by Jessica Faye Carter
"It’s Not Utopia
While Twitter has the potential to change how we engage interculturally, it’s not a cross-cultural utopia. Users aren’t holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Stereotyping and culturally divisive language still exist on the site, just as in real life. Recent articles about cultural groups on Twitter reinforce stereotypes related to gender and ethnic populations, including white people. There is still a long way to go in terms of intercultural understanding on the site.
Documenting cross-cultural interactions and engagement on Twitter is useful because it encourages others to move past boundaries and bridge gaps using their social graphs. As Johnson put it in his article: “You should follow a few people on Twitter who aren’t like you.” To that I would add, more than a few. And while you’re following them, it’s worth remembering that Twitter provides a very incomplete picture of cultural norms. But despite this limitation, Twitter remains a useful starting point for intercultural connections.
While Twitter’s abbreviated format makes it easily accessible for many, it can also be a drawback when it comes to intercultural engagement. Joe Gerstandt, a diversity and inclusion strategist, notes that “Some conversations simply need more than 140 characters,” and he adds that “cross-cultural communication can involve a fair amount of context and complexity.” So even though users are bringing multiple layers of identity to Twitter, it’s difficult to explore the depths of those layers online. Instead, Gerstandt suggests using Twitter to initiate intercultural exchanges and a combination of in-person and online interactions to forge deeper cross-cultural connections.
Ultimately, Twitter is a useful tool to facilitate cross-cultural interactions, but the lion’s share of the responsibility to engage across boundaries still falls on us. As Mishra observes, “[H]uman beings have a strong tendency to prefer the familiar, so we pay attention to people with a shared context and treat the rich Twitter public stream as background noise … in practice, Twitter’s ability to promote cross-cultural communication is limited by our own willingness to engage in it.”
Other thoughts on Twitter are:
A Step in a New Direction
B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Culture)
I Tweet, Therefore I Am