I love Twitter, writes Sunder Katwala – and spend far too much time on it. On Friday 31 August, I’ll be supporting #PositiveTwitterDay – a light-hearted way to show why most tweeters started using the platform in the first place: because they like engaging with people.
The idea came from a conversation I had with several other tweeters back in 2012, and gained some prominence when political blogger and tweeter Guido Fawkes supported It too.
He suggested we try again this year. If things felt angry and divided back in 2012, remember that it was the year of the London Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and long before the EU referendum. Today, our politics, political discourse and even our society often feel a lot more divided today than any of us would like.
Social media gives us a chance to talk to people we agree with – and disagree with too. It’s up to tweeters to decide how we want to behave towards each other. It’s not a lawless zone – laws on libel and incitement still apply. The platform’s rules are supposed to remove outright hate speech, though can be shakily applied. But the overall culture of online spaces isn’t an issue for Twitter or for the Government; it’s up to us as users to define the social norms and climate we want to experience, just as we do in the street, on the bus or in the football ground.
Positive Twitter Day is a small gesture towards a more civil way of doing things. The first effort generated quite a lot of participation, and many people found it positive. Of course, there was some snark too.
Needless to say, it is entirely voluntary: if some people simply can’t bring themselves to cheer up and be civil for one day, that’s up to them. But most Twitter users will probably enjoy a day when we debate the big issues of the day while seeing how it feels to act in a more polite and positive way.
What it isn’t trying to do is censor or kill-off debate. Twitter would be a very boring place if that happened.
One thing that British Future has found, spending the last 15 months travelling the length and breadth of the UK, talking to citizens directly as part of the National Conversation on Immigration, a joint project with anti-prejudice campaigners Hope not hate. We’ve found that even on an issue that can seem so divisive, when people get round a table and talk face-to-face that discussion is largely decent, polite and involves people listening to each others’ views, even when (as is often the case) they don’t agree. The final report of the National Conversation on Immigration is published in September.
But #PositiveTwitterDay isn’t part of the National Conversation – it’s just an idea cooked up by some keen tweeters who’d grown tired of angry trolls dominating the online conversation and adding little to it, and wondering how we can change that.
Many people have already tweeted that they’ll be supporting #PositiveTwitterDay on Friday 31st.
There are many ways you could participate.
Tweet about somebody on the other side of a big debate – but whose views and perspective you have learnt something from, because of how they engage.
Share a positive experience of using twitter – how people rallied round to support you personally, or how it helped you spread the word about something that really mattered.
Or try to have a conversation, not a shouting match, with people you don’t agree with, and see how it goes…
But really all you have to do to join in is to go on Twitter on Friday 31 August – and be civil to each other. At least for one day.
Sunder Katwala is Director of British Future. He tweets, frequently, at @sundersays