Bits and Behavior
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Bits and Behavior

An illustration of a blue Twitter logo with a white bird and several stick figures climbing a top it into a human pyramid, some falling off, and two people on the other side of the illustration having a conversation.
Twitter requires level 20 wizard communication skills and I don’t have them.

I’m (mostly) leaving Twitter

  • I shouldn’t have written a poorly worded, poorly timed tweet about my despair.
  • I shouldn’t have tried to better explain my despair when people expressed that my words had done harm.
  • I shouldn’t have read that tweet out of order and out of context in March and let it drive my inaction; a closer read would have prevented a lot of suffering.
  • I shouldn’t have tried to explain my lack of support over email; I should have just accepted that I didn’t act and apologized.
  • After many people reached out to see if I was okay, I shouldn’t have answered that call publicly, because it directed community attention away from the harm I’d done.
  • I shouldn’t have written another apology online that coupled my belated support with a bunch of whitesplaining about our collective responsibility to be anti-racist.
  • There’s never enough context. No matter how long the tweet or the thread, it’s simply not a good medium for sharing the history, position, perspective, values, commitments, or motivations behind an idea or perspective. I’ve seen this over and over as I fail to successfully communicate on the platform, and as I fail to successfully interpret what people’s tweets mean. We must know each other to know what we mean. But that’s not possible on Twitter alone.
  • Context collapse exacerbates misinterpretation. When I say something unclear, it’s bad enough that the people who know me in real life might not know what I mean. But Twitter makes this worse, by showing tweets out of order when in “recommended” mode, segregating tweets that convey critical context in combination, providing little visibility into who is being spoken to or about what. I rarely know who I’m talking to or who anyone else is ever talking to — even when I’m talking to someone I know directly, there are other strangers who are listening—and so any attempt at conversation tends to reduce to misunderstanding. Calls to “read the room”, which are totally reasonable in an in-person small group setting, are nearly impossible on Twitter, where everyone sees a different room, has different context, and is hearing different things.
  • Twitter is a hollow way to be seen. It helped me a lot as I came out and was in deep need for gender affirmation. I think that was truly valuable and necessary for me personally. But it is no substitute for genuine relationships. I started with very few of those after coming out, lost many of them during lockdowns, and have only just begun to rebuild them. As much as Twitter can help start relationships, is not the platform on which to build them (and honestly, neither is Facebook, Slack, Discord, email, or even Zoom). I will build trust in the old fashioned way from now on, in-person when possible, with all of the messy challenges of turn-taking and listening. That’s hard enough to get right, and I think far more meaningful.
  • It’s too easy to take up space. Sometimes when I tweet I’m broadcasting to a very specific group of people. In my early days on Twitter with a few hundred followers, only some of whom saw what I posted, that was workable. But as my follower count has risen, I keep forgetting that every time I post, there are at a minimum, thousands, if not tens of thousands of people who will see it, most of whom I’ve never met and don’t really know who I am. That’s way too much space to be taking up; my voice is simply not that important. And the platform is largely designed to incentivize taking up space. That’s not the incentive I want.
  • It is not a place for repair. Calling in is a necessary part of a healthy community; we have to be challenged on our ideas and words, to make space for learning. None of us understands every perspective, every problem, or every need — certainly not me—and there has to be space for that learning, otherwise nothing changes. Even calling out has a place, especially in public settings where the harm of not calling someone out outweighs the harm of public shaming. But Twitter is primarily designed for calling out, and it leads to forms of calling out that are abusive, destructive, and often invisible to the crowd, and often vastly out of proportion to someone’s mistake, and even when there was no mistake. I want to build community, not destroy it, and so I don’t want to participate in that abuse. (And of course, I don’t want to receive it).
  • I’m not myself in tweets. On my best days, my sense of how I am when talking in person is someone who is a kind, patient, curious, and vulnerable listener. I don’t always succeed at that — when I’m stressed, I’m sometimes impatient, assertive, authoritative, or oblivious in harmful ways—but overall, I feel like I’ve learned to be a constructive communicator and build trust when I talk to someone face to face. But online — whether email, Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Discord, DMs—most of those listening skills are lost, and all that’s left of me is the impatient, assertive, authoritative, and oblivious person I first saw on Facebook interacting with my extended family. I’m my worst self and I hurt people.
  • To amplify others. I recognize that I have a platform and that it has value. When there’s work I find that I want to be seen, I will amplify it. If you want your work seen, and don’t have a platform of your own, send me a note, and I’ll amplify it. My account is a resource that can be valuable to reach others, so let’s use it that way.
  • To share. There are things that I write (like this mea culpa) that I want to be read. I’ll continue to use it to share writing, or resources, or other creations that might be helpful to others. But I’ll be sticking to media like long form writing, carefully curated talks, and research papers, where I give myself time and space to think about what I’m saying, and ensure it has enough context to make my ideas clear. Written and spoken communication deserves time, reflection, and iteration, and Twitter encourages the opposite.
  • To listen. There are still so many voices on Twitter I want to hear from. I’ve learned so much in the past 13 years on the platform from Black folks, from people with disabilities, from trans and queer communities, from people globally facing unseen tragedies, and from countless thought leaders who’ve reshaped how I think about the world. I still think it’s a powerful platform for listening when we purposefully use it in that way. I just think I should all be a little more thoughtful before I say something, and a little more careful when I read.



This is the blog for the Code & Cognition lab, directed by professor Amy J. Ko, Ph.D. at the University of Washington. Here we reflect on our individual and collective struggle to understand computing and harness it for justice. See our work at

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Amy J. Ko

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.