Twitter: The Good, the Bad and the UglyDr.Peggy Drexler

One of the best things about Twitter – indeed, perhaps its greatest appeal – is in its accessibility. It’s easy to use both for sharing information and for collecting it. Twitter provides unprecedented access to our lawmakers and to our celebrities, as well as to news as it’s happening. A recent study out of MIT even suggests that analyzing crowd statements on Twitter may allow researchers to predict the future, citing as one example early tweets associated with the 2013 coup d’etat in Egypt.

But Twitter—and all that accessible information—has some undeniable downsides, too. For one thing, there’s no system of accuracy or reliability in place: Anyone can say just about anything. It can be a temptingly easy way to attack your detractors—or for them to attack you—igniting the sort of “Twitter war” we’ve lately seen between figures like Ashton Kutcher and Charlie Sheen or ranting from the likes of pro footballer Richie Incognito. In those cases, no one wins. Here are some of the top pros and cons of life in the Twitterverse.

Good: It’s an easy way to share ideas and access the news.

A recent poll by the Associated Press and CNBC found that 44 percent of Twitter users turn to Twitter for breaking news at least some of the time, and 16 percent turn to it “frequently.” So much for the newspaper—or news longer than 140 characters for that matter.

Bad: Twitter saps productivity.

Some researchers believe that the combined effort of keeping up with Twitter—taking the time to craft a post, responding to others, and mining the feed for news you’re interested in—saps productivity. (Similar studies have revealed that Facebook makes you fat.) And, of course, all that evidence of how much time you spend on Twitter could give employers reason to worry that the habit is getting in the way of your actual work.

Good: Twitter is great for self-promotion.

Twitter can be an excellent way for those searching for work to market themselves, since so many companies use social media for recruiting purposes, seeking out potential employees who share their philosophy or have good ideas. A recent survey by careerbuilder.com found that nearly half of all employers use social networking sites to research job candidates.

Bad: Everyone’s watching!

Misuse of Twitter, however, can be a recipe for career trouble, since employers also use it to screen out employees. The same careerbuilder.com survey found that many employers reject potential employees whose Twitter profiles include provocative photos, evidence of drug use or drinking, negative posts about previous employers or co-workers, or comments that might be interpreted as racist, sexist, or ageist. Who could forget 2013’s Justine Sacco scandal, in which the PR exec’s last minute tweet before boarding a 12-hour flight got her fired before her plane had even landed: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Good: Great for self-promotion… but better for promoting others.

While Twitter is a good place to promote your own business or brand, too much self-promotion can turn followers off, which is why it’s a good idea to work in a healthy amount of promotion and praise for others. Spreading good news about others will benefit you anyway: Chances are that if you tweet good news about others, they’ll do the same for you in return.

Bad: It can be tempting to trash talk.

Twitter makes it easy to bash others, which generally has the opposite of its intended effect: Harsh words about others may make them look bad, but make you look worse. Case in point: Miami Dolphins footballer Richie Incognito went on a Twitter tirade against former teammate Jonathan Martin at a time when he was attempting to improve his public perception. Expressing his frustrations so publicly only seemed to make things worse. Days after his rant, Incognito went off Twitter. Similarly, Charlie Sheen’s Twitter-bashing of Ashton Kutcher’s performance on Two and a Half Men has only brought more attention to Kutcher—and made Sheen seem stuck in the past.

Good: Twitter may be used to predict the future (sort of).

Some researchers believe that Twitter can be useful for predicting certain outcomes—elections, box office sales, political protests—as well as human behavior. Though there are many variables—how to know if a post is genuine, for example—there is reason to believe that paying attention to what people are saying and how they’re feeling can be useful. And Twitter certainly provides more access to that than ever before.

Bad: Your self-esteem may suffer.

An obsession with everyone’s online goings-on, to the point where you neglect what’s happening in your own life right in front of you, can fuel feelings of isolation and self-doubt. Though no studies have looked specifically at the effect of Twitter, a 2012 study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that the longer people spent on Facebook each week, the more they agreed that everyone else was happier, cooler, and generally better off than they were.

Featured image via PiXXart / Shutterstock.com

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