Quite a lot of people ask why on earth I haven't given up twitter. Why expose yourself to all that cr*p? Why get so involved with some insubstantial, modish fetish? And -- this tends to be the husband's line -- why complain about how pressed you are and then give any time to Twitter at all? He's not just meaning the time it takes to compose 140 characters, but dealing with the mess when one of them goes viral: and true, after my pointed but relatively innocent little Twitter joke about the M&S ad was turned into "Mary Beard slams M&S for sexism", it did take many patient hours explaining (not always to good effect) that I had never "slammed" anything.
My answer is this. There is nothing inherently the matter with the medium itself; it's us the users, and the uses to which it is put (and, to some extent, the moderation and reporting mechanisms provided by te company concerned). A few years ago we were hailing Twitter as the catalyst of the "Arab Spring" (the 'Twitter revolution" we called it, remember?). Now we are slamming it as one of the forces of sexism and misogyny. It is and was, of course, neither.
The bottom line for me is whether we get more out of the medium than we lose. For some people I suspect the balance isnt clear. But for me, despite the real and sometimes alarming nastiness, I still feel that I have come out ahead. These are a few of my considerations.
1. It's true that I have had (both sent and received) some tweets that have become inconveniently noteworthy, mostly for bad reasons. But most of my twitter activity is nothing like that. I am in touch with lots of kids doing GSCE Latin (and they will approach me much more easily via Twitter than email). I answer loads of questions about the ancient world, about what to visit in Italy, what is a good book on such and such a subject, and so on. And I translate from and into Latin. It's one of the main ways I keep in touch with lots of people (some of them now friends) who are interested in Classics. (Blackburn College.. that's how we met wasnt it? And Devonport High? And lots more, too many to name.)
2. I come across all kinds of wonderful things in newspapers at home and abroad that I woud never usually read. People tweet excellent articles from the New York Times to the Times of India, which kick me out of my comfort zone. And, especially in the archaeological side of my subject, I get all kinds of leads about new discoveries (or museum developments) from all over the world -- things picked up on the grapevine at conferences, or small notices in Turkish newspapers. It's not the main way I keep abreast, but it is one of them.
And there's more...
3. There is a nice interlocutionary element to it, as people respond to what they are listening to on the radio or watching on the television. Sometimes this can be brilliantly funny (if you havent followed @TheVintageYear commentary on The Archers' Omnibus on a Sunday morning, I really recommend it). Sometimes it's offering useful factual or interpretative alternatives, alerting you to different views (which is what @ProfFrancesca has been doing alongside Simon Schama's History of the Jews.) I find myself drawn to it when I hear someone on the radio get some fact about the Ancient World completely garbled (like talking about Nero in the Colosseum -- sorry guys, the Colosseum wasnt built in the reign of Nero). Some of this is trivia, of course, maybe a lot of it (hard not to be trivia in 140 character). But it's often high fibre trivia, and there's a role for that.
4. On the other side, I can get some of the stuff that I publish in unlikely places -- or my blog for that matter, or public lectures -- out there more widely. Now I think there is a bit of a problem of different etiquettes here, and rather different views about what the conventions should be. Some of my very best mates (sorry, hope this isn't going to lose you!) have a tendency to tweet a link to every favourable review or mention of their own books or programmes, which can give their Twitter feed the appearance of a prolonged boast (unless, as a few of them do, they actually tweet the unfavourable ones too... or mention the drop in viewing figures). I'm afraid all that seems to me to get dangerously close to the "naff" (and if I have ever done it, it has been inadvertent). But I do publicize events that I am doing (why not have a full house if you can get it?) and I do often post a link to the blog. Some people are regular readers, but some people will want to read a post about Roman history, but not about Twitter (so tweeting lets them know!). I guess though that some people will think that this is a pretty self-publicising use of Twitter too (not to say veering towards the naff).
So I am happy to be there in the Twittersphere for all its disadvantages. And if people say to me, why dont I just get out of the sphere if I dont like some of the harrassment; why do I spend time pointing it out or complaining? Then my answer is likely to be that we dont tend to respond to playground bullies, by leaving the bullies in charge of the playground.