Posted on August 18, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

While I’ve always believed Twitter to be a useless service and have questioned why a person would want to use it, I’m increasingly starting to believe that many Twitter users might be more than misguided - they just might be stupid.

First came the humorous example of Twitter users, including Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang, falling hook, line and for a fake Exxon Mobil Twitter account.

Of course, Owyang turned his faux pas into an opportunity “brand jacking” and the fact that he used “blogging best practices” when he admitted that he didn’t exercise any common sense.

But demonstrations of stupidity seem to be occurring on a regular basis now.

This past Saturday, TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid posted the headline: “CNN Doesn’t Include Spoiler Alert In Tweets, Twitter Users Say It Ruined Olympics.”

According to Kincaid, news of Michael Phelps’ success in winning his eight gold medal of the Olympics was posted on Twitter before the broadcast, spoiling the experience for many Twitter users:

Tonight, the buildup will finally reach its climax as Phelps races for his eighth gold to become what the media seems intent on calling “the greatest Olympian ever”.

Unfortunately for them, CNN has already spoiled the results.

Because many of this year’s Olympic events are not scheduled during NBC’s “primetime” coverage, they are typically taped and broadcast hours after events actually occur. CNN decided to ignore this, and Tweeted the results of the Phelps race on its “Breaking News” account (cnnbrk) hours before it was shown on air.

A quick search for CNN’s account on Twitter reveals an of criticism and outrage towards the major news network.

There’s only one problem - as Kincaid learned, the cnnbrk account that posted the tweet heard ’round the twatsphere - “it’s an unofficial account that posts stories that get sent through CNN’s Breaking News email alerts.”

Notwithstanding the fact that news of Phelps’ win would reasonably be considered “breaking news” suitable for inclusion in a “breaking news” email service that its recipients opted into, once again Twitter users demonstrate, in my opinion, that the Internet can make you stupid.

Despite the fact that the cnnbrk Twitter account isn’t official, a significant portion of its “followers” on Twitter seemed to have a belief to the contrary. And while the number of clues that cnnbrk is “unofficial” is much lower than the number of clues that ExxonMobilCorp was fake, when I looked at the , the first thing I noticed was that cnnbrk was following one person - James Cox of London.

There’s no evidence that James Cox works for CNN (because he doesn’t), so a reasonable person might wonder why out of all the people on Twitter, CNN chose to follow him. Clearly, it wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to come to the conclusion that cnnbrk probably was a creation of James Cox.

Interestingly, in case that not-so-subtle clue wasn’t enough, The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss a post on August 1, 2008 about Cox and how he created cnnbrk because he “just wanted to be able to get breaking news on his phone.”

This aside, I find it ironic that Twitter users celebrate the fact that they often have access to breaking news “faster than everyone else.” Apparently receiving breaking news of an earthquake is okay, receiving breaking news of Olympic results when you live in a time zone with a broadcast delay is not.

Many Twitter users apparently aren’t smart enough to figure out that they can’t have it both ways. raw (and often inaccurate) information over quality information that has been analyzed and developed, they shouldn’t be surprised when they get raw information (i.e. “breaking news”) that they may not want. There’s a price you pay for immediacy.

At the end of the day, I think the stupidity of the Twitter users complaining about the Phelps “spoiler” from the Twitter account created by James Cox highlights two things.

First, Twitter users might want to consider what being “connected” 24/7 really does for them. Frankly, it disturbs me that people were apparently glued to their Twitter accounts on a Saturday night. The advice “get a life” comes to mind. Turn off your computer, turn off your cell phone and live a little. Spend time with your family, go to a nightclub, take a camping trip, read a book.

Second, as I’ve argued, and the consequence of this is that we are far more vulnerable to deception and manipulation from a plethora of sources.

I previously wrote:

It’s not simply that the possibility that “information overload” promoted by an internet that makes everything “instantly available” will lead to a society filled with individuals incapable of focusing, concentrating and thinking deeply but that it will lead to a society that lacks all perspective and that is infinitely corruptible because the masses lack an ability to “separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Interestingly, Cox hinted at just how real this is in his interview with The Guardian:

I do indeed wield the power of [the CNN] brand: if I posted right now that Bush is due to be impeached, or that Diet Coke really still contained cocaine - I think the repercussions would be unpleasant. So I’ve been walking a fine line, ensuring that I keep somewhat under the radar, whilst also wishing that it would become even more popular.

I will end this post with this: the stupidity demonstrated by Twitter users is not exclusive. Our information-overload technology-driven society has conditioned a significant portion of its willing participants to abandon their critical thinking skills.

This has not gone unnoticed by interests that are already using it to their advantage. From scam artists to alphabet soup government agencies, the stupid are being manipulated for financial gain and to advance certain agendas and the Internet is one of the most valuable disinformation tools available to the manipulators today.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I found it interesting that TechCrunch’s Kincaid “” his post after his original headline and wording was criticized.

While Kincaid claims that his “revision” was due to the fact that TechCrunch readers apparently didn’t get his sarcasm, I think Cap’n Ken hits the nail on the head:

I’m not giving somebody the benefit of the doubt that he was writing poorly-received sarcasm when he can’t even get basic facts straight. No, I think this was a case of blind excitement over being able to weave Twitter into the Phelps story (or is that vice-versa with TechCrunch?) getting in the way of stopping to think for a second.[Emphasis mine]

Looks like the Internet is a boon to not only stupidity but to historical revisionism as well. You don’t need to wait months, years or decades to rewrite history - just click “Edit” hours later and “mission accomplished.”

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4 Responses to “Are Twitter Users Stupid?”

  1. Brian on August 19th, 2008 6:22 am

    Love the post but your premise is all wrong. In reality, people are stupid and some of them use Twitter.

  2. Sam B on August 19th, 2008 6:49 am

    Interesting you mention Twitter’s earthquake coverage, since it initially reported that the quake was in Beijing, hundreds of miles away from the epicenter in Sichuan.

    Perhaps Twitter should have taken the same approach and reported that Phelps had in fact lost to an athelete from the Central African Republic, so Twitterers would have been pleasantly surprised when they later watched NBC’s coverage.

  3. Drama 2.0 on August 19th, 2008 8:26 am

    Brian: I don’t disagree with you, hence this statement:

    I will end this post with this: the stupidity demonstrated by Twitter users is not exclusive. Our information-overload technology-driven society has conditioned a significant portion of its willing participants to abandon their critical thinking skills.

    Unfortunately, Twitter users as a group seem especially gullible, perhaps because many seem to have a technology-induced form of ADD.

  4. Leyton Jay on August 27th, 2008 8:14 am

    I think Twitter is cool, but I only tend to have something to say once or maybe twice a day and only remember to use it as its one of my homepages.

    The No.10 Twitter is boring as hell as is Hilary Clintons and pretty much every one I’ve ever read other than my actual friends.

    I use it mainly as a fast way of updating my Facebook status, I used to have a Wordpress plugin that sucked Tweets onto my blog from my Twitter but that delayed page loading by between 2 and 10 seconds which is just unmanageable. Twitter’s API is officially crap and slow.

    If I could update more networks and people with Twitter, faster and more reliabley; Twitter would be pretty good! So far, its just a weird little habit I have each morning at breakfast and when I get to work.

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.