More musings on personas in Twitter

Last year I wrote a few posts exploring personas on Twitter. There was some fantastic discussion too. A few things have happened over the past few weeks that compel me to revisit this fascinating topic. These events are banal and unfortunate yet they reveal more about the nature of Twitter type spaces.

Recently I wrote a paper for Text called ‘Poetic Tweets. It will be published in October. In it I theorised Twitter as a creative play space for poets. (I also wrote a lot about aesthetics but that’s another story.)

Therein lies the rub, while Twitter is a creative play space it is also an uncontained liminal space where contexts can collapse. Lines between a performed character/persona and a ‘real’ person blur and social genres are murky. One can simultaneously be engaged in polite conversation about virtual food or the cricket at a virtual tea party, be engaged in a hash tag stream elsewhere, retweeting posts that appeal and chatting with a friend. We switch between different audiences within the same stream. There is no stable ground.

We’re experimenting with new ways of being together, whether we’re conscious of this or not. We’re learning to conduct multiple conversations revealing different aspects of ourselves to different audiences almost simultaneously. In other words, we can be different things to different people almost simultaneously. This can be a fraught phenomenon.

People project, interpret and introject. They construct identities for us based on a mix of our tweets and their desires – again consciously and unconsciously. They also ‘act out’ unresolved issues. We may find ourselves or our persona at any rate being the object of transference, counter-transference without realising it. The balances and checks that exist to moderate this tendency in face to face contexts are less compelling in Twitter because Twitter is a liminal space prone to context collapse (see danah boyd).

Twitter is also a wonderful space for people who delight in games and manipulation to act out. Since I wrote my posts last year, I’ve discovered I’ve been on the other end of people acting out quite a number of times. Unfortunately, I’ve found such people to be much harder to spot in Twitter than in non liminal spaces that are not quite so prone to context collapse. Perhaps this is an artifact of my conceptualisation of Twitter as a creative play space where people can be themselves in other ways and find new ways of being and interacting together. Should I be more cautious? My inclination is not to be more cautious but rather to delve further.


10 thoughts on “More musings on personas in Twitter

  1. Hey there, Miss. M. I took a look at the paper you linked to and gave your post some thought.

    I’m wondering if platforms like twitter, instead of disrupting or collapsing context, or destabilizing ground, actually reveal that those things are simply and have always been temporary and manufactured in response to the demands of specific social situations.

    To many participants, the nature of Twitter is such that you don’t ‘post’ to it. You sort of breathe it. It mimics a stream of consciousness so well, many people are lulled into believe it is. in fact, the twitter stream could be viewed as a sort of communal stream of consciousness.

    The nature of a stream of consciousness is that it’s unedited, spontaneous, unconsidered, creative, fractious.

    This really does deserve a lot more thought. But I do believe there is a sort of reversion back to before the mirror stage, in psychological terms. A lot of people don’t draw a line of separation between where their trains of thoughts end and where twitter’s begins.

  2. i started writing last year because of the poets and poetry on twitter. i’ve made some “real” friends. i’ve also been deceived, hurt and harrassed by people on twitter. it is full of potential for both wonderful and heartbreaking experiences. i admire the courage of your willingness to delve further. i took the other route and pulled away. i have, however, kept up the really close friendships via text, email, skype and telephone. i hope you’ll post a reminder in October about your paper being published. *hugs*

    • I too have made some good friends through Twitter. I guess the trick is to avoid the bad apples, trouble is first you have to recognise them as such. I have also seen some ugly global discourses play out.

  3. It’s very hard to spot the very destructive ones. I had a similar experience, Dani. Not deception per se, but I definitely have had people who I thought were friends suddenly go what I can only describe as ‘psycho’ on me. And when I looked back to see if there were any hints it would happen… no, there really weren’t. I think we’re all trying to feel our way around what twitter should be to us. We construct boundaries, then modify them over and over as needed. Often our ability to put up our barriers isn’t quite as responsive as other people’s nuttiness. On the other hand, if we throw up too many boundaries, we limit our experiences to the superficial and the quotidian. It’s a strange line to learn to walk, and we’re all learning at the same time.

    • I find it really hard to spot the destructive ones – I am a visual person so I intuit a lot from what I see/observe literally – nuances of facial expressions, etc. I am certainly learning heaps about simply relying on words… The boundaries are interesting – sometimes it can get like a fencing match – poste and riposte… communities always have dynamic tacit rules of engagement … shifting sands…

    • Remittance Girl & marousia ~
      one i experienced was total deception, one has been harassing me now for over a year {he’s on if not over the edge} and it is, at least for me, much more difficult to determine a person’s character via internet. even skype still doesn’t allow normal gestures or touch. body language has been part of our communicating for how long? now we’re flying blind and deaf. {smile} it’s really interesting though.
      *hugs* to you both!

  4. Insightful and well written article, Marousia. I think this is the first of your prose I’ve read.

    My experience, after just six months on Twitter, is that I’ve developed some seemingly good friends, gained access to useful information sources by following threads and learned a great deal about the things that I am interested in. Apart from pesky spambots, I’ve not yet come across any nastiness, although I have observed some feisty, not to say ‘in-your-face’ personas, but nothing that I haven’t been been able to ignore or even block!; perhaps I’m lucky. I find profile bios are sometimes very telling.

    Friendships with kindred spirits have been the most fruitful, although sometimes a (albeit welcome) distraction from constructive activity, and yes… they have involved engaging in virtual tea parties and LOADS of collapsing context – dare I say almost typically British goon humour and nonsense (even though not all parties are British); in fact I’d venture to say sometimes it’s more like context annihilation! But these are understood, harmless and humorous exchanges, and useful too, I think, apart from any other reason, to release the tension of having to be productive, which is probably good, if limited, for some writers and fun for me (since I don’t consider myself to be one of those (yet).

    What I do find interesting, is observing the way different people go about marketing themselves. Some blatantly push for follows and seem to lay a lot of store by accumulating numbers, which I guess helps their distribution of whatever it is they’re selling; whilst some seem to have the knack of engaging with their followers, regardless of how many they have, and particularly how many they follow – how do you control your timeline!?! Lists I guess.

    One important thing that has surprised me is that, in spite of the lack of eye contact and the removal of the ability to read body language, I find that it is possible to read a lot of someone’s character, just by how they write and verbally exchange in short sentences; a whole new experience.

  5. A very insightful & thought provoking piece, M…and I’m interested in the comments too. I’ve been spooked a few times myself (that block button is a great thing!) ..and have certainly ‘projected’ a few times too! For me, twitter is a condensed form of ‘real’ life, but going much faster…certainly faster than I can cope with sometimes. ‘Opting’ out seems so much easier, though at the risk of alienating some people. I guess I’m finding that I need to be a little selective with who I ‘trust’, as is true in ‘real’ life. But I’ve also been blessed with making some truly wonderful & interesting friends. For that I’m very grateful… they are people who have opened up my eyes to some wonderful ideas & opportunities. So, it has been well worth the ‘risk’…but I would let others ‘delve’ further! Brave soul that you are! 😉

    • I agree with Wings over waters, the key is divining who you can trust, discipling yourself not to allow it to control or upset your life, which it could easily do, but shouldn’t, even if, as I have found so far with you nice people (* “but are they really?”, he mused in a pastiche of a horror movie* he-he) that you can go away for a break and come back and pick up where you left off; and nobody gets offended. We grownups accept that jobs have to be done in the other part of our lives and we have to keep entropy at bay.

      I think we need to develop an ability that was once much talked about with the advent of television – fears that it was anti-social, took over our lives – we have to remind ourselves constantly that we do have a will and, with it, control of the off button!

      The big advantage with Twitter and social media generally, compared to television and computer games, is that at least it is interactive; with real people; it engages the brain’s transmitters as well as its receivers.

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