Being one of Stephen Fry's 900,000+ followers on Twitter, i was very surprised to see the following Tweet, from the man hinself, appear on my Twitter feed this afternoon:
"Think I may have to give up on Twitter. Too much aggression and unkindness around. Pity. Well, it's been fun"
I'm sure that, like many of his other followers who read this, my initial thoughts were "what on earth has brought this on & why so suddenly?"
Thankfully, that Tweet was followed by another not long afterwards:
"Well maybe I'll see how I feel in a few days. Very low and depressed at the moment and any drop of meanness makes it so much worse. Sorry"
Now this might not mean a lot to many people & a lot of others may think "so what". But, this threat, if ultimately carried out, could have a big effect on Twitter & it's Internet standing.
One of the main selling points about Twitter & one of the reasons for it's huge success, is that anyone can follow anyone. Unlike some other social networking sites, no invitations, or friend requests are needed to follow a person. No matter who they are. Whether that be me, Stephen Fry, or even Barack Obama.
Now, i have only 300+ followers on Twitter & not the hundreds of thousands that some celebrities have. But, my Tweets are as visible as anyone elses.
This, of course, brings it's own problems. As with any Internet site, users have to invent a username to join the site. Now, this might be your real name. Or, you could make one up & be completely anonymous & herein lies the big problem with all such sites. Anonymity quite often breeds abuse & allows those who have such tendencies, to spread hatred.
I have no idea what has made Stephen Fry think about leaving Twitter. But, i would be a very surprised if that wasn't at the heart of it.
I'm sure that anyone with any history on the Internet has seen examples of such behaviour somewhere or other.
An Internet friend of mine did suggest that, if you join & participate in social networking sites, you can expect at least some sort of abuse at times, as it pretty much goes with the territory. Whilst i tend to agree with him & have suffered some of this abuse & hatred myself at times, that doesn't make it alright.
So, will anything come out of this?
I have a feeling that Twitter will be doing all that they can, behind the scenes at least, to persuade Stephen fry to stay on Twitter. After all, in the UK anyway, he has been a huge champion of the site & has created a lot of free publicity for Twitter, throughout his time there.
Maybe this will also create a debate about anonymity on the Internet & the issues that are raised by it? In some ways i hope that it does. It is a debate that is long overdue.
But.... we need to be very careful.
Not everybody, including myself, is happy for the whole world to know my true identity & for very good reasons too.
Our Internet anonynmity allows us to say certain things & give certain opinions that we might not be able to give, if we were forced to divulge our real names.
I totally accept that abuse & hatred, under the cloak of that anonymity, should be rooted out & stopped. But, who is to say what is abuse & what is hatred? We all have varying opinions on that, i'm sure.
After all, all social networking sites, including Twitter, have a facility for you to block anyone you wish to & to stop them following you. So, is that the answer?
As with all situations like this. Often more questions are rasied, than answered.
Personally, i hope that Stephen Fry stays on Twitter, as i enjoy his thoughts & humour.
I have a feeling that the owners of Twitter will be hoping the same thing.