Sociolinguistics and Twitter
ACRES OF IRISH newsprint cover the current debate over the tone of voice often heard coursing through Twitter and Facebook. I believe the discussions would about the nature of online engagement would improve if viewed through the lens of sociolinguistics.
Local politician Tom Hayes plans to co-ordinate a consultation document that solicits opinion about whether places like Facebook and Twitter should be monitored and even constrained by Irish law. Barristers who have reviewed the issue point to existing statutes on libel, defamation and harassment. If someone feels hard done by the tone of online discourse they can use the law to get their day in court.
But I believe another dimension of this debate deserves careful scrutiny in an academic context. Some of the language I read on the public Twitter timeline cannot be streamed onto whiteboards in Irish schools because it is crude or racist or sexist. And yet it passes for friendly banter among mates. Moreover, it is also pasted onto public Facebook walls and into the cut and thrust of spirited debates on Twitter. Sometimes the invective and downright hostile comments can reduce a reader to tears. I've seen that while the promulgator just shrugs and wanders off to another conversation.
There are clear sociolinguistic reasons why this kind of online demeanour deserves the illumination of academic discussion. And that is what we are doing this semester as part of a critical and contextual analysis of online social media.
[Bernie Goldbach has actively run online discussion fora since 1992 and he lectures at the Limerick Institute of Technology in http://www.lit.ie/Courses/LC517 ]