I’ve written before about Twitterwashing, the tactic where organisations butt in on Twitter chats in an attempt to control public conversations about them. BT is the example that springs most readily to mind, but even lovely fluffy ethical organisations make this mistake too.
I recently live-tweeted the launch of Oxfordshire’s Low Carbon Hub. This event involved a talk by Bruce Heagerty of the Centre for Alternative Technology . I posted dozens of tweets that night about his talk and about the rest of the launch.
To be an effective Twitterwasher and butt in on as many conversations as possible, you have to obsessively search Twitter for your organisation’s name. That’s what the Centre for Alternative Technology tweeter did, and that’s why he zoned in on the only tweet of mine that mentioned the organisation’s full name. (It’s a bit of a mouthful, so I mentioned it once and then expected anybody reading to know from the context what I was talking about.) The CAT tweeter therefore spotted that I’d misheard “Heagerty” as “Peggotty”. They did not spot that I’d realised and corrected my mistake minutes later, because they weren’t interested in anything I had to say that didn’t feature the full name of the organisation. So the tweeter from CAT popped up on my timeline a day later to correct my spelling. (Ironically, this spelling correction featured more grammar errors in three words than you’ll normally see in a month of reading my own tweets.)
Oh dear, looks like the Centre for Alternative Technology is yet another corporate Twitterer obsessively searching for its own name.
Using technology to help you obsessively search for your own name is still obsessively searching for your own name. And butting into conversations, context-free, to “correct” errors which have already been corrected, is still rude.
Another, more recent example: I have a “50p off” voucher for Cafédirect products to be spent before the end of the month. I tried to find Cafédirect products in my local Co-op, my local Waitrose and my local Oxfam. No luck, so I tweeted:
If Cafe Direct [sic] is really "the UK's largest Fairtrade hot drinks company", how come I can't spend the voucher I've had since early November?
A day later, when I’d forgotten all about it, Cafédirect popped up to say:
hi Kate, our tea is available in most Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsburys & Asda shops, & selected independents - where do you live?
As I explained, I don’t care if they think their products are available in “most stores”. I care that I’ve tried the three most Fairtrade-friendly shops in my local town and drawn a blank. (When you’ve tried hard to buy something and failed, does it make you feel better or worse to be told that other people are able to buy it?)
Cafédirect wanted to know if I’d tried my local Sainsburys. No, I hadn’t. It’s strange, but after fruitlessly searching three shops, I didn’t have what you’d call a thirst for searching a fourth. You might even go so far as to say that I couldn’t be bothered any more and had given up.
I asked them:
Instead of popping up on Twitter to shut me up, why don't you look into why my local Co-op, Waitrose & Oxfam don't stock it?
I know the answer, of course. It’s because Twitterwashers love giving fake “help” in the form of advice to the complainer. It’s so much easier than actually listening and changing your organisation’s own behaviour. I knew that when I directly suggested they do something, our conversation would be brought swiftly to an end. Cafédirect’s parting shot was:
Any more assistance? I don’t remember getting any assistance at all. I remember a suggestion that I work even harder to try to buy their product. I don’t remember the tiniest hint that they are going to do anything at all in return.
This is my problem with Twitterwashing. It’s not about helping. It’s about self-justification; it’s about trying to silence criticism; it’s about refusing to see the difference between remarks about you and remarks directed to you. And when a well-intentioned ethical organisation plays at the Twitterwashing game, they look just as stupid and sociopathic as the most evil of corporate behemoths.