Fri March 18, 2011
Monkey See

The Hazards Of Twitter: How Much Is Too Much In 140 Characters Or Less?

You've probably heard about the Awful Tweets About Japan That Got People Fired. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour's press secretary wrote one. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried wrote a whole bunch of them, costing him a cushy gig with the insurance company Aflac as the voice of their bespoke duck.

(And yes, a lot of people wrote and tweeted insensitive things about Japan that didn't get them canned, including 50 Cent and Rush Limbaugh.)

My editor and I started wondering something specific about Twitter, based on an article James Poniewozik wrote in Time suggesting that Twitter can get you "in deep trouble for stepping just this across the line of practices that make you popular on Twitter — and that you're rewarded for, up until the second that you're not." (He's in the piece I have on Friday's Morning Edition, explaining the new word he invented: "twimmolation.") Are the lines different on Twitter than in live performance? The medium just seems so fast and unfiltered.

But the comics I talked to didn't think so. They said they actually edit their tweets more carefully than off-the-cuff lines in their live performances. Paula Poundstone says getting a joke down to 140 characters requires careful work. "I like to make punctuation the last thing I throw out," she adds sternly.

Lisa Lampanelli agreed — she says she hates it when her tweets look like a 12-year-old's. (I'm proud, by the way, that this piece marks Lampanelli's first appearance on NPR News.) She said Twitter can be deceptive in the sense that it feels like a huge human community but without human cues about how to react and respond. And both comics said the only line they refuse to cross is saying something not funny. Gilbert Gottfried seems to have thought his tweets were funny. So he posted them.

For her part, Paula Poundstone says she's got nothing to say about Japan that's funny. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Related Program