so little interest to me.

Those two incidents remind me of me. They remind me that I’ve always perhaps naively asked daring questions. Sometimes those questions have provoked reactions I haven’t expected nor intended, reactions which in hindsight have been considerably more revealing than I had originally expected.

But it is the motivation which is important. It is the motivation which is vital to underline time and time again, especially as more of us conduct our lives online.

My motivation is simple. I see myself online in the same way I see myself in the office. I have no shame and I have no pride. If there’s something I don’t understand then I’ll ask because there’s no shame in asking. Equally there’s no shame in expressing my view on something especially if as a result of sharing that others come back to me sharing their view on the world and insodoing help shape mine.

That is what the likes of Twitter is brilliant for. And – and I say this without the slightest hint of smugness on my part – its also what my core personality likes too. I have the opportunity to be me and ask and say stuff which I would happily say to other Tweeters just as I would if I was in a room with them. And the reason I’m happy with that is because I know I’m a good person. And as a good person I’m hardly likely to have malicious intent. And sometimes its just important to say that out loud from time to time, if not for myself then for others too.

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