Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tweets and Curses

I had a rather weird experience the other day, which I suppose could only happen in Twitter world — a world of surreal, constant and direct interconnectivity even with total strangers — when a follower of my Twitter updates took umbrage at one of my pithy reflections on life and proceeded to verbally assault me with the most vicious vitriol anybody could string together in 140 characters.

Those of you who are not yet cognizant of the way this online microblogging social network site works might not know what I’m talking about. But suffice to say, when you join Twitter you can post “updates” anytime you like and other Twitter users who “follow” your updates can read them on their homepage.

If they like them they can re-tweet your updates so their own followers can also read them.

And so on and so forth in a sort of viral communication, thus making Twitter a great way to spread information (and also to start juicy gossip or spread malicious rumors.)

Anyway, to get back to my story, and for this I must rewind a little bit to a couple of previous updates that were posted on my page, which by the way, is called a timeline.

A person I happen to follow on Twitter re-tweeted, with some annoyance, a news item about some ulemas making comments that the earthquake in Sumatra was caused by the immorality of the people. This in itself might be a piece of misinformation, but in Twitter world anything goes as long as it’s couched in haiku-style brevity.

Similarly indignant over what I believed to be an idiocy (as a West Sumatran I naturally objected to the idea of directly contributing to the disaster), I re-tweeted this snippet of information back, with my own version of cynical comment appended, thus making the update available to the few thousand Twitter users who, for reasons best known to themselves, happened to be following me.

Now, some of these followers re-tweeted the said re-tweet, with or without additional comments, but generally in the line of “yeah, right” to the notion that the earthquakes were some sort of divine retribution on a population of sinners and hence well deserved.

Except for one follower, called Mohamed, who objected to my lack of respect for divine ways and insisted, or rather shouted (ie used capital letters), that the earthquake was God’s admonishment. How he could be certain was beyond me, unless he was privy to the Almighty’s secret attack plans, but I decided that his little opinion did not merit my attention let alone an answer.

Instead my next update was one of my daily aphorisms that I proffer in the form of short life tips given more in a spirit of levity than with any ambition to change the world. To be exact, it said “life tip No. 10: beware of stupidity masked as religiosity.”

A relevant enough tip I thought, given the rather worrisome prevalence of gloomy messages purporting that somehow the Man Upstairs was not happy with mankind’s sinful behavior. And I was pleased that quite a few of my followers thought the tip worthy of a re-tweet.

Except for our Mohamed (an English teacher, it said in the Twitter bio, with 20 followers) who, for some mysterious reason, thought my update was a direct attack upon his religious beliefs and to which he responded with curses of biblical wrath that left me flabbergasted, to say the least.

I didn’t think my so-called life tip was so objectionable that anyone would rain such dire curses upon my head, but there it was, 140 characters worth of vengeful desire to see me burn “on hell” and the labeling of my person as an abject infidel, plus a variety of other expletives unfit to print.

Since he was the one who willingly followed my update, I thought it was a rather odd way to make my acquaintance, but he certainly managed to attract my attention. I wondered about the etiquette involved in Twitter conversations so I re-tweeted his venting to other Twitterers for feedback (though, to be honest, with a certain amount of equally malicious intent along the lines of “nobody curses me to damnation and expects to get away with it”).

Sure enough the responses came down with equal vehemence. Calls to block him, that is to deny him access to my account, came from other users, together with a bunch of strong curses and vitriol, though this time directed at my new Twitter friend who most likely didn’t know what hit him.

I never got to find out what his response was to all this as I followed my Twitter community’s advice to “block” him and remove him as a follower; but I hope he learned some lessons on the danger of too much cursing.

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