A decade of cynicism directed @ Twitter

Pessimists Archive
3 min readMar 22, 2016


10 years ago Twitter launched and was met with cynicism, ridicule and accusations of frivolity.


Early criticism of Twitter focused on its uselessness. Tim Ferris called it “pointless email on steroids,” Noam Chomsky labelled it “shallow,” George Clooney said it was “stupid” and British Prime Minister David Cameron declared “too many tweets make a twat.”


When it became clear there was a point to Twitter, many decided that point was satisfying narcissism. A story in the Times of London titled “A load of Twitter” quoted psychologist Oliver James saying:

“Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”

The byline to the article read “Feel the need to tell everyone everything you’re doing all of the time? Then tweeting is for you.” A research study concluded that Twitter users were more narcissistic than Facebook users.

National Security Threat

When it became clear that the possible uses of Twitter extended beyond satisfying narcissism (e.g. activism), governments began to worry. If good people could use Twitter to plan and coordinate large groups of people, couldn’t terrorists, too?

In 2008 the Army’s 304th Military Intelligence Battalion released an intelligence report laying out the potential threats posed by Twitter in the hands of terrorists. M.G. Siegler wrote a scathing critique on VentureBeat, arguing that Twitter’s public nature in fact made it the worst communication medium for planning acts of terror.

Information Overload!

Whenever technology makes information cheaper and more accessible people cry “information overload.” They did it with paperback books, they did it with television and Twitter was no different.


Ruining Attention Spans

According to some, Twitter has decimated our delicate attention spans — the same attention spans TV supposedly destroyed decades earlier.


In 2013 the New York Times published a story titled ‘The Twitter Trap’ that compared giving your kid a social media account to giving him a crack pipe. Adweek declared that Twitter and other social media services were “ruining our minds” and NY Daily News reported:

“An Oxford University scientist has warned that sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered.”


Twitter is now seen as so important and useful, people hold it so dear to their heart that there is backlash at the prospect of Twitter making any significant changes. When there was a rumor about an ‘algorithmic’ timeline, #RIPtwitter started trending. ‘Moments’ was ridiculed and so were hearts.

As a Twitter employee at that time put it the day #RIPTwitter was trending:

We couldn’t have said it better.