Twitter best captures public irreverence to pomposity and the powers-that-be

The Twitter world is divided into two kinds of people, those who are funny and those who try.

And nothing gets them going like a jolly controversy, particularly one that involves politicians — an easy target, always — and pornography. Of course, there's still them blogs and Facebook, but Twitter, with its sense of ‘right here, right now' (something that Facebook's Timeline tries to emulate) appears to be where every current event is made light of, ripped apart, hash-tagged and, of course, wildly re-tweeted.

Hash-tag bash

This week, for instance, it was all about the three Ministers from Karnataka who were caught watching porn on their phones in the Legislative Assembly when the House was in session. For at least two whole days, tweeple (people using Twitter) seemed to be gripped by what has been christened #PornGate (yes, every event these days is reduced to a single hash tag on Twitter).

So jokes ranged from the genuinely clever, funny and to the lame and obscene. Though many cannot be mentioned here in print, quite a few had to do with the ministers' state of mind and being, and even offered them advice on how to tide through these, ahem, hard times.

On Facebook, a space that doesn't stifle your creativity to 140 measly characters (for those who've been living under a rock for the past six years, that's the word limit for a single Tweet), there were more elaborate forms of humour such as morphed pictures, couplets and political satire.

The last time when social media in India went viral was the Shahrukh Khan-Shirish Kundar brawl (predictably, christened #SlapGate).

Does something about Twitter, or its format, inspire everyone to try their hand at humour? Perhaps, it's the brevity — the soul of wit, remember? —- that the platform demands. “It's also probably because it's difficult to be profound in 140 characters,” offers Nishant Shah, researcher at the Centre for Internet and Society, who tracks social media closely. Another factor could be what he calls the “gamification aesthetic” of web 2.0. “This is because our social networking sites and writing platforms are performances of a certain kind... they allow us to convert our everyday lives into games — with rewards, actions, punishments or rules.”

More immediate

Ask Ramesh Srivats, a hugely funny ad man who's wildly popular on Twitter for his one-liners, and he believes that online humour, particularly so on Twitter, is fun because its immediate, more observational, real and allows people an opportunity to be irreverent.

There're no sacred cows here. And there's a certain mood that Twitter sets up, often depending on what's current; the rest is about timing. “Twitter doesn't allow you to analyse or discuss an issue… I'd rather do that on Facebook or elsewhere,” he explains. So is there pressure to say the next-most-funny thing on Twitter? “Of course not. If something comes to mind, I say it. It's just like a conversation among friends,” Mr. Srivats laughs.

Why not Facebook?

It's not that there aren't other forms of humour online — there are videos, blogs, Facebook pages and so on. There are indeed some incredibly humorous bloggers — many of them, however, have migrated to Twitter. But it's the mood that Twitter creates. Facebook, on the other hand, allows for more expression of angst, grief and even activism. Mr. Shah says that Facebook is to sadness what Twitter is to humour; perhaps, it is a more “nurturing and personalised space”.

The “gaming aesthetic” on Facebook, however, does exist with memes, videos, picture remixes and so on, he says. “But unlike Twitter, here the attempt is not to be merely humorous... banter on Facebook is about a post or an object, where as banter on Twitter is about the banter itself!

Keywords: hash tagsTwitter