It’s time to come out. Despite my regular use of Twitter, and my frequent advocacy of it, I’m a sceptic. I think it is over-hyped and while fun and useful for some, for most it’s an irrelevance.
Now to a degree that title and first paragraph was a bit of fly-catching. This blog post is advertised and Twitter and I’m sure I’ll have attracted a few people who came to read just so they can disagree, shake their heads and mutter to themselves that I just don’t ‘get it’ – the most damning statement you can make about a Twitter critic.
I am actually a fan of Twitter, I think it is incredibly useful, I have benefited enormously from it and have been able to help a number of residents through it. But I think people sometimes lack a little perspective.
But what prompted me to write this post was the response on Twitter to Plymouth Council’s decision to block access to Twitter through their network. This, of course, was a travesty and compared to the actions of the Iranian Government. Presumably a news blackout and riots on the streets of Plymouth are next.
A search on Twitter reveals widespread condemnation. Many quote the Labour candidate’s response or the similar story that appeared on the MJ’s website. Fewer point to articles like those on The People’s Republic of South Devon or The Plymouth Herald where the comments suggest that, actually, local people are not lining up to condemn the council and many support the move.
Now there are arguments on both sides. You might think that transparency is a good thing in government at any level, and I totally agree. But is Twitter the way? There, I’m not so sure – the Twittering classes are still a fairly insignificant minority numerically, many of those with Twitter accounts barely use them and there’s still a significant proportion of people who do not even have internet access.
Plymouth City Council aren’t trying to ban communication. They are banning access to a social networking site from council computers. I’ve twice seen internal emails advising of a blanket ban on access to specific sites, once for eBay and then for facebook – neither occasion were Wandsworth council, but instead my employers at the time. Indeed, I once had to present a business case to get any internet and email access.
And it’s entirely within any employers right to provide or limit internet access as they see fit. I happen to think it should be a management issue, rather than an IT issue, but if they feel their staff have no valid work reason to use Twitter in work time, then they have the right to make that decision and use IT to enforce it.
Comparisons with Tehran are wide of the mark. I don’t think Labour are accusing the council of rigging an election, just complaining about the use of council resources on another social networking site. People are free to Twitter, facebook, eBay, YouTube or even FriendsReunite in their own time, but I’m guessing the council – and most residents – feel this isn’t really what, say, a housing benefits officer or social worker should be doing at their desk.
So am I supporting Plymouth? Yes, I think I am. Each council has the right to make their own decisions. I might not have made that decision, but fully support them in their right to make it. Should they have different access policies for councillors and employees? Perhaps. But is it really a blow for communication, or transparency? No, absolutely not. Twitter is just a medium, one among many. If Plymouth seek to stop communication, or make their workings opaque, that is a problem, but when we attach more value to a medium then we do the messages it carries it is already too late anyway.