The perplexing psychology of “death by tweet”

No South African media week is complete without a Twitter fueled ruckus that becomes politicised through media sensation. Yet again, the rest of the Twittersphere looks on as history repeats itself, another reputable professional has gone down in a blaze of fury over a poor tweet.

The fact of the matter is that negative tweets spark more interest because of their controversial nature. No one really pays much attention to the nice tweet a politician sent to the opposition. One could be bold enough to say that it is good common sense not to tweet anything that can be seen as unkind.

So then why are these instances so frequent with each example of “death by tweet” more colourful than the next? For example, earlier this year an educational achievement came under questionable scrutiny from a trained media officer. Here’s looking at you Khusela Sangoni.

Tweeting is dangerous especially when there’s a loaded ego ready to fire. What we see is a viable platform for not sharing news and discussion in an open and positive context, but a boxing ring where even the most basic of self-censorship ceases to operate. Behavioural psychology indicates that in a blur of attention seeking and one-upmanship, tweeps who shoot from the hip operate from a bubble that eliminates normal emotional ques that aid in self-control. The rational and observant adult is gone and your inner immature teen is slamming thumbs across your mobile.

This is a phenomenon that can strike anyone no matter how extensive their media or diplomatic training. It comes down to the old adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So before you hit ‘tweet’, run through the following check list:

  • Is it mean – yes it might be witty or funny but that’s irrelevant
  • Can it be misinterpreted – we all remember the purple aliens
  • Empathy – how would you feel being on the receiving end of that tweet?

If you would like to read a more in-depth article into the nitty gritty of the human condition and the tweet trigger, this is an interesting read.