By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
With the size of a tweet, 140 characters, come two distinct problems. Attention spans get shorter, and thus longer, more protracted ideas can get lost in the sea of retweets and the original intent is lost. The idea becomes a sliver of what it was at inception.
In Southeast Houston, San Jacinto College student Ashley Marzullo (@missSMASHLEYY) made an offhand remark on Twitter about wanting someone to call in a bomb threat to the community college on a particularly pretty April day and was soon brought in for questioning by one of the school's deans.
At the time Marzullo had fewer than a dozen followers on Twitter, but someone reported her to the school and a school dean notified local police. Marzullo was reprimanded and kept out of school for a week (the college has said it was not a suspension). School officials denied tracking the social media moves of its students, but didn't explain how they found out about Marzullo's tweet.
Then there are the lonely people looking for support in the gigantic community on Twitter. Last year, a woman from Florida, Heather Newnam (rsangel04), used Twitter hours before her suicide to tweet what amounted to a final note to the world. She was despondent over a coming eviction from her home.
Recently the firestorm surrounding the state of Arizona's new immigration law made its way onto Twitter, igniting scathing diatribes from across the Internet pitting against each other people who may have never even met.
Rascoe maintains that no one really loses in a Twitter fight.
"Controversy is the best way to gain followers. If you start an argument with someone on Twitter, your followers are forced to follow that other person in order to see that other side of the back and forth. As far as the argument goes, everyone wins because you both gain followers."
But others disagree.
Aimee Woodall (@aimeewoodall), the head of Houston's BlackSheep public relations firm, has seen the damage that can be done with just a few careless words.
"With so many groups, there will be cliques. When people say things and don't think them through, act hastily, or don't know who is paying attention, it can get repeated and really damage a person's reputation. There is really no erasing it," she says.
"It can be instant gratification or instant destruction," Woodall says.
It can also be a safety net. In March, a woman sent a tweet to actress Demi Moore (@mrskutcher) saying she was going to kill herself, even describing the knife she was going to use. Moore's followers soon tracked down where the tweet was coming from and authorities were sent to the woman's California residence before she could harm herself.
In Houston, Tello says, the spirit of Twitter was harnessed by three groups: foodies, news journals and tech designers. They were the first to use it to their advantage, by networking or having a heated discourse on a new restaurant dish or iPhone app, he says.
In its own early days, the Internet was mainly an outlet for nerdy tech talk before branching out into the primary source of information, misinformation, pornography, shopping and hilarious YouTube videos it would become. Twitter is running that same track, albeit at a much more rapid pace.
Dallas online consultant Giovanni Gallucci (@giovanni) joined Twitter in the summer of 2006. He remembers its early days as almost nomadic and utilitarian.
"We hunted and pecked for others, finding people we knew from conferences from our existing networks. It felt natural from the beginning filtering new information to others. The fluff wasn't there yet, the daily minutiae. It was actually a lot of news and links," Gallucci says.
Dallas social media consultant and speaker Mike Merrill (@mikedmerrill) says that when he joined just two years ago, Twitter wasn't very active. "It was typically people very into the tech scene predominantly, or bloggers who had been blogging for a while. For bloggers, Twitter is a great media to share your content. The transaction cost is so much lower than an e-mail."
A prominent Bayou City early adopter was Dwight Silverman (@dsilverman), the longtime journalist and technology guru/columnist for the Houston Chronicle. He preached the gospel of the site and the seemingly vast opportunities it would afford—if users were left to their own devices and could usher along its evolution.
One person who took Silverman's lead was the longtime host and founder of KPFT's Technology Bytes radio show in Houston, Jay Lee (@baldheretic). He joined Twitter in March 2007, but not before voicing his own reservations.
"At first I was resistant and didn't want it. I thought it was just another fluffy social media thing. I gave Dwight a hard time about it, and when I got really active on Twitter and finally got it, he reminded me I was a naysayer. It was a matter of it reaching a certain density and saturation before it becomes usable," Lee says.
"You can pay as much or as little attention to Twitter as you care to. It's not something you have to be completely jacked into 24/7. You can completely dive in and completely walk away later," he adds.
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