Avoid 'twitics' hiding behind false names
Twitter - don't use it, don't like it, don't trust it. But it's impossible to ignore as it continues to worm its way into every fissure of existence.
The election, Ireland beating England at their own game, Usher lowering a few in city centre Dublin, it seems every event from the momentous to the inconsequential now prompts the question: "What's the reaction on Twitter?"
The journalism business is parasitic by definition: you earn a living charting the achievements of others. That is not about to change any time soon, but it does not mean you have to go over the top.
You can admire a sportsperson, politician or musician without shamelessly trying to ingratiate yourself, and the Twitter practice of 'following' veers a little too close to 'stalking' for our tastes.
So far, thankfully, there has been no need to write a story that includes the line "as he revealed on Twitter" because trust would be the major issue with this phenomenon.
Who's to say someone hasn't left their laptop or phone unattended and a playful colleague hasn't seized the opportunity to post a tweet in their name?
Or, aware of the many eyes boring into their accounts, there is also the temptation to say something facetious (think tomato and fruit salads) just to see if it will be taken seriously.
The upside to Twitter, from a purely practical point of view, is the promotional aspect. Companies can flag new products, journalists can leave teasers about pieces in the following day's newspaper and players can generate marketing momentum by winning over supporters.
On that basis, Twitter is harmless enough, frothy and flippant and carrying few negative consequences.
The problem is that by engaging with the public in this manner you are also leaving yourself open to the cranks and nutters who populate the internet, individuals pumped up on their own self-importance as they lurk behind false names.
The reaction to Ireland's win over Scotland last weekend is a case in point. In general, and not just on Twitter, the response to that 21-18 victory has been more than a little hysterical.
Declan Kidney has engineered two wins from three matches, two of them away from home, and, but for some untimely handling errors against France, would still be in the hunt for his second Grand Slam. Yet the Ireland coach has come in for some heavy criticism.
Do people not remember the 1990s, when Ireland reeled from defeat to defeat with no discernible style of play beyond good, old-fashioned boot, bollock and bite? (In fact, given the amount of people who only hopped on the Irish rugby train when they began winning, the answer to that question for many bandwagoners is, probably not.)
That is not to say Ireland have been perfect in their three Six Nations outings, far from it, but Kidney definitely has this team heading in the right direction. And it's better to be ironing out their difficulties with penalty counts and unforced errors now than at the World Cup when elimination is on the line.
Yet, in the hours after their Murrayfield victory, members of the Ireland team still found themselves subjected to preposterous abuse on Twitter from 'followers' who professed to be disgusted with what they had witnessed.
Any player will tell you that getting harangued after a match is never welcome -- bodies and minds are still sore, emotions are high and tempers are short. It used to come from beered-up alickadoos in clubhouses but at least then it was face-to-face, which afforded the comments a degree of dignity; now it is anonymous internet 'heroes' doling it out.
The internet has changed 'analysis' utterly and there is no way back. Time was, you had to earn the right to a media forum either through your expertise in the field -- ie former players -- or through hard grind over many years, beginning with covering schools and club matches for local papers and working your way up to the point where you are afforded space to have your say.
Now everybody has an opinion and an easy means of expressing it. And, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, it should come with an element of balance and respect attached.
Constructive criticism always has a place and a function (the alternative is outright sycophancy), but if you are going to say it, at least have the courage to put your name to it.