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The Social Media Morass

Robert Rackley
Robert Rackley
4 min read
Gladiatrix fighting.
Image source: Hans Splinter via flickr

A few months ago, Consequence of Sound reported on Disney passing on the chance to buy Twitter because, in the words of Disney chief Bob Iger, “the nastiness is extraordinary.”

Once upon a time, way back in 2017, there was a little website called Twitter that caught the eyes of the monolith Disney. The idea at the time was for Disney to acquire Twitter to help modernize its distribution, The New York Times reports. When Iger saw the downsides of Twitter firsthand, though, he realized the deal couldn’t possibly be worth it. He began feeling intense dread and knew he had to reject the deal.

Whether the overall nastiness started with Gamergate or the Trump presidential campaign, by 2017, it had hit critical mass. Around the same time as the revelation about the Disney purchase, Tim Challies wrote about “becoming a Kwitter.”

At the top of the list is the simple reality that I may have the wrong disposition for Twitter. The man just doesn’t fit the medium. Over the past few years I’ve awakened to the reality that in many ways I am a weak person. I am weak physically, constitutionally, and in some ways emotionally. Especially, I’ve learned that I am easily fatigued, drained, or discouraged when involved in unnecessary conflict or even when witnessing it. If my unsanctified disposition is toward cowardice and running away, I believe my sanctified disposition is toward peace and peacemaking. Yet Twitter is a medium that seems to generate conflict and to thrive upon it. I find it a discouraging and intimidating place to be. I derive negligible pleasure from it. It adds nothing necessary to my life and very little that’s truly beneficial.

I can relate to the admission of being weak in some ways and though I’m not usually conflict averse IRL, I see online conflict as mostly unproductive. Rarely do hostile exchanges result in changed minds or reconciliation. On a platform like Twitter, it can also feel like conflict can be unexpected and especially intrusive.

I was caught off guard by this aspect of the platform one Sunday a couple of years ago when I quoted something that I had read in a popular newsletter and liked and with which I identified. I tweeted the quote with attribution. I did find the quote on a Twitter but I couldn’t use the retweet or quote features because the original tweet had some additional comments that didn’t really add context. So I used the good old copy and paste and throw some quotes around the copied text method. I then added “(x Twitter handle) has said:.” Pretty simple, right?

After the tweet, I quickly started receiving multiple replies from the original author of the quote. She said that the statement was made in a private conversation with friends of which I was not a part. She said the way I worded the quote was “creepy,” even though I had just copied and pasted what she wrote in a public tweet. I apologized for using the quote and let her know it had resonated with me. She cooled down a bit but still remained fairly defensive, sending me more tweets before letting it settle. I had to teach a confirmation class at church that morning and the whole exchange really rattled me. In fact, it really weighed on me that whole week.

To give the original author of the tweet the benefit of the doubt would be to guess that she had been the victim of some sort of trolling on Twitter previously. To immediately assume that this is not only a very real possibility, but in all likelihood, a probability, is to be ready to accept the malignancy that pervades the social media platform. The ubiquitousness of the clap backs and the quote slams would cause almost anyone to put their shields up. Even the normally mild-mannered seem to turn into battle-hardened pugilists armed with 280 characters on Twitter.

Of course, in one sense, the popular social media platform is simply emblematic of the problems posed in the broader internet. Twitter can just be a condensed microcosm of the troubling trends that pervade human interactions online.

Jonas Ellison, muses about the internet more generally, in his newsletter.

I see the internet as a giant omnipresent digital mirror. Since its inception, it’s been showing us a lot (!) about humanity. Like those magnified mirrors equipped with bright halogen lights that reveal all the blemishes, knicks, moles, freckles, scars, and discolorment in our faces - we’re seeing more than we were meant to ever see in normal daylight.

Those unflattering lights seem particularly strong in Twitter’s corner of the Internet.

After the incident I described, I changed my account settings to use protected tweets. “Protected” is a great word to use in this context, because I wasn’t really feeling like tweeting was safe. I didn’t need the friction caused by even positive comments and I surely didn’t need strangers tweeting at me that the Rape of Nanjing was a hoax (yep, that actually happened).

I’ve been using the protected tweets feature for about 2 years now. I miss some of the aspects of having public tweets, though. It’s pretty limiting when you can’t tweet a reply to someone who doesn’t follow you, or ask a quick question of a company. Surprising positive engagements can happen along with the negative ones in a public space. I once tweeted a comment on the new Public Enemy album (with no @’s or hashtags) and the producer responded back to me. I do miss those kinds of interactions. Just not enough to expose myself to the red-faced mobs that seems to run Twitter these days.

Now I spend a lot less time on Twitter in general. Most of my tweets are syndicated from a blog aggregation service with actual community guidelines - I still think the Twitter product itself is very well developed and I miss what it used to be. When I’m on there now, though, I’m dodging true believers on my right and on my left. Let’s face it, Twitter wasn’t created to be a political platform. There is little room for explanation or context. I’m also avoiding tweet storms that would have been blog posts 10 years ago. Plodding through those threads feels a bit like reading a novel written on sticky notes. They are antithetical to the original design and intent of the service.

Twitter has changed a lot over the last few years and it only seems to be slouching towards further decline. These days, there are usually many more edifying ways to spend time online.


Robert Rackley

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, inveterate notetaker, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic.

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