Like it or not, social media now plays an integral role in the way we communicate as a society. It has created an unprecedented amount of personal connection between people at incredible distances, and has generally increased our awareness of important topics and events. Overall, I’d say that websites like Twitter and Facebook have had a positive impact on our species, both practically and culturally. As with anything though, certain behavioral patterns within these social tools can have troubling effects. One such issue reared its head in the recent controversy regarding Guild Wars 2 writer Jessica Price and streamer Deroir.
This incident has already been discussed on this site by Austin and RedStripe, so I won’t go over the details of what happened. Long story short, Price tweeted an opinion, Deroir tweeted a dissenting response, Price took offense at his dissention, and the whole thing escalated until her employment was (in my opinion) unfairly terminated. The focus of most people’s concern seems to be her unjust firing. That’s certainly understandable, it seems obviously hypocritical for a company to respond to an employee’s rash response on social media… by rashly firing the employee in question. That discussion isn’t what I find interesting. To me, the juicy controversy here is the one surrounding the original exchange between Price and Deroir.
For context, here is the initial exchange (click to see Deroir’s full response):
Then Price goes on to say:
So, needless to say there doesn’t seem to be an issue with Deroir’s choice of language. In these tweets he is eloquent, considerate, and respectful. Again though, not quite the interesting part. Most seem to agree that Deroir’s tone and overall message of his tweets were not problematic. Perhaps he might have appeared to be condescending, but he was at the very least polite. The issue for many, and the primary argument made in defense of Price’s curt responses, was that Deroir’s opinion was unsolicited. He responded to a tweet from Price’s personal Twitter account, and had no business doing so. This discussion is best summarized by Price’s tweet here:
Finally we’ve found the critical issue here. The question of whether social media platforms like Twitter can be considered “private” to any degree. At first glance, this analogy seems sound enough. Interjecting into a conversation between friends in a real-life public setting would certainly be rude and socially unacceptable. The problem is that likening Twitter to a private conversation among friends doesn’t quite work. Responses from strangers aren’t abnormal on Twitter, in fact they are entirely expected. To a certain extent that is the purpose of the platform. Private direct messages do exist on Twitter, but Price’s instigative tweet was not a DM. It was a tweet, available for anyone in the world to read. Thus, there is some assumption that people will share their opinions using the reply feature. There is no privacy on which Deroit could have intruded.
Let’s continue assuming this analogy is applicable though, since it has some interesting (and terrifying) implications. Twitter is like a family, albeit a very large one, holding a merry conversation over dinner. If you were to interject with an unsolicited opinion you will have committed a faux pas. Understandable so far. The concern arises when you try to define “unsolicited opinion.” If Deroit had made the statement “Your insights were all inspiring, I agree with every one of them,” I highly doubt there would have been any controversy. And yet, Deroit would have still put forth an opinion that Price didn’t ask for. I can even prove that statement with this exchange (made in response to Price’s first tweet):
Not an explicit opinion, for sure, but an implication of agreement nonetheless. Price’s response? A cheerful message and a smiley face. Okay, so obviously she was fine with that opinion, despite not asking for it. The final takeaway from all of this is that opinions expressing agreement are “part of the conversation,” while dissenters should be considered intruders. So what do you do? Start blocking the undesirables; build walls around your happy community. The problem is that despite being great for keeping out unwanted guests, walls tend to create an echo.
Yep. This is a classic example of the “echo chamber” principal, the idea that we are being surrounded by people who share our own ideas, so those ideas are the only ones we ever hear. If we deem it rude to reply to public statements with different opinions, we are creating an echo chamber much more powerful than the one the internet forms naturally. Plenty of other writers (including ones on this website) have explained why this phenomenon is dangerous, but to summarize: echo chambers divide our society even further than it has already been divided. Constructing our own chambers through conscious effort is inherently counterproductive to social order and acceptance.
In conclusion, no, Jessica Price should not have been fired for a simple disagreement on Twitter. A much milder punishment, or even just a warning, would have been much more appropriate. However, Price’s actions, and the methods with which she defended them, paint a problematic picture of the landscape of social media in the future. We should not marginalize dissenting thought through the rules of etiquette, lest we remove it from our field of vision entirely.