My Break Up Note to Twitter
Happy New Year Twitter. In 2018 I plan to spend a lot less time with you.
Technically this isn’t a break up note. You have no idea I exist. We’re not in a relationship. Not really. You give me room to splay a random thought. You let me see what strangers I call “friends” are up to. You allow me to tag famous people in my posts with this weird expectation that there’s a chance they will see it. Which they never do. Except the one time Suzanne Vega liked my tweet that was kind of awesome. And Dee from “Battestar Galactica” actually replied to me once and tagged David Anders. I nearly crapped my pants.
But that was before, Twitter. You’ve changed man. That was before the tidal waves of harassment. It was before Leslie. It was before the bots. It was before everything ending with “-gate.” It was before thousands of memes of black people next to Harambe the Gorilla. It was before I realized that you allowed things to be said that wouldn’t be allowed on line in Starbucks.
Let me repeat. The shift manager at Starbucks would not allow dialogue that you defend. She’s braver than you. And she’s 22.
I watched what happened to Leslie Jones in real time. And I was mad at myself every time I hit refresh rather than closing my browser. I’m not the documentarian of modern day human existence. Reading the messages she retweeted was like watching the end of a bullfight. She wasn’t throwing punches. She was literally asking “why is this happening?”
Twitter People with the power to exact change watched this happen and barely changed a thing. I saw a post recently with a picture of Michelle Obama next to a picture of a chimpanzee. That’s free expression. But post a picture of butt cleavage and your account gets suspended.
Retweet too often and you’ll get a warning message. It’s a good thing the bots are set to retweet at a nice and even pace.
More than anything, what confuses me, Twitter, is the inability to tell what’s real and what’s not. Ten thousand likes for a post about the world being flat? Really? I can shake my head and sigh at that.
But when you’ve created an environment where someone can create gigantic engines to spread the word they want the world to hear, and you take no responsibility for that message…
… you are complicit.
The postal service is open to everyone. But mailing something harmful is a federal offense. The postal service holds us all responsible for that. They make rules and there are repercussions.
It’s about time that Twitter People (with the power to change things) admit that The Rock tweeting the names of his biceps and an organized campaign to demean and belittle an individual are two fundamentally different things. That they are both dressed up in the same number of characters makes no difference. If you don’t realize this, you are being purposefully ignorant. A love note elicits a smile. A note from a kidnapper alerts the authorities.
But somehow a tweet about “Look What You Made Me Do” and a tweet saying my children should drink bleach are both tweets with equal protection under the terms of service. And everyone has a right to tweet. What can you do? (Twitter board room throws up their hands).
If only the person who tweeted my children should drink bleach had posted a nip slip. Then BOY would they be in trouble.
I recently decided that I didn’t want my Twitter experience to be one of sadness and demoralization. I muted a bunch of words that normally top the trending list. I didn’t do this to avoid news. I’m up on the news, and there was a time I appreciated Twitter for keeping me up on the news. What pained me was the reaction to the news. When I’d read a tweet from a news correspondent and then make the mistake of reading the replies to that tweet.
Reading Twitter replies are now like reading the comments on YouTube. And everyone knows. You NEVER read the comments on YouTube.
I’m not 100% sure what it is you want your place in the online community to be. There are people who love Reddit. But anyone with knowledge of Reddit understands what Reddit is. With Reddit you pick your neighborhood. And you understand that if you venture into another neighborhood, you might not like what you see.
But Twitter, you seem to be throwing everyone into the same pool, while at the same time holding firm that there are rules — rules with a loft-space for interpretation. Bondage Porn people will never bother me on Reddit, because I’m in the “Impractical Jokers” Subreddit.
On Twitter, I can follow Leslie Jones because I love her on SNL. And then one random night I’m watching her be menaced for hours in hundreds of tweets. And somehow that is the double-edged sword of the spirit of the platform? Huh.
I rewatched one of my favorite episodes of Peaky Blinders recently. The protagonist, a 1920’s British gangster named Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy) is complaining to his rival Alfie Solomon (destroyed by the amazing Tom Hardy) that some pain Alfie’s inflicted had crossed the line.
Alfie delivers one of the best speeches I’ve heard in modern motion pictures. The essence is… “What is it that you think we do? We’re fucking gangsters, you idiot? Why are we talking about rules?”
I think Twitter is Alfie Solomon in this respect. “Yeah, we have very few rules. That’s what we were founded on, dude. For people to come here and say what they want. And you can like it or you can ignore it. If it really bothers you, you can block it. But anyone has the right to say it.”
We make fun of institutions like The New York Times or AOL who didn’t see the open web revolution coming. We’re more lax on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube for harnessing the power of the open web without realizing the repercussions.
People can come here and say what they want. But we didn’t know there could be fake people. Not in these numbers. And we didn’t realize that anonymity would embolden some pretty messed up thoughts.
You can like it or you could ignore it. But we didn’t count on people with capital investing on engineered “likes” that took full advantage of our algorithms. We didn’t count on people with agendas playing within our rules to make it harder for you to ignore what they say.
Anyone has the right to say it on our platform. But we didn’t predict the hurt people could direct and organize by the millions for their brand or for nefarious of reasons. We didn’t realize that voices that were marginalized for their defiance of the social contract could be legitimized by leveraging the anonymity of our platform.
We didn’t know that at some point the emptiness of our rules would go against our conscience. But then again our conscience doesn’t bring us traffic. And traffic is cash. So there’s that.
I’m glad you’re successful and popular. And on some level I still appreciate what you’ve brought to me. But I’m just not happy anymore whenever we get together. I need a break. Sadly to say, people are nicer at Starbucks.