Twitter’s Great Depression
I left Twitter on January 1st.
Yet, I am jonesing.
I’ve been on Twitter for over 10 years. I’ve met a ton of great people on there. And up until recently it’s been fun! (I wrote about my whole history with Twitter a while back.) It was often the first thing I checked in the morning and the last thing I checked at night. It was like air. And then it wasn’t fun anymore. (Some would argue that for them, it was never fun. And that distinction was/is often based along gender and racial lines.) And now it’s gone from not being fun to being toxic.
I’ve written about depression before. Like a ton of people, I have to deal with it. (Like, less-than-a-ton of people I’m lucky enough to have access to care when I need it.) One of the warning signs for me is when I can’t tell the difference between a big problem and a small problem. My brain stops prioritizing. Every problem comes at me at exactly the same size. This is depression taking away a major coping mechanism. And that’s exactly what was happening on Twitter. Every outrage was becoming the exact same size. Whether it was a US president declaring war on a foreign nation, or an actor not wearing the proper shade of a designated color to an awards ceremony. On Twitter those problems become exactly the same size. They receive the same amount of outrage. They’re presented identically. They’re just as big as one another. Twitter works like a giant depressed brain. It can’t tell right from wrong, and it can’t tell big from small. It needs help.
The thing is, my brain works that way because it’s broken, so I get it treatment. Twitter works that way by design. Twitter is working exactly like Twitter’s leadership team wants it to be working. The constant outrage, the hatred, the anxiety, the harassment — it’s all by design. It’s engagement. And engagement brings them money and raises their stock price. They have no interest in changing it. If they wanted to change it they would’ve taken real steps to do so.
Twitter’s never taken a step against harassment. They’ve taken steps to stop bad PR. That is very different. And you might think that’s a cynical viewpoint, but when Donald Trump tweets about nuclear war with North Korea, Twitter packages it into an email blast to make sure you see it. They are monetizing that moment of panic.
So I left. I left because I believe Twitter has a social responsibility to help make the world a better place. All companies do. We need to challenge the idea that a CEO’s primary mission is to make money for shareholders. That may be one of their missions, but to single that out as a primary mission is irresponsible. Society simply can’t afford for your business to make money without regard to the impact it has on the environment. We learned this when McDonald’s cleared the Amazon to raise beef. Society simply can’t afford for your business to make money without regard to the impact it has on your clients physical well-being. We learned this when Philip Morris was knowingly shoving cancer in our lungs. Society simply can’t afford for your business to make money without regard to the impact it has on our mental well-being. We’re learning this now as Jack Dorsey lines the bank accounts of his shareholders with the fruits of our anxiety.
Twitter has purposefully, knowingly used anxiety and fear to build a business. Donald Trump may indeed be the instrument of our destruction, but Jack Dorsey handed him the platform to do it. Twitter is the most dangerous company in the world, and it’s run by an idiot.
At this point I truly believe Twitter to be a toxic product. It poisons your mind. It’s harmful and hazardous to your mental health. And furthermore I believe everyone in a leadership position at Twitter knows this as well, and they continue to peddle the toxicity. (If you’re arguing they don’t realize the toxicity of their product, please consider that may actually be worse.) Twitter makes money by hurting you. They are no better than big tobacco or big pharma. They’re willing to trade your health for profit.
So I left. But before I left I wrote Jack Dorsey’s resignation letter. Because I wanted this to be the kind of universe where that object existed.
Over the past couple of years I’ve given Jack Dorsey a lot of shit. To be fair, he’s ruined the world.medium.com
It’s been two weeks since I’ve sent a tweet. The app’s still on my phone. (They say the best way to quit is with a pack still in your pocket.) The account’s still up for practical reasons. First off, I use it to log in to several things. Yeah, I can change that, but it’s a pain in the ass. More importantly, people still DM me once in a while, and some of those are business leads, which I don’t want to lose. Plus, I’ve got embedded tweets all over the place, and other folks have embedded my tweets in their own articles. So if I actually shut down the account things break. I don’t want things to break any more than they already have.
But for all intents and purposes I am gone. At least until things change.But I’ve moved it off the home screen. Replaced it with Duolingo. I’m learning Portuguese. (I only really knew enough to chat with my parents before this.) I’m reading more. I’m no less aware of the news of the day than I was before. I read news sites I trust. I read for pleasure. But holy shit, I am not freaking the fuck out all the time.
I used to encourage you to follow me on Twitter. Now I encourage you to follow me out. You’ll be happier. You’ll be able to breathe.
This essay first showed up on my newsletter, which is the bestest way to keep up with me now that I’ve kicked the habit. Sign up!