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Why Twitter Speech Matters

Dear Friend,

Today I write from Mobile, Alabama!

In the ongoing saga of my Twitter twubbles, I hit up a conversation with someone on the getsatisfaction.com/twitter website. My new friend experienced the same troubles as I with Twitter, but he questioned the need of anyone to have the likes of 20,000 followers on a social network.

I thought that he made a good point. Below is my answer:

Hi Trinlayk!

Thanks so much for your reply!

Your points are well taken. As a practical matter, it is difficult to deal with the tweets of 20,000 followers flying by as you try to read them. Annoying, in fact.

You ask an excellent question that begs to be explored further – Why does ANYONE need 20,000 “friends” on Twitter?

Here we get into questions that go way beyond user practicality or fear of triggering spam software. We go into the question of who gets access to the collective ears of the “masses.” Particularly when those masses actually specifically chose to listen to what you might have to say.

As I noted in my earlier post, I have huge doubts that the Hollywood stars or politicos will ever run into the issue that you and I have with Twitter. In effect, this means that Twitter, which is quickly developing into something way beyond a social website into a real virtual space for world community thought, will be governed by rules of prior restraint on speech based on WHO YOU ARE.

Such a result, which I do not think is intentional but nevertheless exists, guarantees that a few who already control access to the traditional media such as TV and radio, will continue that media control in the Internet communications channel that is Twitter. Such a result has huge social and political implications that I assure you are not lost on those who watch these issues.

If our only concern is ourselves and our small group of close friends, all of this is just blather. But if we actually care about who has access to the ears and minds of the greatest number in world society, then we cannot let Hollywood, CBS, Sony, Paramount, Oprah, Disney, and Rupert Murdock and the rest, be the sole arbiters of the points of view that the vast majority of our friends and neighbors accept as truth. And we particularly cannot allow certain voices to be silenced, as you and I have been, by people who are not our followers.

Apparently, 20,000 people cared about what I had to say. They cared enough to take the time to follow me. And then to choose not to unfollow me.

True, many of these folks may have just followed me because I had a lot of followers. At least later on when my follower numbers had grown large. But I can never know for sure what anyone’s reasons for a follow is. No one should know. Decisions like who someone follows, and why, are the most private kinds of decisions that anyone can make. I don’t have a right to know why.

But the reality is that these folks chose to follow me, and perhaps you, too, and I don’t think that it was an accident. Else I could never repeat the feat, and yet I am certain that I could, with a lot more hard work, repeat it. And I would not need any more technical trickery than the big names might use. I am not that technically sophisticated. I didn’t even know to back up my followers! I just did my best to deliver quality tweeting and valuable content.

So, that is why I believe that I need to have 20,000, or even 200,000 followers. Not because it is easy for me. Not because I can easily follow or respond to all of them – I cannot – but because they voluntarily chose, or could choose, to follow me. And to continue to follow me. And at any time they are free to choose to unfollow me. And to act on that choice.

No one should have the power to stop them from making those choices freely. NO ONE.

All the best,

@hughdeburgh

I haven’t had a lot of time to tweet on Twitter as I have been putting in about eight hours of driving each day, with occasional breaks for a rest.

We’re collecting a lot of cool stories that I plan to share with you very soon. Yesterday, we spent the day in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Tonight we will try for Atlanta, where my wife has an aunt. If we don’t make it, some Wal-Mart along the way will surely be our transient home.

But then again, in the Road Warrior, everyplace is our home!

Until next time,

Bon champs!

Hugh

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