Kent Bottles: Twitter & Texting: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

November 3, 2009 at 1:42 pm 2 comments

Maybe it’s due to the Halloween time of year, but I want to focus on The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Twitter & Texting.  Anyone who has followed me on this blog or Twitter knows that social media is an important tool that I use to keep up to date in my field, network, and inform followers about ICSI educational activities.

Examples of The Good of social media in my life are easy to identify.  I contact on Twitter @ahier, a person I have never met who lives in Oregon, and suddenly I have the perfect health IT white papers for a presentation in Grand Junction, CO.  When I arrive in Grand Junction, another Twitter friend I have never met, @BonnieRN, picks me up and shows me around the valley.  @amcunningham in England tells me about Annemarie Mol’s book on the doctor/patient relationship and expands my thinking on this subject.  I arrive in Washington, DC for a conference with no dinner plans and via Twitter connect with @ChristineKraft who is a delightful conversationalist.  The 2009 James L. Reinertsen Lecture is scheduled for November 19, 2009 in Bloomington, MN and features David Eddy, MD, PhD, presenting on “Evidence-based Medicine for the 21st Century.” Our use of Twitter, emails, and text messaging has helped attract 300 registrants for this free lecture.

Still, there is The Bad & The Ugly.  One of the latest trends in Twitter is a feature that allows the creation of lists of your followers, the tagging of these lists, and the ability to share them with others.  I am currently included in 37 lists, and had nothing to do with their creation or public sharing. I personally have not made my mind up about Twitter lists, but Mark Trapp blogs that this development belongs under The Bad Category.  According to Trapp, “Twitter made three colossal mistakes with its list implementation:  1) lists are public, 2) lists a person has been categorized in are available on that person’s profile, and 3) most crucially, a person cannot consent to the categorization.”  He notes that he can list someone in a “child molester” list without their consent and that the creation of lists create “a great avenue for spam that you can’t opt out of or protect yourself in any way.”

Under the category of The Ugly, I would list the experience of @brumplum in England who tweeted about Stephen Fry’s comments on twitter: “Much as I admire and adore the chap, they are a bit…boring.”  Fry, the British writer, actor, and TV personality, has a lot of defenders who turned on @brumplum with a cascade of Twitter vitriol that seems out of proportion to the alleged offense.  The New York Times article cites the incident as “an example once again of the extraordinary power of Twitter to distribute information and to sway the opinions of vast groups of people in tiny amounts of time. It was also an example of how Twitter reinforces the tendency of adults to behave like high school students, passing rude notes, spreading exaggerated rumors and obsessing endlessly – and pointlessly – about who said what mean thing about whom.” @brumplum, who is a nice man, found himself publicly called a ‘moron’ and worse.

I don’t know if it falls under The Bad or The Ugly or both or neither, but the laws, regulations, and customs of society don’t develop as fast as these social media technologies.  Phillipa Curtis is a 22 year old in England who recently was sentenced to prison for killing Victoria McBryde by hitting her stalled car.  In the hour before the crash Phillipa had exchanged nearly two dozen text messages with at least five friends; under new British sentencing guidelines she was sent to jail.  “The case reveals the tensions that arise when law enforcement and the courts begin to crack down on a dangerous habit that has become widespread and socially acceptable.  Is texting while driving bad judgment, or a heinous crime?”  The law also does not know what to do with the controversy and moral panic that occurs around the auctioning of a kidney on eBay, the pro-anorexia online movement that teaches young girls how to hide anorexia from their parents, the public autopsy broadcast online in association with Von Hagens’ Body Works, and the websites devoted to cyber-suicide, and cyber-cannibalism. (Andy Miah & Emma Rich, Medicalization of Cyberspace, London: Routledge, 2008)  We don’t really have adequate answers to a whole series of questions:

  • Who owns online communities?
  • What legal claims can be made against online communities?
  • When does a doctor on an online community have a doctor/patient relationship with an individual?
  • Who should regulate online communities?

And who gets to keep what when your Second Life lover dies in real life? Two avatars, Leto Yoshiro and Enchant Jacques, met in Second Life, married online, and built a house on an island. In 2008, after three years together as a couple, several real-life encounters and thousands of hours logged in, Leto died. About six months later Linden Labs who run Second Life erased the island and everything on it. “Change the names and the platform, and almost everybody online will someday face a situation like this.  While an email account…is not quite as spectacular as a mansion with a view of the virtual sea, it is equally erasable – and its legal status as property just as problematic – after the person who created it has died” The value of virtual goods globally is estimated to be about $5-$6 billion, and the legal implications for survivors are enormous and not just sentimental.

The last word on social media goes to Peter Smith on Minnesota Public Radio.

He says that the ability to unfriend, unfollow, block, and hide someone on Twitter or Facebook was consistent with our Upper Midwest attitude of Minnesota Nice.  We can passively aggressively ignore others without ever having to confront them or explain why we find them annoying. He felt that such behavior was just like high school and that it was in keeping with the “Minnesota soul.”



Entry filed under: Health 2.0. Tags: .

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  • 1. e-Patient Dave  |  November 3, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Fabulously perceptive post, Kent. Jeeze, I almost said “article,” which I never say (re blog posts).

    As someone who lived in MN for 11 years in two stints, I know what you mean about Minnesota Nice, including the sometimes-concealed “can’t touch this” aspect. But having been in online communities since 1989, my perspective on “unfollows” is this:

    In physical life we more or less have the ability to stay away from people we don’t want to be near. Not so, online. In the online world, you can pretty much touch anyone and they you, easily and for free. Unfollow / block / ignore is the only recourse.

    Plus, there’s such a flood of incoming stuff (because it’s free) that one simply *must* allow that recipient may not have capacity to hear you.

    So to me, the view that works is that unfollow / block / ignore truly doesn’t mean anything. And I trust that if a correspondent really has an unresolved issue with me, they will bring it up. Because an unresolved problem is important to me – but being ignored isn’t.

    Thought-provoking post. Thanks.

  • […] the interest this discussion is creating. Dr Grohol also covers this over at Psychcentral. At the ISCI healthcare blog there is an article looking at some of the ways in which twitter is being used in healthcare. […]

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