This year’s mental struggle is brought to you by the issue of expressing opinions online, specifically on Twitter. It also has the distinct honor of having gotten under my skin the most, more so than almost any other issue.
It’s tough because, on the one hand, I really love being opinionated and expressing it, especially on political issues. One of the best parts of being informed, to me, is forming a unique, thought-out opinion to share with others. It helps the public discourse and my own ego, so it’s a win-win. So having a great platform like Twitter to do that on should be a blessing.
But on the other hand, anyone can list all the risks with sharing opinions on Twitter. The biggest one is obviously fear of offending someone, whether it’s a flock of Internet trolls or a future employer. It can get so bad that, despite the Internet being framed as a great platform for debate, people are less likely to express opinions online than in person, especially since many have gotten fired for their tweets.
If I comment on *anything* currently in the news, it’s a gamble. Which is why I rarely tweet anymore. — Kelly Lux (@KellyLux) September 15, 2014
Plus for myself, being in a top communications school majoring in online journalism and all, sharing opinions becomes an even touchier subject with an extra layer of stigma to overcome. It’s certainly justified, but I think it’s also overblown in many cases.
In my opinion (ha ha), while people need to be careful about tweeting opinions, it’s also something to embrace as well, even in a journalism-related major or any media field.
Why should we tweet opinions?
This can all apply to anyone, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s look at this from the perspective of journalists (or anyone working online). There’s actually some good arguments for expressing more opinions on Twitter.
The biggest one, for me, is that brand and personality are becoming a lot more important for digital success. Being an objective, “view from nowhere” person is needed more on a case-by-case basis instead of constantly. There’s already so much raw information online, people frequently need to mix in some personality, otherwise readers will look elsewhere. As bad as that sounds, people can still inform others accurately while being seen as a trustworthy and enjoyable source, as long as their opinions are shared moderately.
Plus Twitter, at its core, is a tool to create conversations with others. For me, a vital part of this is being comfortable expressing personal views on issues. If you don’t, then it’s not a conversation, it’s just a one-way transfer of info. People don’t go to Twitter for that, they go for engagement and connection. If you don’t do that, why are you on Twitter at all?
Okay, so how should we do it?
Good question, size three header. Even though I advocate sharing opinions on Twitter, I do acknowledge there are several rules to follow to do it well. By “well,” I mean in a way that won’t anger employers or *** off some of the many Twitter trolls (see below).
While there’s a lot of discussion and debate about how to do this, I have a few standards I try to abide by:
- Do your research. Informed opinions have greater defenses against stupid responses.
- Be willing to calmly, rationally debate differing opinions. If people start yelling, don’t back down, but don’t stoop to their level either (Will McAvoy does this very well).
- Be reasonable and moderate on anything with lots of gray area. If you’re unsure of it or the evidence, admit you could be wrong.
- Only take a firm stance when you have solid evidence to back it up. Be sure to cite specifics if needed, and not use a logical fallacy like “97% agree of experts on it, so it must automatically be right.”
- Provide some added value through humor, personality, or interesting info. Make it the added flair that people look forward to.
- If an issue seems too hot or controversial, then play it safe and avoid it. Sometimes it’s not worth the risk of getting spammed so hard your account is suspended.
- Try to avoid issues you’re currently doing straight reporting on, or know you will later. This speaks for itself, especially on touchy issues, since sometimes opinion and reporting still can’t mix (even if this happens less often now).
To me, many are unnecessarily afraid of expressing their opinions on Twitter (or just online). While I understand these concerns, I don’t think their arguments are strong enough to overrule expressing ANY opinions at all. For journalists, if done right, sharing some opinions is an important part of doing well on Twitter. For non-journalists, not doing so is missing out on one of the biggest things Twitter has to offer.
We should be cautious about being opinionated on Twitter, but not paralyzed with fear either. Otherwise, there’s no point in using it, now is there?
Cheers, Max A