Close Encounters with the Wild West of Twitter

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Note: This isn’t a family-friendly blog post. 

I was going to ignore this beyond what I’ve said on Twitter (@KathrynLopez), but I’m still hearing about it, so here goes.

Unless I’m livetweeting an event, I usually look at Twitter between things. Every once in a while I click on some suggestions on the recommended list, see what friends and colleagues are retweeting and see if there might be others I should follow.

Twitter can help one catch up on news — or buzz — between meetings. What are people distracted by, consumed by, and sharing? Within reason, the more I see on Twitter, the more I know who is good — reliable, wise, nourishing, clever, funny — and worth pointing out to others. While on a bus or train or in a cab, I often take a look and catch up on news, too, following news sites and seeing what’s important to people in a given hour or over the course of a day — or at least what has captured the attention of the Twitterverse.

I follow private citizens I’ve met, say, at the March for Life the other day, reporters and commentators, news sites, and people I don’t know but whose Twitter handle caught my attention one second for one reason or another. (I retweeted a number of young people who used the #MarchforLife hashtag while they were on their journeys this week, for example.)

I can’t say I give the following all that much thought on Twitter. I’m certain there are people I should follow who I don’t and people I do follow whose tweets are probably not something I want to be reading.

As Charlie mentioned, last night, someone at Gawker wanted to make sure I thought about that last point. In following a number of people, between reading Pope Francis’s Communications Day Message and watching a screener for the movie Gimme Me Shelter coming out this weekend, I followed him on Twitter. I don’t know what brought his handle to my attention, I assume the recommended list. 

And so he tweeted:

My initial reaction was an adaptation of a country-music song of recent years: “God is great. Beer is good. Twitter is crazy.” (The second inspired by the March for Life as well.)

In truth, as the pope reflects on this week in his message, the Internet can be a tremendous opportunity, a gift, even. I notice now and again Twitter ridicule for a #homilytweet, a hashtag I make use of when I remember to, to highlight a wise or enlightening or focusing line or two pointing to Bible truth. People tell me some of these tweets remind them to pray, remind them they can go to Mass even on a Tuesday. So I’ll keep it up.

I don’t pretend to have mastered Twitter, but if you don’t like a #homilytweet or live-tweeting of a papal audience now and again, you don’t have to follow!

There’s great opportunity and freedom on the Internet! What do we do with it? Do we follow people we may not always read, may not always share the same opinions and interests with, may not otherwise read, to expand our knowledge of what people are thinking and showing an interest in? Or do we aim to try to shock and awe with our crassness?

On Wednesday, at the March for Life, I stayed for over an hour outside the Supreme Court. I saw exactly one counter protester. Usually there is a little more of a presence, a few professionally printed signs from the National Organization of Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, or Planned Parenthood. This time, well, you might catch it here between the Defend Life and #TeamLife signs:

I suppose someone might tweet at me to make sure I caught the crass word on the homemade sign, just as people who advocate for legal abortion and the redefinition of marriage seem to like to use four-letter words that begin with “c” and “f” to make their case, or so the experience of years of fan mail suggests.

I don’t pretend to have the most compelling arguments for anything, but I do know I try to point to windows into the good and the beautiful now and again as I see them, share interests and loves, and see what others are thinking and doing over Twitter. It sometimes serves as an online reporter’s notebook for live events, and random color and observations, often about or live from news events.

We do have the freedom to choose when on the Internet. What do our tweets and engagement on social media say about who we are and what we are about and what we believe in and stand for? Are we letting our anger loose? Are we voyeuristically watching the lives of others without actual encounter? Are we looking for a stimulation that draws us away from people nearby? Is our time online keeping us from being present to people? They are questions worth asking when we find ourselves saying something mean, reckless, imprudent, unnecessary . . . and even when we find ourselves saying nothing at all.