I’ve only used Twitter for a few months and I did like a lot of it. The best part by far was following and listening to some incredible people. Patrick McKenzie is one among many, but if you look at what he says on a daily basis, you’ll know what I mean. I can be endlessly entertained and learn a lot from what folks like him say.
There’s also the feeling of being the first one to know things. I often came across news or memes well before everyone else who wasn’t on twitter. Jan 6th, 2021 was a good example. I spent the whole day refreshing twitter, horrified by what I saw. It didn’t make a difference whether I learned of what was happening in 5 minutes or 2 hours or 2 days, but on that day I needed to know in real time.
As for tweeting myself, I did it a fair bit. Before twitter, I’d have this habit of wanting to share whatever interesting tidbit I found with at least one person. Something funny? To the college/school group chat it goes. Something to do with software? To my former flatmates. Cute animal? To my wife. Whatever I see, I know at least one friend who’d like it. I felt happy showing it to at least one other person. But I also felt a bit guilty sending them to people on 1:1 threads. Was I being too spammy? Were my ‘jokes’ not that funny? That’s where Twitter helped. I could broadcast without worrying that I was bothering people.
I also liked sending encouragement and appreciation to small time authors and content creators. These folks have it tough, and a kind word can always help. Twitter reduces the friction to doing this to the point where there’s no reason you shouldn’t.
It’s a pretty good website, as tens of millions of people around the world can attest. I would mostly agree with them. But it wasn’t for me.
Problem 1 - Lack of reach
It feels stupid to complain about something as trivial as a lack of followers. There are ways to get around this, chiefly by putting out interesting content. I never used hashtags much, but that’s supposedly a great way too. But I never saw much engagement with what I was saying, which meant using the website felt a bit solitary. What was the point of saying things if I was the only one reading it?
It’s possible that I’m a boring knob, and that’s why no one reacted to my stuff. But that’s not been my experience elsewhere. When I use reddit or Hacker News, I find that it’s trivial to get thousands of karma and a handful of awards. Pseudo-anonymity helps too - instead of a weird Indian name I use a nickname that doesn’t mean anything. It’s possible to get positive engagement and replies from people regardless of who you are. You don’t need a reputation or a following, if you said something worth reading, people will read it and appreciate.
I’ll be honest - I felt jealous that people could just say “hey followers, here’s a question I could have googled. Could you google it for me?” and get a response. Or “I’m looking for a job. Any leads?” I didn’t have that. Nor did I have a way of reaching that easily.
I think Tiktok gets it right here. No matter who the creator is, if the content is good enough it will get hundreds of thousands of views. That system feels fairer to than Twitter.
Problem 2 - Pervasive anger
I followed a lot of interesting people, but these folks were also upset with many things, mainly the state of the world. Watching people snipe at each other constantly, taking their anger out on anything in sight … was understandable. You can’t tell them to react differently or to chill out, because these are reasonable responses to what they’re seeing. I can’t even disagree.
But seeing people angry most of the time takes it’s toll too. I think it affected my mental health. Yes, I’m deeply upset with some of the things that are happening, but if I’m thinking about them 24x7 I’m not thinking about urgent things in my life that need my attention.
I won’t miss people dunking on each other while also not mentioning the dunkee, piquing my curiosity to the point where I investigate who the dunkee was and why. A waste of time.
Problem 3 - Twitter warps people
Some guy with 14k followers said something. It was something like “only Indian people are rude/assholes in this particular way. Here are some anecdotes proving this”. This is a generalisation about a race of people based on anecdotes, so by definition racist. But since the person was of Indian ethnicity, it’s not. Don’t look at me, I don’t make the rules.
Dunking on other Indian people is a common pastime for Indian people - it makes us feel superior to our compatriots. Of course we wouldn’t engage in the practice we’re criticising, we’re better than that. He was doing the same thing I’ve heard a hundred others do.
I commented that there could be sampling bias here. Since we’re more likely to be annoyed/embarassed by the actions of Indian people, we’re more likely to notice and remember it. I relayed an anecdote of my Indian friend being very annoyed by something an Indian did but not even remembering that a white person had done the exact same thing the previous day (making us wait while taking a photo). I thought it was ok to say this. I asked “You ever think this is sampling bias? You notice and get annoyed when Indians do it and embarrass you but don’t if it’s someone else?”
Apparently not. He went on a massive tirade. Not content with responding rudely, he quote tweets me so he can dunk in front of all his followers. Apparently, I’m jingoistic deflector, part of the “elite” that refuses to “accept and introspect” and that I “deny deny deny” legitimate issues with India. If you’ve read my other posts, you know this isn’t true. I’m the first one to point out where my country (and me personally) can do better. (Understanding my Privilege, Discriminating against left handers)
Anyway, he has 14k followers. I have 100. I wasn’t winning this one, regardless. I decided to stop responding, even though he went on and on.
The thing is, he’s actually a pretty good dude. I know, because I’ve followed him for months. But at some point he’s been exposed to so much trolling that he assumes that everyone who disagrees is a troll. It’s “#factcheckbait” according to him. He thought I was a troll and responded appropriately.
How does a reasonable, good person end up warped like this, where they assume that every person out there is a bad faith actor? Where there’s absolutely no scope for disagreement? My theory is that Twitter warps people in this way, by simply removing any scope for reasoned discussion. When you only meet trolls, and never have any friendly discussion with different viewpoints, you assume that a person disagreeing with you is a troll.
I could stick around, play the game, build up by follower count to the point where I solve problem 1, prune my followee list to solve problem 2. But by then I’ve probably spent so much time there that I’ve become warped, probably without realising it - problem 3. Once I figured this out, I deactivated my account.
This probably isn’t permanent. The upsides of twitter still exist. I still want to read what people like Patrick McKenzie, Zach Weinersmith, John Carmack and others have to say. I still want to send encouraging messages to small time creators. But for now, I’m done.