Twitter has some benefits. It encourages conciseness which can be effective for humour and satire. Conveying short ironic observations has become a kind of art form. That’s the Twitter ideal. But when people try to express complex ideas, 280 characters does not allow for a lot of nuance. A subsequent tweet clarifying an idea will not necessarily be seen by those angered by some element of the original tweet.
Replies come in four main flavours, agreement or support, respectful argument or clarification, belligerent opposition, and finally, trolling. These categories of replies to the original tweet interact further in the replies to replies, where someone agreeing with the original tweet might belligerently oppose a respectful argument or clarification. It’s a conversation with no consistent tone, as different voices weigh in randomly. Some are funny and good-natured, some are needlessly aggressive and confrontational. But the compact nature of the tweet always necessitates squeezing the nuance out of ideas, attempting to construct witty epigrams and bulletproof headlines.
When people condense their ideas to communicate them to people they disagree with, they knowingly strip away the common ground to starkly exhume their ideological differences in all their abstract nakedness. Dwelling on points of agreement in a real-life discussion can be beneficial, but in a Twitter argument the common ground gets edited out for brevity’s sake (and to make tweets more punchy). People distill their ideological certainty into pithy language, they adopt a kind of rhetorical persona of omniscience, and they define themselves and their ideas in opposition to the things they find offensive. Being offended is an opportunity to spout truth at someone less enlightened, whether that means less enlightened on the left or less enlightened on the right. Few people see themselves as unenlightened.
It’s the format of the platform itself that’s the problem. But that’s exactly what so many people love. In a way, I love it too. I love the Twitter ideal, that perfectly constructed tweet that exemplifies precision of language. But it’s the character limit that drives a lot of people to default to these confrontational positions. It’s the way it’s all constructed, the fragmented conversation threads, the perceived need to be provocative to get engagement, the trolls causing chaos where they can, upping the anxiety all round. Twitter replies can be one of the bleakest looks into the human soul, when you really pay attention. You may also glimpse the soul of a bot, which can be upsetting. If you stick around long enough to see the soul of the algorithm, you realise just how much trouble we’re really all in.
Occasionally I want to chime in and see what it’s like to participate instead of standing on the sidelines bemoaning the days when you had at least a few paragraphs to make a point. So I won’t say I never tweet. I seldom tweet. I rarely gram. I book few faces. I keep the accounts alive in case I change my mind, but for me these social media sites personify modern shittiness. These are great places to go if you like seeing people being shitty to each other. For me, the results are in. Microblogging in its current form is no good for public debate (in its current form). Can I get an amen for rambling incoherently? I’m not saying I need a character limit, maybe just a better editor. Anyone else not really into Twitter?