Why I Quit Twitter and Twitter Activism

Brian Steele
Nov 21, 2016 · 6 min read
Pictured: The preferred method of dealing with any disagreement on Twitter.

Before August 2014, I was not a very vocal user of Twitter. I mostly used it to tweet obscene jokes at the few meatspace friends I had on it, follow sports I didn’t care to watch in something resembling real time, and complain about video games directly to developer twitter accounts. And then in August 2014… If you already know who I am enough to be reading this, then you’re well aware of what happened that eternal August.

In the year and some that followed, I became a vocal proponent of social justice concepts and spurred on by the community that formed ad hoc around various types of activism, particularly that pertaining to games, further enmeshed myself in the social network and it became my support network to compensate for the lack of one in my direct personal interactions. I had an audience of people who actually cared about me and liked my ramblings about video games, social justice issues, and (towards the end of my tenure on the site) philosophy and theology.

And then I couldn’t take it anymore. And then I quit.

The impetus for this was mostly that the website is shit. Utter, pure, shit. I mean the actual structure of it. Of course Twitter’s systemic issues with being entirely unable to deal with any sort of abuse whatsoever are well-documented (I’d argue that, with the executives being Freezepeach Libertarianbros, they don’t want to and never will deal with harassment on their platform). I mean the actual website is shit for activism. 140 characters is not enough, and no, being able to thread tweets together is not an acceptable workaround. Twitter’s greatest selling point, its microblogging format, is also why the site is completely untenable as outreach for activism and discourse. The key word is nuance.

Talking on Twitter requires one to completely discard nuance textually, because often one cannot fit clarifications and extrapolations into a single tweet, and often requires auxiliary tweets. The problem with talking without nuance is that, eventually, one begins thinking without nuance. I noticed it happening in myself as time went on that it became harder and harder to express myself consistently in chunks of text much larger than 140 characters. I could not, for instance, sit down and write out a paragraph out in one go detailing my own views. I could pound out one or two sentences at a go, but my own thoughts had become segmented and rather simplistic, and ended up taking the format of “Thought. Okay, now nuance and clarification. New thought. More nuance and cla- oh crap, I need to expand more on the clarifications of first thought.”

The lack of nuance, finally, began to infect discourse at large. People have begun to think that when a person expresses a singular thought, then does not expand on it further, that their thinking must then necessarily proceed in a straight line from that. Take for example, the statement “Don’t kill people.” Obviously, there are situations where killing a person is perfectly warranted and can even be called for. But “Twitter thinking” proceeds from the statement “don’t kill” and, absent subsequent clarifications and elucidations, it will become the belief that the owner of the statement “don’t kill” refuses to believe any situations can possibly bend or even break the statement.

Everything becomes absolute.

And when everything is absolute, then there are absolute levels of Correct and Incorrect. When this sort of thinking begins to infect discourse, there start to become fractures in communities when people can’t quite agree on what Correct is. And then, you add on the final layer that, in social justice contexts, you often deal with people who are in very vulnerable positions and extremely prone to being abused. Thus matters of Correct and Incorrect start to become issues of morality, and indictments on one’s characters. If you are Correct, you are good and holy, and a great person. If you are Incorrect, you are problematic, and an abuser, and somebody to be put on blocklists, proscribed, and forgotten. And this is a binary, not a spectrum, even as different communities might have different opinions. Thus somebody can be Correct in one community and be generally liked and befriended, while they are Incorrect in another community and ritually burned in effigy and held up as the Social Justice Antichrist.

Take for example, well, myself. Likely you came across this post because you’re a friend of mine on Facebook or a friend of mine shared it on Twitter, and if you’re a friend of my friend you’d probably have a positive disposition toward me. Yet the vast majority of harassment and abuse I fielded on Twitter came not from the alt-right, Gamergate, or any other slimy festering seepage from the right wing, but pretty universally from other people on the left wing who could not abide by my heterodox opinions on activism and discourse. In fact, my very first doxing scare on Twitter came directly from leftists who were mad that I was not lefting hard enough for their tastes. This happened even as most lefties who were not these people doing these things liked me pretty well. In the eyes of the people trying to wreck me, I was Incorrect and thus needed to be put on blast as bad as reactionaries and Nazis.

The breaking point, though, was the election of one Donald J. Trump. In the wake of that event, the tectonic plates of lefty Twitter pretty well shattered. Especially after the contentious Democratic primary season, a lot of the longer-standing post-Gamergate Twitter “villages” had mostly been held together by an uneasy alliance between lefties who hated Clinton but would vote for her anyway to stave off a Trump presidency, and “liberals” who largely did not see Clinton as that odious of a candidate. After the election however, those tensions exploded. All sides began lobbing accusations of Incorrectness at each other and even wider fissures began opening up between people on the left wing and those they perceived to be on their right.

Almost entirely forgotten in this epistemological war are the vulnerable people that most of us, I’d bet, originally signed on to the idea of leftism and social justice for. In a moment where we needed unity and to band together to protect the weakest among us, we instead chose to enter an incredibly dangerous, tumultuous era in our history in complete disarray and with copious amount of backstabbing, all over perceived issues of purity and Correctness. We want to dunk on PoC who backed Clinton over Sanders for not having seen the writing on the wall even as they might fear for their lives for what a Trump presidency might bring on them. We want to screencap and laugh at queer people who enthusiastically supported Clinton as they face the possibility of a Vice President who wants to stick electrodes into their frontal lobes and shock them until they’re either dead or lobotomized.

And if you just read the above paragraph and took issue with it because “But we need to have dialogue on how to move forward as a left wing” then you fell into precisely the same “Twitter Thinking” trap that I outlined earlier. Of course we need dialogue on how to proceed from here, that’s such an obvious non-statement that one shouldn’t even have to feel compelled to actually put it out there to avoid uncharitable readings of what they said.

I’m much too attached to many of the genuine friends I made on Twitter to stay away from it forever. But I am going to be staying away from it for a long time. In the meantime let’s please research ways to take the cement block off the Discourse gas pedal. The needle is perpetually stuck at 11 when it could really stand to be 5 or even less most of the time. Consider that maybe not every unsaid belief of somebody you disagree with on a specific subject also disagrees with you. Also consider how differences in methodology are not differences in philosophy. Somebody can agree with you that capitalism is bad but disagree with you on how best to resolve the situation. Stop treating this difference of opinions as a moral failing. Morality, ethics, and philosophy are not binary “right” and “wrong” and justice discourse on Twitter needs to move on from that idea, or else we’re doomed to repeat history and repeatedly consign ourselves to being ruled by an ever decreasing amount of reactionaries, who, though less than us in number, are more unified in ideology and purpose and can exert their will.

Brian Steele

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An autistic enby.