Amy Jenkins: Unlike the internet, the Twitter mob mentality is mostly genial

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The Independent Online

How much am I loving this election? That's one of those questions that's delivered as a statement, but in case you're in any doubt about my sentiments – they're very positive. Not because of the likely result, I hasten to add, but because of all the tweets.

There are factors other than Twitter, of course – like the fact that the polls are so close – and the Nick Clegg spanner in the works. There's also The X Factor effect of the TV debates – although whether that's something to love is another question. (They've been called the "live abortion of British democracy" by one critic.) Still, for me, the live debates plus Twitter has been a revelation. We got a hint of what Twitter was capable of when Jan Moir was tweeted down for being beastly to Stephen Gately. However, the first election since Twitter was born has given the site a raison d'être.

I was resistant to Twitter when it arrived a few years ago. I'd never got into Facebook. I'd just had a baby when it came along. Someone's update said: "Just packing to go to Paris." I thought, oh God, it's just a lot of people bragging, plus I'll never get any work done.

Twitter, though, advertised "short, timely messages". I had a look. At first glance it seemed tedious – lots of people having incomprehensible conversations that I wasn't in on. Then the leaders' debates started and I gathered from the press that Twitter could add another dimension. For the second debate I had my laptop beside me and it was certainly intriguing. I found some interesting people to follow.

By the time the third debate came around this week, my new multi-platform experience was just incredible amounts of fun. You know how people used to lament the fracturing of channels and the end of event television; the end of 24 million people watching Only Fools and Horses all at once; the end of the power surge the national grid would experience at the end when everyone put the kettle on? Well, now that communal experience is back – with interactive knobs on.

Clearly to go the whole hog, I had to start tweeting myself and that was a little daunting. I spent several days composing various possibilities in my head. I found myself arranging random thoughts into 140-character haikus. It got to be a habit. I worried I might dream in tweets. But I've read that the key to getting a blog following is to just keep blogging. So, in that vein, I resolved to "just do it" – although it did seem odd at first. I mean, why would anyone care what I was doing? I took comfort in my minuscule following.

But then the more I got into Twitter, the more it seemed a cheerful place. The internet is notoriously brutal, but somehow the sneering that pervades the usual blogosphere threads is gloriously absent from Twitter. You can be anonymous on Twitter, if you want, but because of the way it works, it just doesn't do to be angry and mean. Twitter users must attract followers and you do that by being funny, interesting, thought-provoking or giving good advice about music and interesting web links. On Twitter, the mob mentality is mostly genial. It's OK to insult Cameron – but that's about it. Never having been a political activist, I haven't known what it is to have a tribe – never known how heart-warming it is. Today started with #iloveimmigrants trending to the top of the UK list.

When Jean-Paul Sartre said "hell is other people", he'd never been on Twitter, naturally. Heaven is other people being smart, poignant, funny and brief – at arm's length. (Oooh, only 78 characters in that sentence. Excuse me while I tweet.)

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