“There is a very fine line between a tweet and a twit.”
These are the words of Sarah Oates, professor of political communication at Glasgow University, quoted in The Sunday Mail, one of several papers which devotes thousands of words to Twitter today.
So why the sudden rush of interest?
Is it because the papers have discovered that the rich and famous are unwittingly using Twitter to make utter fools of themselves, and that this spectacle appeals to readers?
The Sunday Telegraph, with its headline “The tweets will tear us apart” is in no doubt.
William Langley asks: “What is the world coming to when a marital split between two fiercely private dynasties is played out for all to see on Twitter?”
He continues: “...last week we had the sorry spectacle of a husband and wife from two of Britain’s grandest families, the Rothschilds and the Goldsmiths, carpet bombing the Twitterverse with details of their marital woes.”
This refers to the bitter social media battle between Ben Goldsmith and Kate Rothschild whose 2003 union was “Society Wedding of the Year”.
The details are pretty straightforward, I’m sure millions of other marriages have ended for the same reasons so we won’t go there.
What’s interesting, though, is why they chose to go public.
William Langley describes two more big splits, whose use of Twitter is perhaps easier to fathom.
Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher who after years trumpeting the blissfulness of their relationship on Twitter, ended it with a series of bitter tweets.
And singer John Mayer who, with exquisite irony, had to inform his Twitter followers he had been dumped by Jennifer Aniston for spending too much time on Twitter.
India Knight in The Sunday Times also reflects on the Goldsmith/Rothschild saga in an article entitled: “Our hideous rush for a seat at the Twitter witch trials.”
Strangely, the piece is accompanied by a picture of a model in her underwear holding a mobile phone and smiling at a bathroom mirror reflection of herself.
Alongside is a caption stating: “The joy some people take in following marital break-ups on Twitter is hard to understand.”
The use of that image is equally hard to understand, but, in principle, scantily-clad beautiful young women in The Sunday Times can’t be a bad thing.
India Knight also reveals a social media cautionary tale when she writes: “There is no such thing as privacy any more. Last week a married actor—nobody you will have heard of but I’m not going to add to his shame by naming him—boarded a flight in Los Angeles and started chatting up his neighbour, a model (not the one in the picture).
“Unfortunately for him she was tweeting the whole thing live: the removal of his wedding ring, the beer he took to the lavatory, the inane conversation.
“Poor old actor, the man sounds like a fool, but it is slightly alarming that even fools can’t have a drink and flirt without the entire world finding out about it.”
Alex Clark in The Observer takes what I think is a more logical approach to this story and names the fool--Brian Presley.
His article “How Twitter and social media are putting an end to our private lives” is also accompanied by a picture of a model, except this time she is connected to the story.
She is 22-year-old Melissa Stetten who on June 6 took a flight from Los Angeles to New York and found herself sitting next to Brian Presley.
While he chats her up she tweets his every move.
Here are a couple of excerpts: “Brian is now talking about how he is an artist and believes everything happens for a reason, like how we were brought together on this flight.”
And: “Brian just took his Heineken in a plastic cup into the bathroom.”
At this point she receives a tweet with a link to an article in Christianity Today in which Presley revealed how sobriety and weekly AA meetings turned his life around.
Stetten responds with: “Holy shit. He’s had 3 Heinekens and is wasted. Sober? Hardly.”
And, having suggested he is back on the booze and trying to cheat on his wife she ends with the rhetorical question: “Did I just ruin Brian Presley’s life via Twitter?”
Presley denies the conversation took place. And, of course, we only have her word for it.
The Sunday Mail’s line on Twitter, meanwhile, is much closer to home.
Its Political Editor Mark Aitken has been following the tweets from Members of the Scottish Parliament. His verdict: “Boring, banal banter”.
Here’s my choice of the worst of what the paper says are the inane tweets of parly birdbrains: “Launch Scottish Geodiversity Charter; Aquaculture and Forestry meetings; Royal Highland Education Trust debate. Train/bus shortly.”
This comes from the SNP’s Stewart Stevenson, who might have crossed the very fine line described earlier by Professor Oates.
On the same day, says The Sunday Mail, Barack Obama tweeted: “68 years ago today—D-Day—the brave members of the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. We have never forgotten their heroism.”
That’s one example which doesn’t conform to William Langley’s apocalyptic view that “A few quick clicks and anyone could play a part in the slow death of decorum.”
COLIN GRANT is a former journalist who now runs Spectrum PR, a Glasgow-based public relations and media consultancy. www.spectrumpr.co.uk