Howard Feldman

Steering clear of Twitter Delinquent Disorder

2018-06-14 08:00

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Remember when sex addiction was all the rage? Anyone caught with their proverbial pants down supposedly had an addiction that needed a cure. Which was a convenient and useful excuse for their indiscretion.

Before we knew it, hotels (re-named wellness centres) were bursting at the seams with so-called sex addicts, or put differently, anyone requiring a quick cure to save their marriage and reputation (but not in that order).

Ask Michael Douglas. And Charlie Sheen. And Jesse James. And David Duchovny.

But sex addiction is no longer a thing (not even in the White House) and in its place a new epidemic is fast spreading across the globe. It is known as Twitter Delinquent Disorder (TDD) and it kills reputations in less than 280 characters.

It is often incurable and no number of explanations, apologies or deletes will reverse the damage done. Once tweeted, the infection quickly contaminates even past behaviour resulting in a fall-out and in harm that extend very far outside the scope of the tweet. TV shows have been known to be cancelled and jobs have been known to be lost. 

Ask Roseanne. And Helen Zille. And Donald Trump. And Andile Mngxitama.

The Twitter community is unforgiving, and the only responsible approach to TDD is prevention rather than cure. Much like safe sex.

The challenge is to identify those at risk. Once they have been recognised as a potential TDD sufferer, the tweeter’s phone needs to be confiscated immediately, the sufferer needs without delay to enter the wellness centre and to receive “tweetment” (blame the marketing people).

The most common symptoms of TDD include racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and fat-shaming. Random name-calling, although unpleasant, is not an absolute confirmation of TDD unless it contains the elements listed above. To date, TDD cannot be confirmed physiologically although it is noted that stupidity has a high level of association with this disease.

It does need to be noted that contrary to comments on social media, Ambien (locally known as Stilnox) is not an acceptable justification for TDD. Tweeting under the influence of this sleeping tablet (as in the case of Roseanne) does not eliminate TDD confirmation. Whereas Ambien might well cause drowsiness, nausea, light-headedness, insomnia and headaches, it is not known to cause any form of active prejudice. So much so that when comedienne Roseanne tried to explain her tweet by saying that she had taken an Ambien, its producers, Sanofi-Aventis were quick to publicly note that “racism is not a side effect” of the medication.

That said, one does wonder if new packaging might not only suggest that one “should not operate heavy machinery” after having taken the drug, but also that users “should refrain from tweeting” as well.

It’s a whole new world. With some very old prejudices.

TDD is what happens when one is unable to separate emotion from sensibility. It also is what happens when one forgets that context and framing is important and that without an explanation of some sort, a sentence in 280 characters or less might well read poorly to someone who does not live inside your brain. It’s what happens when you “lose it” on a platform of millions and what happens even if you have only 12 followers, one of which doesn’t like you. 

For those fearing the spread of TDD, it should be of comfort to note that if one is not a misogynist in real life then it is unlikely that you will be one on Twitter. If racism or anti-Semitism is not your “vibe” at home or at work or at the mall, then it is unlikely that you will be one on a social media platform. It is, of course, possible to be misunderstood. But an explanation, along with an apology is most likely all it will take to clear up a false positive.

Twitter is often an ugly place to be. In the last week I have been called names that could upset me if I were sensitive. I have been accused of things that could even impress me if I were more aspirational (in world domination). The answer is to not take them too seriously, but to let it wash over you without getting dirty and to focus rather on the incredibly funny, kind and informative people who are not, and will never be, sufferers of the dreaded TDD.

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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