Social media enters new realm: Mr. Smith tweets from prison

| Forum Editor

Jeff Smith is tweeting. From prison.

Well, technically he is e-mailing his tweets to a former aide to post on his behalf, but close enough.

This 134-character announcement is a fairly typical example of the jail posts released by JeffSmith7037 thus far: “got elbowed in the paint today on b-ball court, t-shirt bloody, had to tell guard asap to make sure i don’t get in trouble 4 fighting.”

It’s certainly a bit of a shift from his earlier tweets about state politics and meeting constituents.

For anyone who had previously doubted the total penetration of social media into all sectors of our society, I think this is pretty incontrovertible proof that such technologies can now be found anywhere and everywhere.

Once upon a time, a prison sentence meant total isolation. Now, going to jail apparently means having an opportunity to share with your followers a whole new chapter in your life.

But even for those living on the outside of the iron bar windows, new tools like Twitter are making a dramatic and lasting impact on the way we differentiate between the public and private domains.

Before Twitter, Facebook and the like, you had to attract media attention in order to broadcast your message to the world. In other words, someone else had to find you and your comments worth sharing. Now the only person who must appreciate your remarks before they are released to a list of followers is you.

The advent of self-publishing has led to a criminal overabundance of status updates about recent meals and sleeping habits. (Why, oh why, would you think anyone wants to know what you ate for breakfast?) For some people, no topic is too personal to be shared.

Furthermore, these technologies encourage and reward the divulgence of what was once private. Followers appreciate candid, personal anecdotes. They shun overly polished talking points.

Yet social media has also democratized the way we share information. Anyone and any message has a shot in an age when no one needs media elites to deem them relevant anymore; they just need an Internet connection.

If that seems self-evident, imagine Jeff Smith in prison before the advent of such portals. The only way to hear from him would be through word of mouth contact or from a reporter who took an interest. Smith’s words would be delivered, if at all, at a time and with a spin far removed from his control. Now, instead, we hear from Smith on his terms.

It means Smith has a chance to remake his image without outside interference. On a broader level, it means we are now receiving more of our information straight from the source, but it also means we have to become our own skeptics rather than relying on the objectivity of a reporter.

So long, filters.

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