Is Twitter really dangerous?


  • USC study says rapid-fire Twitter and news updates are too fast for brain
  • Scans show humans respond rapidly to pain, but not compassion, admiration
  • Scientists say reliance on news snippets could harm moral compass

arttwittergiRapid-fire TV news bulletins or getting updates via social-networking tools such as Twitter could numb our sense of morality and make us indifferent to human suffering, scientists say.
New findings show that the streams of information provided by social networking sites are too fast for the brain’s “moral compass” to process and could harm young people’s emotional development.
Before the brain can fully digest the anguish and suffering of a story, it is being bombarded by the next news bulletin or the latest Twitter update, according to a University of Southern California study.
The report, published next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, studied how volunteers responded to real-life stories chosen to stimulate admiration for virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain.
Research leader Antonio Damasio, director of USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, said the findings stressed the need for slower delivery of the news, and highlighted the importance of slow-burn emotions like admiration.
Damasio cited the example of U.S. President Barack Obama, who says he was inspired by his father, to show how admiration can be key to cultural success.
“We actually separate the good from the bad in great part thanks to the feeling of admiration. It’s a deep physiological reaction that’s very important to define our humanity.”
Twitter, which allows users to swap messages and links of 140-characters or less, says on its Web site that it sees itself as a solution to information overload, rather than a cause of it.
This function, It says, “means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention.”


  • Very interesting! As a person who is new to Twitter and finding my around it, I have often wondered about the information overload. I do agree that one can decide not to pay as much attention but one does get hooked on to it. It could become an obsession when people start getting updates on their cell phones. Is that really required? In my opinion it is good to have real time access to information that is of importance to the general populace but not really important with reference to personal stuff like what I am currently doing.

  • Guess it depends on what you say or read there 😉

  • Absolutely not. Most posts on Twitter are light reading, with little to no suffering. Maybe if you are following 1000 people and new information is coming in every second, you won’t fully process a tweet about a massacre. But if there’s any really bad news on Twitter you’ll probably hear it again, and you can digest it then.

  • Rubbish. Reading occasional micro updates of your friends combines to form a larger picture than you may otherwise of had – I believe it enables a greater connection to a wider group of people. When you spot someone that needs help or attention, people reply to their statuses, in seconds.
    For me, the value in twitter really came when I thought of it as a stream of info to look at when I wanted to and not like email where you try and process everything – if you use apps like tweetdeck and group your followers to manage that flow, its an incredibly valuable tool.

  • Sounds to me like a business protecting it’s market, more than a genuine concern, especially given that most of what moves over Twitter is useless chatter.

  • “the findings stressed the need for slower delivery of the news, and highlighted the importance of slow-burn emotions like admiration.”
    Sounds like someone wants to regulate the flow of information and tell me how I’m supposed to process it.
    Sorry – like many new technologies Twitter is a means to share and receive information. It’s a personal choice as to whether and when I sit back and let it soak in, or dig for more information, so I can think about it on an emotional level. I’ll keep that choice for myself, thank you. And I’ll teach my children to do the same.

  • Twitter’s strength is its ability to link and point to information elsewhere, where you can go for in depth analysis. (117 characters)

  • Two twits on my friends list from yesterday:
    1) Just found out the friend of a friend committed suicide. So sad and so unnecessary. Count your blessing, all – tomorrow brings better news.
    (3 hours later)
    2) Thx for the kind words, all.
    I’m going to disagree.

  • Very dangerous. Sucks up free time like a vacuum cleaner!

  • CNN reporting on a story about how news needs to be slowed down is about the most ironic thing I’ve read this week!

  • So I guess it is far more emotional when they describe a brutal murder of an entire family on the news in a 30-second blip, and then follow it up with a story about a back-flipping chihuahua and then the latest sports highlights? Twitter gives you the option of continuing on a topic through links, or even viewing a feed of all the latest posts on a certain topic. We’ve also been told before that profanity in movies, knee-length skirts, and the absence of prayer in elementary schools would numb our sense of morality. People get scared by new things.

  • Twitter and any service could be safe or dangerous depending on user’s behaviour. Icecream can be dangerous if try swallowing the whole portion at once. A rifle can be safe if you know how to use it. The issue is not that Twitter or facebook are dangerous, but how to offer the alternative to let people decide what to use to be safe (as they suppose!).

  • It’s not dangerous…it brings lot of viral effect and can be addictive….but it has several opportunities too…the trick would be to pull out the opportunities and create brand value..

  • i’m seconding Deborah Volk’s answer…

  • I cut myself using it yesterday …… is about as likely.
    Fear manipulation attempt…. thwarted.
    Simon Hamer (111 characters)

  • Have to agree with Dave. I think CNN is probably doing a lot more to numb our sense of morality.

  • I am not a twitter ally or enemy. Recently got on. Send a dozen. Find many annoying. I can only say one thing: GIVE ME A BREAK.
    As if the constant bombardment of TV and broadcast news with shiny blonde bimbos gives us an accurate view of the world.
    The whole point is we DON’T want to process every flying twitter. We DON’T. We don’t.
    It is not 200 third parties twits who should dictate to US what is important.
    And when the plane crashes in the Hudson, we will pay attention.
    Twitter didn’t destroy the world, TV did, and even despite it being destroyed, here we are, more informed than ever, more connected, and more considering this world a brotherhood of man (and other creatures) than ever–because we see it and are connected.
    And yes, constant twits are annoying and we will have to see where this ultraCONNECTION goes.
    We are more connected than ever, not less. More likely to be aware of global needs and discuss solutions. More Linked In.

  • Anything can be dangerous. Twitter can be dangerous as a time sink, and also when people don’t form genuine relationships on there. It’s annoying when people only tweet about what they are selling.

  • I’ve twitted once or twice just to see what the fuss is all about. It seems like a bit of a stream in which you dip your beak once in awhile if you wish, and if you don’t you watch it flow by you.
    Or, it’s like a common place to flutter about, and gather nectar.
    I can see the draw because if you are twittering about a theatre event or movie, it would be fun to cluster around that event and gather info from others.
    I have to say that Mike Ciance’s post says it all for me.
    I don’t know if I’d call it dangerous unless you’re flying a plane while doing it.

  • Hi Ali,
    Twitter is no different than the newspaper in the sense that each person can edit-out the information they receive. If you don’t like the headline, you move on. And you can turn it off whenever you want.
    In addition there are tolls such as Tweetdeck that allow you to filter the tweets to receive only the ones you’re interested in. For example, one of my filters says to include only those tweets that mention “solar”.
    So, I don’t think Twitter is dangerous at all. Mortal Kombat–that’s another story.,..

  • The short answer is NO.
    However there is always a caveat. If a person is using Twitter as part of corporate image them they cannot tweat “I shall be spending the Easter break with Auntie Mavis” they must keep all aspects of the communication professional.
    Remember most twittering drives traffic to a web-site. That is the point you to primarily think of the legal implications, not the twitter message that brought a person there.

  • Remember, 95% of statistics are made up (or the research leading to a conclusion are easily refutable in slightly different conditions or even test subjects) so don’t put much stock in them.
    This sounds completely ridiculous anyway. 140 characters versus 1,000 characters in a new article isn’t going to hurt you. In fact, I’d say that this article smells a little dubious like they’re trying to smear Twitter so they won’t lose readers. I’d even wager that the additional characters in news articles could be more harmful as they have more of an opportunity to spread their own agendas and biases.

  • CNN is much more dangerous than Twitter. I don’t know which is worse, the unfounded speculation from the researcher or the inability of the news media to see it for what it is.
    Link below goes to a blog post where I briefly discuss this.

  • Real answer? Depends!
    In terms of Technology, the section this is posted in, there is a real danger from not the information but your information being exposed to undesired audiences, accounts hacked, etc. There were 2 significant hacks in the last 24 hours. Google it…see how much it could hurt us Tweeter’s someday…
    he information is all depending on how you use it. So much like the advent of TV, it will have the same consequence. More information is not always bad or I would never have known about much of the worlds activities. Look even Cuba wants to play nice!

  • I regard CNN’s article as a nonsensical argument, considering that CNN is notorious for selective sensationalism of information.
    The real dangers I would see from Twitter are dervied from its intentional misuse and user imprudence.
    For example, if you use Twitter to rally and coordinate support for violence, civil unrest, or criminal activity, it can be dangerous.
    If you divulge too much personal information about yourself, your location and movement, then it is possible under rare and extreme circumstances that you or your property could be targeted for violence or for other purposes by people with criminal intent.
    There are “conspiracy theorist” types and civil liberties zealots who might argue that Twitter allows governments a mechanism to control and track their citizens’ movements, but my take on that perspective is that governments intent on doing so already have far more sophisticated and effective mechanisms for that.

  • Twitter dangerous? How about TV then? Hundreds of channels bombarding you with mostly useless content, ads, violence… At least on twitter, you choose who you want to listen to, making it the ultimate accurate source of information.

  • Hello,
    And they said the earth was flat.
    That running a mile under a minute was humanly impossible.
    And so many more.
    Please use your inner guidance.
    Best wishes.

  • Balderdash… In the news & information arena, Twitter is ‘Headline News’. You can decide, based on the headline, whether to read the article, or not. If you decide to pursue it, most tweets contain either a link to more substantial info, or suitable keywords for Google. It simply makes you aware that something has happened, or that something exists.
    As to personal messages, either it is trivial, or you are likely already aware of the context of the Tweet, and the background (I.E. Bob just got that promotion, Judy landed safely, heading to a meeting). These are simply ‘nuggets’ of info – the same as any casual conversation amongst friends and associates.
    As for CNN promoting ‘studies’ that claim their competition is lacking, or dangerous, is simple self promotion, and leaves considerable room for doubt as to it’s veracity. I am quite sure there are university studies to be found saying Twitter is relevant, and much more useful than CNN. You will not, however, find those studies reported on CNN. There are on-going studies to be found on virtually any subject, with virtually any conclusion.

  • Is Twitter really dangerous?
    No. Ones inability to think rationally is what is dangerous.

  • I use Twitter A LOT for clients and myself, and find that it’s all in knowing how to use the platform, and using it for the RIGHT a community, Twitter is more than just a spot on the web where you can spit out 140 characters worth of nothingness…
    Yes- a lot of people do that…but then again, a lot of people DON’T do that either. The learning curve for newbies isn’t long there…eventually, everyone ‘gets it’ and understands that when you log in to Twitter- you’re entering a “stream of consciousness”..LITERALLY…public consciousness..a ‘stream’ of thought, discussion and dialog amongst the world (yes-real time-anyone in the world) can join in and chat about whatever is on your mind.
    Some people don’t have a lot going on in their world, and generally, tweet about nothingness….But what’s exciting is to be able to ‘live within’ the world of others (popular, unpopular, celebs, execs, you name it) via their tweets.
    Twitter can also be used as a marketing branding tool, but you MUST live by the unwritten Twitter code- and that is to provide relevant content-tone down the hype and do your best not to spam or spend countless tweets hawking services or goods….save that for Craigslist.
    Jump in, live in the community for awhile, and you’ll see it’s a great place to be.

  • Twitter is a tool people use to create data. At 140 characters, no one can create information/analysis. People receiving Twitter messages must do all the processing themselves. If they want complete analysis, Twitter will fail them. If they want to gather data and process it themselves, that may be a different story.
    I think we may have societal issues with processing data, though. Look at our traditional media. They say “this happened” and their question to you, or whoever they interview, is “what do you feel about this?” The feelings are analyzed rather than the information itself. I don’t think Twitter will rise above that level, unless society itself changes.

  • It’s only dangerous while driving. Don’t tweet and drive, people! Especially on the innerbelt.

  • Twitter is nothing more than human behavior, but it has come at a time of great confluence. Not too long ago, it was a question as to whether your boss or HR department had the Internet skills or even technology to really seek you out on the web and determine your profile. It used to be you had the ability to control the presentation. You still have the control, but you have a choice as to whether to be you or not.
    The shrinking economy results in an increase in job demand and has increased the magnifying glass employers use to eliminate candidates. They’re not looking for “smart, passionate, intelligent people.” They’re looking first for “[number] of years experience with [x] technology or skill in [z] business context.”
    From a global/social perspective, it challenges our ability to accept each other as imperfect humans. Twitter accelerates that challenge.

  • Twitter is a rich source of insipid drivel. It is the bumper sticker of today. The fact that we discuss it at all shows we have too much time on our hands.

  • From what I’ve seen in my some what new journey into Twitter is that most people will tell me they are “going to the store” or “playing ” but nothing dramatic or horrible. There’s only so much bad you could put into what.. 160 characters?
    I could understand an effect with the information overload but not to where we will be ‘indifferent to human suffering.’

  • Interesting question. Since being bombarded by mindless advertising is not enough to fill the endless hours of non-sleep, we create facebook, twitter and more to distract ourselves further from any useful and potentially focused activity that might result in the creation of something useful/beautiful or the like.
    Then we use LinkedIn to add our (completely irrelevant) two cents to the discussion.
    Bottom line: If people had real lives, aspired to do something meaningful with them and then went out and did, we would have a lot less of the crap and none of the discussion.

  • Twitter appears to be icing, masquerading as cake.

  • It’s ironic that CNN (who’s business is rapid-fire news bulletins) is commenting on twitter numbing us.
    While I think there’s truth to it, I think not tuning into CNN for those bulletins is probably their biggest objection.

  • I see two dangers in Twitter and neither of them are what CNN claims.
    Before I continue let me say that I also see substantial benefits to Twitter too and I am, reluctantly, a user of it.
    1. It can be a huge time sink. If you find yourself unable to look away from the stream of micro-messages, most of them inane, you could easily lose hours of productive time watching people “LOL” about what somebody on TV just said.
    2. It’s far too easy to fire off a “Tweet” and make yourself look like a “Twit.” E-mail was the first step towards this, but Twitter takes it to a whole new level. In the amount of time it takes to type <140 characters and click “Send” you can thoroughly embarrass yourself. Got cut off in traffic or they made your latte wrong? Now you can quickly post that rude rant that in the past only your steering wheel would have heard. Now it’s out there for all of your customers and colleagues (and mother, potentially) to see.
    The rapid-fire stream of potentially bad news started with radio, continued with TV, was elevated yet again by CNN and the 24-hour news programs and then taken to it’s current high level by the Internet. Any “moral numbing” that may have happened occurred many years ago.
    The dangers of Twitter today are much more personal and insidious.

  • Some might say 90%+ of tweets are just more of the mindless drivel that ends up polluting ‘teh webturnets 2.x’.
    “means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention.”
    I think this is half the problem. Twitter epitomizes the decrease in ability the population has to maintain concentration on multiple tasks. 140 characters of mental diahorrea imo. We no longer even craft sentences – just vomit thought instead. Much noise with the signal.
    But… its amusing. Its a far sight better than watching an RSS feed and as a business they’ve certainly exploded onto the market.

  • Yes it is dangerous and sucks the time out.
    Occasional update / answering is fine…
    Never link your mobile with Twitter.

  • In my opinion, too much of anything is bad – you name it… too much salt, too much good food, too much work, too much tv, I can go on and on. So what do we do? Well, with everything comes moderation. In the case of social networks, we don’t have anyone telling us when to stop, so it’s up to us really. But why does everyone seem to think the problem is with Twitter? Perhaps it’s because it has created huge impact recently and been featured on the news globally of late? Isn’t the same problem with overload applicable with myspace, facebook, youtube, and anything else that’s readily available online? One needs to decide what information to gather/receive, how much of it to take in, and when too much is too much. I know people who limit and restrict the time they spend on online networks to once or twice a day, at an hour each time. If you think that’s enough for you, then so be it.
    If too much salt is bad for health, we don’t blame or ban the use of salt. Instead, we moderate our intake. The same should be for social media, Twitter or not.
    If too much salt is bad for health, we don’t blame or ban the use of salt. Instead, we moderate our intake. The same should be for social media, Twitter or not.

  • Technology can change the way we communicate. When we change how we communicate, you change the way we think. Twitter is not a drastic change in technology. It’s not as drastic as the Internet, TV, Radio, newspaper, telephone, telegraph, etc. No one suggested the telegraph would destroy our ability to speak in a language other than dots and dashes.
    However, there’s a element here that should not be ignored. The whirlwind of technologies affecting how we interact as a society is and will continue to change how we process the world around us.
    Personally, I believe it is foolish to try to predict that any change will be particularly evil – or good for that matter.
    It helps when you begin to see all humans as a big confused organism and the Internet as an evolutionary change that’s happening right now. This particular change is so big and is happening so fast, it’s almost like a metamorphosis. I’m not just talking about the Internet over the past few decades, but all of our communication technology advancements over the past couple of centuries.
    I’m trying to put things into scope, into perspective. Notice how rapidly things are changing now. Also notice that progressively over time, the changes are coming more and more rapidly.
    The momentum is huge. What does this suggest about the next 5 years? 50? If anyone truly knew where we’re headed, we wouldn’t need to take this path to get there… we could just be there.
    Once a wider perspective is adopted, a suggestion that twitter is going to have a huge negative impact on our psychological development is laughable. It may be true that something is going to have a negative impact… but if that’s the case – it probably won’t be (just) twitter. Give the current climate of technology, twitter may not be relavant long enough for any changes to actually happen.
    And that is why that article is silly.

  • Yet another way to waste time during the day…

  • Twitter is addictive, you’ll end up twittering more than blogging. Sure, twitter is fun and it’s easy. Twitter is great. I sometimes need the distractions from work!

  • Bill James

    I don’t know, but Twitter’s campaign of buzz marketing on LinkedIn and elsewhere deserves a gold star. I’m sick to death of questions about twitter on LinkedIn. Twitter sucks.

  • Guenter Uhl

    I wonder about the openness of people, writing online what they do and what they think. What wonders me is that nobody really thinks about that on the net are some real bad people (predators) who are just interested in stuff like this.
    Don’t be paranoid, but it helps!

  • Cool article, Ali! Thanks for sharing this.
    I don’t think it’s really about Twitter. As stated by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang in the article, it’s about being bombarded by an endless stream and not connecting to what is being presented. We do this in our lives everyday. When we use a debit or credit card, we don’t really feel the impact of giving money away, even when the good or service is essential and desired.
    I think the reason Twitter gets mentioned is because it’s the first system that comes to mind with regard to chatter. Plus I will argue that Twitter is not being branded well — too many questions pop up about what it is and how it is used. The open-end quality of Twitter allowed it to generate buzz, but it also left it open to associations such as that displayed in the article.
    Thanks for reading my comments. Best of luck!

  • Robert Hossary

    Hi Ali,
    Wow there is a lot of heated discussion about this one. The one important thing I noticed is that of all the 21 answers so far only Pierre mentions the study and the researcher.
    I think that this forum may be the exception to Assistant Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s observations. She claimed that it should take “six to eight seconds to fully respond to stories of virtue or social pain”. That means social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc and News reports that are delivered too quickly would not allow the time required to fully absorb the details and the impact on our fellow humans in that time.
    Maybe so. I could not find the complete research online so I cannot make a comment on methodology or findings. Is what has been reported a generalization of the findings? Are the comments taken out of context by the media? (It wouldn’t be the first time). However what we see here is responses to a question that would have taken less than 5 seconds to read. Obviously some people are capable to be emotionally involved and motivated by just reading the headline.
    “Is Twitter Dangerous?” In the environment of the psychological study that was conducted…..perhaps. If people are desensitized to life due to upbringing or other dysfunctional issues then the use of these micro blogging tools may have the effect described. In the environment of well adjusted people that have been taught right and wrong and the respect of others then I think not. In the professional arena that we are all in now, absolutely not.
    Twitter is a tool to be used. Like all tools it can be useless, productive or dangerous. Learn how to use the tools of your trade and they are all safe and productive.

Leave a Reply