Here at what looks like a great divide — between election cycles for sure, and possibly in the very topography of the nation’s story — an inquiry: Might the United States benefit from becoming a “tweet less” society?
To be clear, that’s “tweet less,” not tweetless. Twitter — like social media in general — has many purposes. It can help people relay news about their personal lives, both happy and sad. It can be used to share information of interest and even organize events on the spot. And it can relay opinions.
The last of which, here at Star Tribune Opinion, happens to be our raison d’être. So we tweet a bit, both from our Editorial Board members’ individual accounts and from @StribOpinion, and we’ll continue to do so. (Here we’d also note, because it cannot be overemphasized, that the Editorial Board represents only the opinion arm of the Star Tribune. It does not make coverage decisions nor set policies for the newsroom.)
But standing on a soapbox is not an aspiration for all organizations. In fact, for many, it’s best avoided. That’s why they have public relations departments helping them to communicate with exacting caution. Still, they may find that even careful expression can generate controversy when the world has instant access to the medium on which it’s broadcast. A recent example involves the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.
Late last month, the Girl Scouts posted a tweet with pictures of all five women who’ve been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court since its inception and congratulated the latest, Amy Coney Barrett. There was nothing wrong with that. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization simply wished, as it later said, “to lift up girls and women.”
But that was after it deleted the tweet under pressure.
Critics pounced. “What kind of patch does one earn for uplifting a woman who is the antithesis of justice?” declared another woman of prominence, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. A number of people on social media even vowed to boycott the cookies the Girl Scouts sell each year to teach entrepreneurship and raise money.
And there was nothing wrong with such responses, coming from those with legitimate concerns about how Barrett’s jurisprudence on a court with a now-solid conservative majority might threaten civil liberties and women’s rights. This is how free speech works. Free consumption as well, we suppose.
Yet the Girl Scouts and their critics both still ended up sullied in the process: the Scouts for first failing to read the moment, then bending to it like a supplicant; and the dissenters for once again failing to make their argument without leaving the impression that a member of an identity group can never be allowed to think and act out of concert — and that movements cannot withstand adversity.
In the past, instead of a tweet, the Girl Scouts might have put out a news release for the record. With fewer limitations than a social media post has, it might have employed some nuance. Even if not, its lower visibility might have at least drawn a less eruptive response.
In the past, instead of taking their complaints directly to the public, the Scouts’ critics might have gone to the source instead, in the hope of initiating a dialogue. They might also have recognized that with Barrett irrevocably on the court, strategy will matter more than spite.
In that sense, this dispute is like the many other fast-moving ones that play out on social media each day, involving people who haven’t stopped to consider how a message might be received, or whether a reflexive response is as effective as a more considered course of action might be.
So this is a plea for reticence, or at least a greater recognition of its value.
The exchange of ideas is necessary. The best of it is measured not just by what it expresses but by what it achieves.