Love Twitter? I do.

Twitter @lizclutterbuck

A week ago, I sat in the bar at the BFI having drinks with three other women, only one of whom I’d met in the flesh before. But she, and another at the table, were people with whom I’d conversed regularly in recent weeks – thanks to Twitter.

Thanks to Twitter, I knew we were heading to the same event. Thanks to Twitter we weren’t starting with a completely blank page, conversation wise. Really, it was thanks to Twitter that I was there at all – because it was Twitter that really got the whole Wittertainment ridiculousness going.

Last week was not the first time that I’ve socialised in this way. Getting to know strangers on Twitter has led to a lunch at the Gherkin; pie at Piminster; meeting up with prospective students at college open days (or just coffee to talk vocation); and much more…

Exciting things have happened thanks to Twitter. Like giving this blog a wider audience (back in the days when posting was much more frequent!) which in turn led to a week in Uganda with Tearfund three years ago. That ongoing relationship with Tearfund took me up to the top of BT Tower a few months later for a DEC appeal Twitter Q&A. It’s connected me with an amazing network of support. Like the outpouring of affirmation of women in ministry that flowed tweet after tweet after the ‘no’ to women bishops back in 2012, and has continued through the ‘yes’, the ordinations, and still knocks again and again at the stained glass ceiling of patriarchy in the church. During the difficult days of curacy hunting in 2014 and 2015, Twitter was there with support from friends and strangers alike. Look down my ‘likes’ tab (still not over that move from favourite btw) and the ones that stay there (rather than simply being bookmarks) are those that I like to go back to on occasions when I need a bit of encouragement. Oh, and once I won cake from the Hummingbird Bakery…

There are many worthy things that have emerged from my use of Twitter, but there are plenty of less worthy things (like the cake). Twitter is a brilliantly level playing field. Unlike Facebook, it gives you direct access to people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to communicate with. I love the immature shudder of excitement that a tweet from a Twitter celebrity elicits. I can’t remember when it first happened, but I do recall some gloating with a friend when a Christian celebrity (it’s a niche genre) tweeted me for the first time. [Ironically, that person is now someone I also count as a friend. Thanks Twitter!]

There was the week the fabulous Hadley Freeman finally joined, and we had a conversation about how much my Dad loved her fashion column. Or the day my mum sent Chris Addison (the comedian/satirist) a very funny tweet, thinking that he was my colleague Christopher – and got retweeted! Or when my 12 year old self’s musical theatre hero favourited a tweet of mine. Or the fact that the lovely Mark Kermode was officially the first person to wish me a happy new year in 2016. I haven’t yet achieved the delights of a Caitlin Moran tweet, but I did once get favourited by Lauren Laverne, so that helps… [It’s the little things!]

I’ve used Twitter for work – crowdsourcing ideas for all-age talks; book recommendations; and making connections with other researchers in my field. It’s a place where I’ve supported and encouraged other people going through the ordination journey. In fact, I know at least two people who ended up studying at St Mellitus after Twitter interactions in which I recommended it! (Obviously, I am not entirely responsible! I just planted a seed…)

And most of all, I’ve used Twitter for fun. I’ve laughed at cats and cute children. I’ve procrastinated for hours and hours (it’s somewhat miraculous that I’ve acquired two degrees during my 6 and a bit years tweeting). I have giggled over tweets from lovely men and put two and two together and made about a billion. I have met people who share the same niche passions as me – like Chalet School books and the weird world of Elinor M Brent Dyer. And I love that relationships formed over ridiculous children’s books go deeper, despite never having met, so that when bad stuff happens, we care for one another. That, my friends, is what Twitter does brilliantly.

This has been very me-centred, but I know that Twitter has does the same for others. People house bound with illness, who have been able to communicate and make new friends thanks to 140 character messages. Those who have moved to a new location and found Twitter’s hyper-locality to be a massive boon. On Twitter you’re never alone – just look at Sarah Millican’s fabulous #joinin initiative over Christmas and New Year. It’s not about narcissism, it’s about togetherness.

Twitter-cake-1024x683Credit

In spite of all this brilliant stuff, lately, many eulogies have been written for Twitter. User numbers have fallen for the first time. Revenue isn’t what was anticipated. Ridiculous ideas have been proposed (10,000 character limit? I think not!) and Twitter is still categorically failing at dealing with trolling and abuse. At ten years old today, it’s almost at veteran status in the online world.

I don’t want to witness the death of Twitter, especially when there’s simply nothing comparable elsewhere on the internet. It has enriched my life beyond my wildest dreams and is place I have much greater fondness for than Facebook or Instagram. When I read Timehop of a morning, I sometimes wish we could return to Twitter’s haclyon days of 2010 and 2011, when everyone seemed to be engaged in witty reparté. It’s unlikely we’ll ever get that back, but I’m hopeful that things will improve and that this social media leveller will carry on doing its thing. At least until a real replacement gets going.

Discussing the sinking ship…

That post the other day with the text of my piece that had gone missing from Threads? Turns out it had been pulled – temporarily – and when it returned on Thursday morning, it was minus the article to which it was responding.

Sinking Ship Recruiting Now

Chine Mbubaegbu (Director of Communications for the EA, who publishes Threads) explained on Twitter why this turn of events occurred – she hadn’t seen the piece prior to publication and when she did, she felt strongly that it was completely the wrong tone for the site. The page where the article once was now features an apology.

“We’re all for asking questions and critiquing but in all of our questioning and doubts and critique, we want to look for the better way – just like Jesus did. And when we’re writing about the Church; our hope is that it can become all it’s called to be. We knew many would disagree with the post – like we did – so we had tried to pre-empt that by commissioning a more hopeful response. But for some things, a response just doesn’t cut it.”

I completely agree with their decision. Turns out a response piece makes no difference when it’s on a different page; when the link to the controversial piece is being tweeted around with no reference to a follow up. The piece was very dark, which is why I agreed to Threads’ suggestion that I write a reply, I knew it was too angry to be on its own.Perhaps if we’d written the article together, kind of dialogue or Q&A style, it might have worked better? Hindsight is a marvellous thing… But, life over the last couple of days would have been a lot simpler if this had been realised before publication!

The piece in question is no longer online, but I’ve taken the decision to include a link to a PDF of it here. I wasn’t going to, but its author has been unwilling to put it up elsewhere (although he is sending it out to people who DM him about it). It’s the version Threads sent to me and I’m pretty sure it’s exactly as it was published. At least now those who have been keen to make their own judgement on it, can.

It’s an angry article, but in amongst some of the less than attractive imagery (anyone met a vicar who creeps around like ‘Gollum at an orgy’??) is a really valid point: Christianity is virtually irrelevant to British society today, what is it doing to change this and is recruiting more clergy really going to help?

This point was why I felt compelled to write the response. If someone had asked me this in the pub, I would have willingly had a discussion with them about it. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that I love being part of Matryoshka Haus – the variety of the community means that questions like this can and do crop up on a regular basis. Close friends of mine have been hurt and disillusioned by the church and conversations with them have been a hugely important element of my journey towards ordination. The church NEEDS this kind of a discussion, it can’t just hide away under a pew and think that it will go away!! [In fact, note to DDO’s and Theological College tutors: writing a response to this article would be an excellent formation exercise for any potential church leader.]

When the articles were published, I’d hoped for some constructive discussion. I know that this can be hard on social media, but the Threads comments often prove to be fruitful and Facebook is easier. (Twitter is a flipping nightmare, you can’t have a good discussion via 140 character comments!) In my mind, I envisaged the kind of discussion I have from time to time with an atheist friend on Facebook, who maturely asks interesting questions and treats my responses with respect – as I do his. (Interestingly, we met via a church youth group…)

Unfortunately, productive discussion didn’t really ensue. Apparently Alex, my ‘opposition’, has something of a reputation on Threads and on Twitter for being antagonistically controversial. (Had I realised this, I don’t think I’d have agreed to write the response.) Some people (ordained people in fact) made some rather misguided comments about him, which was wrong – although they apologised pretty quickly. Lots of people simply felt that the article was entirely inappropriate for a Christian website.

I wasn’t expecting things to get particularly nasty on Twitter, especially as before publication, Alex had said that he ‘bloody loved’ my piece. But by yesterday morning, I was rueing the day I’d ever had an email from Threads! The disappearance of the articles without (initial) explanation caused a bit of a kerfuffle. By the time I went to bed, someone I follow on Twitter was effectively being trolled by Alex for expressing an opinion on the piece without having read it – what she had read was a very interesting analysis of it that Mark Hewerdine blogged before it had been removed. 36 hours later, she was still receiving what I can only describe as abuse, because she hadn’t read it but was still discussing it – the fact that she could not read it because the author chose not to make it available was apparently irrelevant!

Nothing I’m saying here should be news to Alex. I tweeted him yesterday to explain that I agreed with Threads’ decision, and that I wouldn’t have agreed to write the piece had I known that he was going behave so immaturely. I love Twitter and hate when it gets stirred up with a lot of ill feeling! One of his replies was that he hoped I’d find a ‘nice’ writer to write with. You know what, nice is a bonus, what I’m really after is mature and respectful – which is exactly what I got from my atheist Facebook friend this morning regarding my article.

The church generates very strong feelings, in all sorts of directions, from a lot of people. There needs to be a place for healthy discussion, that hopefully yields really productive results. The church can’t turn around its fortunes on its own – it needs to listen to those who disagree with what it’s done in the past and accept that it has made mistakes. I really hope that the beginning of helpful discussions that Alex’s article generated will see some positive outcomes. Voices like his do need to be heard, but perhaps in a slightly less antagonistic tone. 

At some point Alex is intending to publish a 20,000 piece expanding his views on what the church needs to do and I genuinely look forward to reading it. Hopefully, the church will take notice…

Boarding the Sinking Ship

Tweeting Up

This evening, for the second time this year, I’m speaking on one of my favourite subjects: why the church/Christians ought to take social media seriously. If you’re London-based and churchy, you’re very welcome to come along – full details here.

Back in January, I had two hours with the students of Westminster Theological Centre as part of their Christianity in Contemporary Culture module. The hours flew by, thanks to a large group of students who proved to be very happy to get involved in discussion, despite it being the final day of a week-long residential. I’d been concerned that 2 hours would be difficult to fill, but I had material left over! Thanks lovely WTC students!

I’d meant to write up some of my work from that lecture here, but never quite got around to it. Tonight’s session provides an ideal opportunity to do so though, as in contrast to January’s gig, this is under half an hour on a topic which I’ve now proved I can speak on at length! This post also enables me to post a few things that tonight’s attendees may find helpful, but could also be handy for other readers too.

Firstly, some discoveries I made…

1. Whatever we might think about the negatives of social media – whatever it might be that prompts us not to get involved – we need to remember that at least it’s a choice that we get to make. Elsewhere in the world, that choice simply isn’t on the table, because social media or the resources needed to have it, does not exist.

Global social media penetration 2014

Also, at least at the start of 2014, only North America’s population saw social media accessed by over half its population. Social Media is a privilege, and it’s important to remember that. When you then start breaking it down into who can access mobile social media, the numbers get even smaller…

We-Are-Social-Global-Digital-Stats-2014-08-500x375

Only 22% of the world’s population are active social media users on mobiles. When we angst about social networks’ quirks, Ts&Cs and latest updates, it’s very much a #FirstWorldProblem.

2. The rise and fall of social networks is fascinating. (Or at least I think so!) Delving into the history of social media reminded me of once innovative sites that had since fallen by the wayside. “Facebook was created in response to the success of Friendster…” – I’m not sure if I know anyone who was on Friendster! This infographic goes a long way to show just how many networks have risen and fallen over the years:

Social_Media_TimelineIf someone knows of a version of this that covers the last four years, that would be amazing! (Source.)

3. The vast array of reasons why people don’t use social media. This actually came out of a discussion at the start of the lecture. The group were diverse in age, background and profession (WTC students study theology part time), so I began by asking the group who used social media – generally and then on a mobile device – to see how they compared to the global stats. There was a surprising number who didn’t use it at all, and they weren’t all from the same demographic. I invited the room to share the reasons why they didn’t use it, or what might influence their use of it, and the results were fascinating.

Obviously, issues of privacy and safety came up, as did trust. A few felt voyeuristic. Some thought that what is posted online is largely irrelevant – why do we need photos of cute cats? One example I particularly liked was a woman who said: “My daughter posted a photo of a cake. What am I meant to say about that??” I replied that I regularly use Twitter to get affirmation for my cooking from my mother! A “that looks lovely darling” goes a long way!

4. Myriad stats and facts!! I love a good factoid – my favourite from prepping this lecture was on trolling. Any idea when the first instance of trolling occurred online? You might be surprised, it appears that trolling is pretty much as old as the first ever bulletin board. In 1978, Chicago scientists created a bulletin board system that became the first online community and with it came the first trolls…

A whole wealth of stats appeared about Instagram, all embodied in a nice infographic:

Instagram infographic(As of March 2014)

One of my favourite discoveries was to do with the Pope’s Twitter account. His most popular tweet last year was “Christ is arisen! Alleluia!” his tweets are, on average, retweeted 6,400 times on his English (the @Pontifex) account. With 4.5 million followers, he’s actually very low in the rankings of most popular Tweeters – he’s not even in the top 100.

***

All this is interesting (well, I think it is), but it’s not that useful in a practical sense. Tonight I’m encouraging people in London Diocese to use social media. For some, it may be a case of persuading them that it has any place in church life – or that the church should be in social media. For others, it might be dispelling some of the fear that the media generates about social networks.

For those who wanted to read what I’ve written before about social media, here’s a run-down:

And, as promised, here’s a list of social media resources that I first put together for the WTC lecture, but I’ve updated a little since. I don’t proclaim myself to be an expert (especially in comparison with many of the names on that list!), but I do have a healthy interest in social media and want to help people use it as effectively as possible.

 

Making friends with Facebook

Ah, Facebook. Possibly the most hated of the social networks, in terms of its insidiousness and ubiquity. People can opt in or out of Twitter, but in the 21st century, for people of a certain age (and those above it), it seems as essential to have a Facebook account as it is to have an email address. I have friends who have deleted their Facebook accounts out of fear of lack of privacy, or simply because it was reducing the quality of ‘real-life’ friendship. [Such a description makes it appear that online relationships aren’t real. I disagree with such a view.]

Being the ‘social media queen’ that I am (someone else’s words, not mine), I obviously have not relinquished my account. I may post there less now that I’ve embraced Twitter with open arms (I really should remember to copy some of my tweets over once in a while), but it’s still the main way in which I keep track of many of my friends and it’s kept many a friendship alive that may otherwise have fallen by the way side. Thus, I was obviously just a little excited to receive a text from some friends I was due to visit in California, informing me that we had dinner plans at the Facebook offices.

Facebook. For dinner. The place where Zuckerberg works. The company immortalised in The Social Network. The network whose app features on practically every smart phone. Facebook.

1 Hacker WayFacebook offices, 1 Hacker Way

I was incredibly lucky – my friends, the fabulous Chan-Fam, had a close friend who works there and who hosted us for the evening. I’m indebted both to him and to SiNing for organising it in the first place – it is already a highlight of a trip that’s barely half-over. From the moment I inputted my details into an iPad Facebook app in the front lobby, to the moment we left, my eyes were as wide as saucers. I was one happy geek!

Facebook Pass Got to be said, I was loath to give this up at the end.

In short, the Facebook complex is like a mini town. There are several buildings, all arranged around what looks like a main street – complete with a open square in the centre. In common with many of the tech companies in Silicon Valley, Facebook provides its employees with a lot – free breakfast, lunch and dinner; gym facilities; hairdresser vans and masseuses that visit regularly; bikes to travel around the campus on; kitchens crammed full of goodies in every office block; numerous free beverage vending machines; bathrooms with endless supplies; and even a movie night in their ‘town square’, complete with nachos and popcorn…

Facebook vending machine You’ve got to love a branded vending machine…

Facebook town square Gearing up to show the Avengers.

Bathroom suppliesOk, yes, I took photos in the bathroom. Those are toothpaste-loaded toothbrushes…

Micro KitchenMicro-kitchens. I was invited to pick out something – so I had a package of ‘Facebook Twizzlers’. 

The offices themselves are, in some ways, just like any other open-plan office – except that in many ways, they’re not like any open-plan office I’ve ever worked in! There are breakout areas and meeting rooms, but with added artwork and graffiti walls. There’s an entire room that seems to be dedicated to playing computer games. There are vending machines that sell computer paraphernalia. And, there was plenty of publicity around that plugged Facebook’s ‘Women in Timeline’ campaign, highlighting significant women in history.

Facebook Offices

Facebook Art

Facebook vending

Facebook humour

I confess, I did leave the offices wondering whether I could get a job there. Perhaps they might need a chaplain? Safe to say, I could’ve spent a whole day exploring and chatting to (not un-cute) geeks. So, next time Facebook changes something in a way you don’t like, this is where those annoying geeks are based…

Oh, and talking of geeks, next time you’re using a Google product, imagine people eating their lunch here:

Google offices

And when you’re using one of your Apple devices, the thinking behind it happened here:

Apple HQ

Oh, and this happened…

Eating the Apple

Ah, the simple pleasures of being a geek. As a bonus, I get a second bite of the apple (ba-dum-tsch) next week, when I go to an actual meeting at the Apple offices. Who knows, I may even treat myself to an iPad at the Apple Company store…

Oh, and if you want to put in an order for one of these classic t-shirts available there, let me know.

Apple Tees

To at or not to at…

I have a few pet peeves in life. Just a few…
People walking too slowly (or in crowds) on London’s streets. Trolley cases. Improperly made tea. People who click ‘reply all’ when it’s really not necessary. You know, just the day to day issues of modern-day existence.

On Twitter, I have one major pet peeve: the use of ‘@’ at the beginning of the tweet when it’s not actually intended to be a message to that individual.

For those not familiar with Twitter , a brief explanation: on Twitter, your username begins with an ‘@’ – e.g. @lizclutterbuck. When you want a specific person to receive your tweet, you mention their username and the person in question will see it listed under their ‘connect’ tab. [Most people also opt to receive a notification when this happens, unless you’re a celeb tweeter…] You can put someone’s name anywhere into a tweet, but often if you’re having a conversation with a specific person, you’ll begin your tweet with their name. For example:

Twitter chatA Twitter chat with one of my favourite soon-to-be lady vicars – obviously making a massive presumption that we’ll have good reason to be watching the men’s final on Sunday! 

The key thing to understand is that when a tweet begins with someone’s username, only people who follow the author and the recipient will see it in their timeline. In this case, that probably means a load of fellow ordinands and mutual friends. [As an aside, I often forget to think about who follows who, which has resulted in some slightly awkward Twitter moments. All tweets are public, unless they’re Direct Messages. It’s good to remember that!] This fact hilariously means that a number of people were privy to the Clutterbuck family annual Christmas decision making process last week – you learn a lot of useless info via Twitter sometimes!

Anyway, my pet peeve is when people begin a tweet with an @, but actually intend it to be seen by all their followers – because they seem to be completely unaware that in including the username at the start, they’ve actually limited their audience!

Unfortunately, it’s often churches that fall foul of this – especially when tweeting about Sunday sermons. [I should say straight away that St George’s has never made this mistake!] To illustrate, if a church tweeted: “@lizclutterbuck preached on forgiveness last Sunday. Listen to it here…” only people who followed both the church account and me would see it – which rather defeats the point of the exercise as presumably the church would have wanted all their followers to see it?

But it’s not just churches. Here’s an example from the esteemed BBC…

Radio 2 tweetI feel that I need to clarify that I don’t actually follow Radio 2, nor have I checked to see what kind of a lemon posset accident this was.

What amazes me is how few regular Twitter users realise this. Last week, I was particularly incensed by an example of this from Lambeth Palace, featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Interestingly, when I went searching for it just now, it had disappeared and recent evidence suggests that they’ve realised the problem.] I tweeted something about the issue and had several replies of surprise from other Tweeters.

Tweeting etiquetteThis blogpost is a direct result of that tweet as I’ve discovered it’s a phenomenally difficult issue to fit into 140 characters!! I was struggling to find a way of saying ‘accounts that ought to know better – i.e. verified ones’, but could only come up with ‘big’ to fit into a tweet! 

This is in NO way an attack on accounts that have fallen victim to this! Like I said, many people are totally unaware of it. What annoys me is that it means that their tweets aren’t getting the audience they deserve!

So, what’s the solution? Well, the easiest and least expensive in terms of characters is the full-stop – simply placing it before the @ will ensure that all your followers will see it. However, I personally try not to use it because I like tweets that are a little more poetic! You can re-work your sentence to ensure that the mention comes mid-way through the tweet rather than at the start. Or, you could put some kind of title in – which is the line Lambeth seems to have taken as their tweets often now begin with: “Archbishop @ABCJustin…”. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you realise that it needs to be done. Spread the word!

Twitter – a great tool, as long as you know how to use it!