Has Twitter replaced sex?

Has Twitter mania gone over the top?

One of the many luminaries I follow on Twitter is PornStarTweet. (I make these sacrifices just for you, I hope you realize that.) Earlier Friday he/she/them tweeted the following:

Pornstars sent 2210 tweets and 86 photos yesterday! @JaylaStarr was #1 with 122 tweets. Miss anything?

So I have to ask: If you're tweeting at a rate of once every four minutes, how do you have time to do anything else? (And by "anything else," you know exactly what I mean, Miss Anything.)

[ Brush up on InfoWorld's 10 commandments of social media etiquette -- if it's not too late. | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

I think we've officially hit the tipping point. I may have said that before, but this time I really mean it. When Twitter overtakes sex, something has gone terribly wrong.

Twitseria is hardly limited to the silicone set. Oprah, Ashton, members of Congress, the rumor-crazed media -- everybody is suffering from a bad case of social mediatis. And that could end up having some nasty consequences.

Bear with me a moment. Back on April 1, InfoWorld ran a faux news story about Uncle Sam adding Twitter to the federal emergency response network. It read, in part:

In related news, Democratic members of the House of Representatives have introduced a bill designed to ensure the accuracy of the service following complaints from their constituents about misleading messages posted to the site. The bill, titled the Twitter Integrity and Truth Act (TWITA), would lodge penalties of up to [US]$500 per tweet for users who deliberately post false or libelous information on the service.

"With more politicians using Twitter, and more people relying on it for instant news updates, we wanted to provide incentives for people to use it responsibly," said a spokesperson for Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the bill. "We don't need more twits messing with our tweets."

We were kidding. Why would Congress want or need to mess with Twitter? Then I ran across a BoingBoing blog post about the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, currently wending its way through the House, which would do something kinda similar.

Created in response to the tragic death of 13-year-old Megan Meier after she was bullied into committing suicide via MySpace, the bill mandates two years' jail time for anyone who does the following:

... transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior...

"Electronic means" includes "email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages." So there's your Twitter tweets, your Facebook updates, your Plurk ... whatevers, and so on down the line.

Legal blogger Eugene Volokh churns out several everyday scenarios where such a law would violate our First Amendment rights. Pretty much saying anything more controversial than "nice day, ain't it?" could get you in trouble with somebody. As for this blog? Put the cuffs on me now, boys, cuz I'm going down. (And no, I don't mean in that way, Miss Anything.)

As my colleague, the deeply bearded Bill Snyder, notes:

It sounds like hurting someone's feelings is now against the law. Was I a committing a felony when I repeatedly called IBM CEO Sam Palmisano a bozo and a slumdog millionaire in this blog? Much more significantly, what about a journalist or a citizen who uses the Web to beat on the bad behavior of a public official?... As one Bush-era official infamously put it: "People should watch what they say."

I'm not saying cyberbullying should go unpunished. But more deep breathing is clearly in order. Maybe we should have a nationwide day of meditation just to calm the hysteria. Or, at least, a day free of tweets, updates, SMS, etc. -- just to remember what life used to be like back in the days when being social meant leaving your keyboard and actually talking to other people.

Has Twitter mania gone over the top? Have you had your fill of Facebook? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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Robert X. Cringely

InfoWorld
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