Tweeting is for the birds: let’s not help multi-billion dollar companies with free advertising

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:41am

Call me a dinosaur, but I refuse to recognise the word “tweet” professionally in any context other than the sound a bird makes. As far as I’m concerned, “he tweeted” means he made a weak chirping sound, just like a little bird. If you’re referring to the act of posting a message on the Twitter website, then say it as it is: “he posted a message on Twitter”.

The social-networking website has more than half a billion users and its owners are raking in billions of dollars. Now why would I help a company that is rolling in cash fulfil the ultimate corporate advertising dream – getting the rest of the world to use its name like it’s part of the English language?

The same goes for all the free advertising we give other internet giants these days. I’m not “googling” anything and I’m not busy – ever – “facebooking”, “youtubing” or any other ludicrous substitutions for intransitive verbs when I’m using the services of commercial companies.

The French government took it to extremes back in 2011 when it decided to ban the words “Facebook” and “Twitter” in television or radio news broadcasts, unless it was essential to the story itself. I thought it was a bit too much, as that meant they would not even be allowed to put a chirpy line at the end of a newscast saying “Follow us on Twitter for the latest”, but I fully agreed with the philosophy behind the move – that news programmes should not be promoting commercial enterprises.

With the mainstream media using “tweet” regularly in the non-avian context, Twitter has been laughing all the way to the bank –and getting carried away in the process. I remember Twitter trying to teach the world a few years ago how to use its brand name “correctly” in the general lexicon, such as ensuring that “tweet” is written with a capital T. Give me a break.

I don’t know how many Hongkongers remember this, but in the early 1980s a local TV station found itself in hot water when it ran a report about contaminated instant noodles. The reporter used the ubiquitous “Gong Zai Meen” as a generic term for instant noodles, in the same way that people were using Xerox as a verb for the act of photocopying, and as a noun for the photocopy itself. Unfortunately for the broadcaster, the instant noodle manufacturer with the actual brand name Gong Zai Meen was not amused as its own product was not involved in the food scare. The company sued and, as part of the settlement, the station paid for the blunder by running daily Gong Zai Meen advertisements before its evening newscasts for an entire year.

I’m not oblivious to the joys and benefits of social media in this internet-driven age, especially considering my own line of work. But pardon me if I’m not into wholesale “sharing”, which is why I still don’t have a Facebook account like the rest of planet Earth. Posting pictures of myself (yes, yes, selfies, I know) online every few hours in various stages of mundane activity is meaningless to me. I don’t expect anyone to give a hoot about my mood swings, just like I’m not interested in being kept informed about theirs on Facebook.

I’m not ridiculing people who post details of their romantic relationships on Facebook for public consumption, with daily photographic and textual updates. But they should keep in mind how embarrassing it is for others in their circle when the exhibitionist relationship ends. Every reference to the big love story, including those “happy together” photos, mysteriously disappears from their Facebook pages, and everyone who dutifully “liked” the updates suddenly has to politely pretend nothing has happened. It makes me cringe.

No offence to the “Twitterati” – God, that word – but I think the learned ladies and gentlemen who allowed “tweet” with or without a capital T into our dictionaries should be lined up and beaten senseless with one of those particularly large books. Tweet that, buddy!