Twitter encourages people to jump to wrong conclusions

Twitter is a communication system that is ripe for misunderstanding and even deliberate distortion. The brevity and speed of Twitter messages is supposed to be part of its appeal (though I do not find it that attractive) but with any communication system that limits itself to just 140 characters, one should realize that a lot more is left out than is in the message itself. Unfortunately, this results in people simply assuming what they want to about what is not there and then running with it. This is even more evident when people have strong feelings about the person whose tweet they are responding to.

Take, for example, Glenn Greenwald. He arouses strong animosity from some Democratic partisans because he does not reflexively support and excuse the actions of party members and has been strongly critical of many of the actions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. When he re-tweeted a Democracy Now! tweet titled Glenn Greenwald Unveils New Project to Build Animal Shelter in Brazil Staffed by Homeless People, about a project that he and David Miranda had initiated in Brazil (where he lives), the tweet just gave the link to the story.

Greenwald is known to be a serious animal lover and his home has a large number of dogs. But if you look at the Twitter feed comments, some people sneered at Greenwald because they simply assumed that he was more concerned about animals than humans and that the homeless were being treated like minimum wage employees in the US, who come in every day, take care of the animals, and then go and sleep in the streets again. If they had simply bothered to click on the link, they would have seen that this was an attempt to address two problems, homeless people and stray animals. The homeless who take care of the animals would be provided with a place to stay and eat as they transition away from life on the street. When I read it, I thought it was a great idea.

As Greenwald explains:

But really, the outgrowth of this project came when we started getting really involved with homeless people who live on the street with their pets, because it’s an incredibly powerful and unique bond. I mean, we love our dogs, but when you have nothing else, the bond that develops between homeless people and their pets is incredibly powerful. And so, we did a film last year, overseen by Laura Poitras, about homeless people who live on the street with their pets, and it featured this family headed by this trans woman. They take care of 35 dogs, even though they’re homeless. They often get food and then immediately share it with their pets.

And so, out of that, you know, this incredible compassion and empathy and human self-sacrifice, we wanted to build a project that captured these really strong emotions. And so we’re building this new homeless—this new animal shelter in Rio, which is suffering from an economic crisis, has no money for anything. And it’s going to be staffed exclusively by homeless people who live on the street with their dogs, as a way of kind of employing them and then transitioning them off the street into apartments and then, ultimately, permanent employment.

So we’re sort of launching the idea with this film today. And what we hope is that, you know, there’s a lot of cities, a lot of states, with austerity, slashing budgets, and the people who suffer are always the most marginalized—the homeless, the poor and definitely the animal population, as well. And so we’re hoping this becomes a model for how the public can take care of both at the same time, empower both, using this amazingly beautiful human-animal connection that forms between homeless dogs and cats and homeless people.

People do have an intensely strong relationship with their pets that can baffle those who do not have them. In fact, poor people often have stronger attachments than rich people because they prize more whatever little they do have. Back in 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, many people went to great lengths to rescue their pets, even at risk to their own lives. I wrote about one young man who had been rendered homeless and was given the chance to evacuate but he refused to go because there was no provision for him to take his dog with him on the bus. He only agreed to go when a member of Oprah Winfrey’s team promised that he would look after the dog and reunite them in Baton Rouge. It is very moving.


  1. says

    I never understood why Twitter’s limited text blocks was cool and edgy. It just (as you say) fosters miscommunication.

    I wish someone would stand up a social media system where all postings must be haiku. It makes as much sense, and I’m sure Cuttlefish would rule the place.

  2. seachange says

    Twitter fights long-winded bafflegab and prevents meandering around what you mean. It is good for getting to the point in a world of obfuscation and too much “information”. This is why it is cool and edgy.

    Twitter was never meant to be read outside of context, it was supposed to be updating family and friends. Everyone has assigned more meaning to Twitter than it has or should have.

  3. says

    Twitter was also largely tied to cell phones from the start. Yes, you could always access it through a computer, but a tweet length (@whatevername + 140 characters) was tied to a text message length (160 characters). It allowed you to send these updates no matter where you were.

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