the boy who cried twitter: how to make your message meaningless

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Friday, July 2nd, 2010

the boy who cried twitter: how to make your message meaningless

one of the beauties of social media is that it allows for a wide variety of usage. for some, it’s strictly “social” in the truest sense of the word, serving as a place to foster conversation and casual interaction. for others, it’s a mode of relaying and broadcasting information or a vehicle for relationship-driven branding/marketing. i see all these uses (and there are plenty others i could name) as valid, if executed properly and within the bounds of social norms of the “community” in which one is operating.

lately, i’ve been examining the way i utilize social media (twitter, most predominantly, in my case). i don’t think i’ve necessarily crossed any boundaries or used it in inappropriate/ineffective ways. rather, i’ve witnessed too many people who have and it’s caused me to pause and exercise some caution.

whether it’s because i’ve been hyper-sensitive or just because it’s happened with more frequency, i’ve noticed quite a bit of what i consider—at best—ineffective use of social media lately. no doubt, long-time blog readers and people who follow me on twitter can attest to the fact that i can get on a soapbox every now and then. i regularly comment on various political and theological issues and view those things not just as moments to point fingers, but as extensions of the social/conversational nature of the medium. but there are extremes.

we all know the story of the little shepherd boy who amuses himself by crying wolf. each time he does it, a townsperson comes running, only to find they wasted their time. finally, a wolf actually does come. when he cries wolf, of course, no one responds. the wolf eats the entire flock (and in some version, it eats the boy!).

i’ve seen quite a few boys crying wolf on social media venues lately.

unlike the boy in the story, these people aren’t lying. rather, they’re simply crying about an issue or belief or stance so frequently and so loudly that people no longer pause to consider the validity or personal relevance of the next message. their message—regardless of how much meaning it has—has lost most or all credibility because of its nonstop flow into peoples’ social media streams.

yes, you’re probably right that president obama’s X or Y decision was poor, but when you tell us that every 3 status updates, your message—as true as it might be—has lost all meaning. yes, creation care is important, but when the only time you engage on twitter or facebook is when you’re telling us how much danger the earth is in, we assume your point-of-view has lost credibility. yes, the republicans have become a sad “party of no”, but when you rail against them on a nearly daily basis, i can only assume that you don’t have the ability to offer a balanced perspective. yes, the padres are having a great season, but when you spam peoples’ twitter streams with every detail of their goings-on, we either begin to despise them or assume the hype must be bigger than the reality.

again, i’m not just pointing fingers, but taking a moment to examine myself. but it’s become clear, more and more recently, that it’s less and less certain that there’s actually a wolf and not just a boy with too much time on his hands.

at the end of aesop’s fable, we’re told the moral of the story. it states

Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth.

examine the way you engage people via social media. are you crying wolf in ways that lead people to respond or ways that cause disbelief? indeed, when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. but when shepherd boys cry out to the townspeople at appropriate times and intervals, he flourishes and builds healthy relationships with his community.


  1. Morgon77 says:

    Some people seem to use social media specifically so that other folks can say "me too" and build a sense of community through common assent. Thus, the issue isn't whether they've convinced you…it's whether the people who agree with them feel that they're bonding through a common repeated theme.

  2. hardin says:

    I agree with what you're saying. This has been on my mind some lately. There are subjects each of us post about more frequently than others. These are obviously the issues we care most about, and it's human nature to want others to care about them equally. Or at least be aware of them and consider them earnestly. (I'm talking of course about the "real issues" not things like favorite baseball team)

    The question is how much awareness is just the right amount? When does our advocacy for/against an issue, product, party, point of view, etc. become counterproductive in the way you wrote about? Those are sometimes hard questions to answer.

    Another question that comes to mind is whether or not we'd even know we've crossed that line if someone doesn't (with pure intentions) tell us. I mean, you stated that you don't believe you've crossed that line, but it would take an extremely heightened degree of self-awareness for you or me or anyone to know for ourselves. A degree of self-awareness that may even be unreasonable to expect. Does that make sense?

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