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Brace yourself, D.C.: Courtland Milloy is learning Twitter.
The fiery Washington Post Metro columnist says his newspaper editors have been putting him through a “social networking tutorial,” that he’s almost done with it, and that his Twitter account launches in July.
The tutorials aren’t just for Milloy, says the Post‘s deputy local editor for digital Jane Elizabeth, though he ‘s part of an early group. “Everybody is going to go through it sooner or later,” says Elizabeth. Elizabeth says the classes have been aimed at pointing out how social media can help reporters. Afterward, the reporters “decide how best to use those tools.”
Milloy is an unlikely candidate to be an early Twitter adopter. Way before the New York Times‘ Bill Keller declared Twitter “the enemy of contemplation,” Milloy called its D.C. users “myopic little twits.” In an interview for a Washington City Paper cover story (“What’s Tweeting Courtland Milloy?“), I asked Milloy what he thought of the Twittersphere he’d skewered, along with other trappings of the District’s newly-arrived young, white, professional class; he he assured me it just wasn’t his thing. “Sounds perverted,” he said mockingly. “Follow me on Twitter, and watch me tweet…”
At the time, it was obvious that Milloy’s ire wasn’t about the social media platform itself, but about the intersection of two phenomenons Milloy has angrily assailed: gentrification and digital vitriol.
Having seen “Chocolate City” at its zenith, Milloy is furious over gentrification. He believes black residents are on a forced march out of the city—-and the age of anonymous digital relationships that give way to ubiquitous hostility disguised as conversation grates at him, as well. He’s called comments on the Post website “vitriol,” and has indicated to me that that they’re often abusive (if sometimes profitable): “I get disturbed because the reality is a person who makes a comment and calls me a nigger, that’s still an ad man’s click.” To Milloy, despite the fact that Twitter users are disproportionately black, the platform is the way in which white newbies and digital vitriol most readily meet.
But that Milloy has put this concern away for now, and is becoming twitterized, is good news. That’s not because it will bring any resolution to the Milloy v. Twitter slugfest, but because a more personal and animated conversation between Milloy, his detractors, and supporters is bound to be informative for everyone.
In an email, Milloy says the move is designed to meet twits on their own turf: The “myopic eyeballs that have been twittered shut to the real world will be pried open so wide they’ll need new facebooks.”
I don’t agree with the racial hyperbole that sometimes shows up in Milloy’s column, but as I argued in November, as the id of an older black generation in D.C., the often blow-back-baiting Milloy is a valuable District asset. Twitter is likely to only increase his worth.
Milloy says he’s batting around the idea of making his Twitter handle @gigabyteme, a name he picked up from “one of those millenials.” Though Elizabeth says the Post “isn’t like, ‘Here are our rules,'” she does think Milloy will probably need to find a different name. “I think we would probably not recommend that,” she says. “We tend to be more transparent.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery