The Psychology of Twitter and being Online

What is the psychology of being online?

  • Can I trust who I meet?
  • Are these friendships as meaningful?
  • If I don’t bother will I miss out?
  • How can I disagree with someone when the whole world is watching. Worse – what happens when they disagree with me and the whole world is watching?
  • What are the rules of a twitter argument?
  • How much personal stuff do I put out – what goes online stays online?
  • How can I guarantee that privacy will be respected?
  • What are my motives, am I doing this for show?
  • What will people think of me? and Dammit why do I care so much?
  • Am I using this to escape real life?
  • Oh God, what is real…

What have I learned? I have added to my physical network and am relating in new ways.  I’m also learning to get over myself, the ‘whole world’ isn’t looking at me, but I am part of the ‘whole world’.

New and old friendships

Geography doesn’t count. My network is bigger and more international including meeting people from overseas who I first met online.

Social classes and prejudices breaking down. Many online friends are from different backgrounds that seemingly wouldn’t bump into each other, yet they do online and often what starts online ends up in a physical conversation. Not being able to predict who you will meet or where they are from is changing my preconceived ideas about who I tend to ‘hang out with’ for work and play.

A safe place to begin to explore – initially, if it turns out that person isn’t quite my cup of tea or what I was looking for, I can leave the interaction with them – no harm done.  That is much harder to do in ‘real’ life.

Snapshots of lives and intimacies. Personal real time snapshots of lives is new for me and happens at both work and personal levels. Relationships can be maintained and it’s as close as I can get to saying hello over a cuppa – real time chat on twitter, photos on facebook, skype… lots of choice.

Receiving and giving help

twitter conversationWhat the interweb has given is a network of help to tap into often from people I may not know.  The classic ‘how do I…. ‘what is the best….’ posted on twitter brings an often quick and relevant response (read bottom up).

Another recent example from someone whose website Google stopped indexing without warning. The response to help find out why and fix it was instant, which resulted in a personal post about what happened and how to avoid it: When is a blog not a blog.


This one is hard. Phil Baumann on privacy (Dirty Little Secrets are Essential to Your Health):

Every day, as the Web expands and quickens and infiltrates its way across and through our world, the boundaries of our privacy diminish. There’s not much we can do: Technology does what it wants eventually – one way or another. What does it want? I’ll pass on that for now but I can tell you this: technology doesn’t want your privacy. The question for you then is: do you want your privacy?

He gives the holy trinity of privacy as Dignity, Solitude and Healing.

‘…know that privacy is more than data; know that privacy is your sanity-protector; know that privacy is a fight; and know that you define privacy.’

It is true that we define our privacy: Work friends, family members, friends of ex-partners, complete strangers are in our network. How do I define my privacy? I very rarely post anything of a personal/intimate nature that I wouldn’t say to a roomful of people and am also learning to say: this is me and you may or may not agree but that’s OK. As to photos:  I wouldn’t post that photo of you looking like a dork, so please return the favour, and if it’s of a personal nature ask first.

Merging of Work and Play

This relates to privacy as well – if you are tweeting/facebooking with your workmates you may not be able to post everything.  What happens if your boss wants to connect with you on facebook – you’re damned if you and damned if you dont (and if you’re a boss, please don’t request to be a facebook friend of your team-wait to be asked, it puts people in an impossible situation). You also need to be clear what is your personal account and what is your work account if you are communicating with two different hats on, although the people you are connecting with may be in both groups.


New communication, new world. The interweb provides written, visual and audio communication depending on what you prefer. It would be interesting to see whether there are certain psychological profiles who tend to take to online communication more than others.

The interweb is also bringing communication to another level of research.  This project by  Spheres is shaped by dialogue and a net of semantic conversations. I’ve clicked on Mind to look at the dialogue created around it. They say:


‘[…] Whose place is it, for example, to define the meaning of life? -Biologists, philosophers, chemists, historians, writers, journalists, theologians, mystics, metaphysicians, school teachers, parents? -All of them at the same time? Every one of us? We are not interested in the definition of the word, but rather in the dialogue created around it. A single word, like life, contains an infinite extensive trans-cultural and trans-temporal dialogue.’

Arguments and Disagreements

Falling out – open criticism, snide comments, personal attacks – what goes on the web stays on the web.  Arguing is hard at the best of times, here it’s locked down forever.  Interestingly, what once may have made me cringe with embarrassment due to how public it was, now begins to matter less – although it might stay on the web forever, along with a garganguan gazillion other things (I made that number up), in a sense it becomes part of the interweb debris. If you want to sift amongst that be my guest, but there may be better ways to spend your time. However, a personal rule is that if anyone tries to bait me into a public personal discussion they are going to be heartily out of luck. Nevertheless, if I think something is going to turn into an issue I pick up the phone rather than deal with it online, written words can be misinterpreted and misused.


There is a trend for people to be far more willing to criticise someone (eg a presenter) online than I suspect would be the case if they were having to say it in person. There may come a time where the twittersphere, for one, will moderate itself and shout down people who are getting out of line.  At least I hope so. Criticism that is personal in nature doesn’t add anything to the conversation and in my opinion reflects badly on the one who is doing it. If you can’t say it in person, don’t say it online.


Frankly, I’m not sure I’m ready to introduce my family to the world or for the world to meet them, but suppose they decide to follow me on twitter/facebook….