This article originally appeared on the Fishburn Hedges website on August 5 2013.
From a journalistic point of view, silence from big corporations often implies one of two things: The first, and most knee-jerk of assumptions, is that a company must be keeping quiet in order to hush something up. The logic follows that a fear of speaking to the public could only result from an unwillingness to shine light into a murk which at all costs must remain hidden. Alternatively, silence can be seen as a direct result of behind the scenes dithering, with an aimless management leaving the company to flounder like a headless chicken – all flapping and confusion, but with no mouthpiece or head to explain itself.
In the world of corporate comms then, silence is the enemy. The six hour delay on 6 July from Asiana Airlines for example, caused a public outcry after the crash of Flight 214. Yet on the day in question, the airline’s facebook likes and twitter followers soared to unprecedented levels, with an audience made up no doubt of both concerned people in general and the wider media, all desperate to hear more about what Asiana had to say. Without maintaining dialogue, however touchy the subject, demands like these can only lead to unanswered questions, suspicions and at worst, drastic misinterpretations.
It’s with this particular thought in mind, that yesterday’s #twittersilence seemed particularly at odds with its stated intentions. The scale of abuse that preceded it, including threats of violence, sexual abuse and bomb attacks, certainly merited some reaction of the sternest sort. But it was the debate and conversation ahead of the withdrawal – much of it in fact happening on twitter – that seemed the most effective at drawing attention to the cause. To stop these dialogues only serves the purpose of shining the spotlight elsewhere, detracting from the subject in hand and urging people like me to question the effectiveness of the subsequent protest.
What’s more, a boycott can only work if it is sustained to the point of threatening total withdrawal and absence. The key to Twitter’s success has always been its immense popularity amongst celebrities or other entertaining personalities and our subsequent willingness to follow their activity. To draw all of them away permanently to the point of making #twittersilence an enduring success would have required an absolutely superhuman effort. As a result, a single day’s absence, only to instantly at the elapsing of twenty-four hours only showcases the dependence on a medium to which we have become accustomed.
This is not to say I agree that believing your absence from twitter changes anything demonstrates stratospheric levels of self-importance. However, it does suggest a certain distorted sense of perspective. Trusting that complete disengagement is a better route to shaping opinion than active contribution seems to reveal a slightly skewed grasp of the media. Indeed, perhaps it’s the fact that so many of those prominently involved in #twittersilence had alternative methods of public communication that made it so. Led by prominent journalists, broadcasters and other media commentators, abstinence from twitter could simply be substituted for vocalisation on another platform.
In short, the rejection of twitter served only to highlight the fact that social media serves to vocalise pre-existing thoughts and sentiments. Twitter is a conduit for all self-expression, abusive or not, and while the move to include a “Report” button is certainly welcome, it’s the wider attitudes that originally led to the discussion that need the most fundamental overhaul. These beliefs are not something that can be changed by leaving the medium but rather by using it to its fullest effect and instigating real and proper debate.