Taking a step back from Twitter
Until recently, if you’d asked me what my favorite social media platform was, I would have answered “Twitter” without hesitation. I was an enthusiastic early adopter, and I’ve used the service constantly for a decade now. I’ve even been a Twitter evangelist of sorts, teaching webinars on the subject to fellow technologists and writing extensively about it for publications like The Social Media Monthly. On Twitter, I’ve made incredibly meaningful friendships within the Red Sox community and here in Queens. Twitter is a place that some of my favorite people in the real world call home. And it was once a home for me, too, but it isn’t anymore.
Twitter’s cesspool of hate
When women boycotted Twitter en masse last month to demand greater accountability for online abuse, I decided to join in as a show of solidarity. Not because I was part of Rose McGowan’s “Rose Army” or anything like that, mind you (though I believe Rose when she says she was raped by Harvey Weinstein). It’s problematic to say the least that the conversation about online harassment seems to have only gotten attention now that famous, influential white women have demanded change. As with many social justice initiatives, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and other marginalized people have been sounding the alarm on this very real danger for years. While they have received countless death and rape threats, Twitter has basically responded with varying degrees of apathy, indifference, and incompetence.
It’s clear to anyone who’s been paying attention (which now includes the US Congress) that Twitter doesn’t care about fixing the problem. Meanwhile, the environment on Twitter is becoming more toxic, not less. While Donald J. Trump appears free to tap out threats of nuclear war using his tiny hands on Twitter—a terms of service violation if I ever heard one—women and people of color are still routinely attacked and silenced, with little to no consequences for the perpetrators involved. It’s disgusting and demoralizing to watch the way Jewish journalists, for example, have been targeted with images of ovens and gas chambers simply for doing their jobs. Many valuable and sorely needed voices have decided to leave the platform altogether, and it’s not hard to understand why.
Breaking: mainlining bad news is bad for you
Since participating in last month’s boycott, I immediately noticed that I felt a lot happier. I also enjoyed a productivity boost (cue that Radiohead song) and began getting work done faster. Appreciating these benefits, I decided to stay off Twitter for as long as it felt right. As I joked to a good friend, “It turns out that when I’m not constantly mainlining bad news every day, I feel better!”
The relentless onslaught of frightening developments since last year’s election has caused many of us to think more carefully about how we expose ourselves to such news and respond to it. This is one way in which I’ve been consciously evaluating my own relationship to information overload (cue that Living Colour song; actually, listen to all of Living Colour’s 1990 Time’s Up album for a prophetic look at this problem).
Of course it is important to keep tabs on the massive danger to our democracy that Trump represents, but at the end of the day you have to do so in a way that allows you to remain centered and balanced—to remain yourself. Only then can you effectively fight for a better world. For me, this now involves limiting my Twitter use. Rather than plugging directly into the mass freakout, I stay up to date with podcasts and trusted news sources. And when the shit hits the fan, as it frequently does under this administration, I have greater capacity to do something about it.
Opting out of the outrage machine
There’s another reason I’ve decided to dial back my Twitter use. Those of us on the left have long been concerned about how Fox News has brainwashed and indoctrinated our fellow Americans who identify as Republicans and/or conservatives (whatever that means these days). GOP politicians have won victory after victory by stoking the outrage machine, constantly throwing red meat to their base and keeping them in a state of righteous anger—a state which they clearly enjoy, prefer, and actively seek. While this produces obvious results for the party machine, progressives question how it actually ends up benefiting those voters.
I see a similar dynamic developing in left-wing circles of Twitter: endless, continual outrage at Trump and the party establishment that made a Faustian bargain with him in order to secure tax cuts for the rich and accelerate our descent into a second Gilded Age. I get the outrage, of course. But nonstop outrage has a way of messing with your psychology and your outlook on the world, and it makes you susceptible to manipulation. Now more than ever, America needs the contributions of critical thinkers from all areas of the political spectrum. That means exercising the judgment to limit our exposure to media that negatively influences the way we think and act in response to current events. Ergo opting out of Twitter.
No grand pronouncements—just an adjustment
There’s this thing that happens on Twitter when someone decides to leave. They tend to make a grand pronouncement in a tweetstorm (or series of tweets), holding something of a virtual press conference to announce in breathless terms that they’ve had enough and they’re quitting for good. They usually come back to Twitter after a certain point, get frustrated again, and the cycle repeats. I don’t see the need to do any of that. Rather than making a black and white decision and needlessly proclaiming it to everyone (really, who cares?), I’m making an adjustment based on what I think is best right now. And I may update my thinking at a later date if I see fit.
This is an approach that’s worked well for me since I started my own business four years ago. The freedom to experiment, to fail, and learn from your experiences is incredibly valuable when you’re self-employed. It offers you the opportunity to learn without limits—that is, if you’re open to doing so. I bring this up because I see now that dialing back my Twitter use has had a very beneficial effect on the bottom line. I finish my work faster, I do a better job, and I have greater capacity to take on more assignments. The business case makes itself. And, as others have noted, why give Twitter free labor and mindspace when it clearly doesn’t give a damn about taking responsibility for the damage it has wrought on our democracy?
Remembering better days gone by
I do miss some things about Twitter: my friends there, first and foremost. Although we can still be in touch with each other, it’s not quite as immediate or as intimate. Now that baseball season’s over I don’t quite feel the pang of missing the chance to watch Red Sox games with fellow fans, but I’m sure I will come Opening Day in the spring—and who knows? Maybe I’ll carve out an exception for that.
But there’s also something ineffable, the humor and sarcasm, that I most certainly miss. Nobody’s quite as funny as some of the folks that hang out on Twitter. And they tend to be a delightfully nerdy crew, which I appreciate. But their signature snark has been crowded out by the 24/7 collective freakout that continues with no sign of abating, and that’s why I’m taking a step back for now.