The slow creep of social media censorship, epitomized by Twitter’s recent out-of-the-blue purge of various alt-right accounts, should be viewed with contempt as a scandalous abuse of corporate power. If it is so viewed, it will at least bring this incidental benefit: people will now realize how awful Twitter is, and always has been.
Indeed, so awful is Twitter that I still hate myself for getting an account. It was only thanks to the ubiquity of the medium back in the dark days of 2009 that I was able to win the war with myself and love Big Blue Bird. Now, I hope we have reached the point where that avian destroyer of the English language can be overthrown, and so I pen this missive to all my fellow writers shipwrecked by the Twitterstorm.
Rise up! Sever the strings that bind the Fail Whale, gasping for breath, above the water, and let his bulk break the waves of illiteracy choking out our own air. Escape! Flee! Leave your accounts open to prevent the theft of your online identity, if you must, but otherwise, let your handles collect dust.
If you must have a site like Twitter, use Gab, where at least you have 300 characters to make a fool of yourself. Reading 300 characters, like reading a #NeverTrumper, at least carries the faint hope of enlightened discourse. The 140 character-ridden swamp of Twitter, on the other hand, is like reading a Hillary supporter: It will, beyond a doubt, crush your capacity for thought and make you dumber.
So aggressively non-linguistic is Twitter that it has formed its own dialect: one totally unintelligible to people normally fluent in the English language. Consider, for example, Twitter’s most ubiquitous invention: the hashtag. Typically, this creation is deployed much like the following:
I am an utter fool for using this website. #truth
Now, in standard English, the way to formulate this would seem to be “It is true that I am an utter fool for using this website.” But so expressed, the statement is ludicrously redundant. Has anyone ever not stated something categorically that they believed to be true—OK, that’s not fair to Evan McMullin’s consultants. Well, at the very least, we can say that no one’s stated something without hoping others would see it as truth.
But of course, this is to miss the true purpose of the hashtag as it is used in this case: it is not meant to flag one’s own statement as “truth,” but rather to enter it into a vast catalog of other statements similarly marked, to be sorted through and liked/re tweeted based on the will of other users. In other words, its figurative translation is something more along the lines of “Please agree with me that it is true that I am an utter fool for using this website and signify as much.” It is like the plaintive cry from Jeb(!): “Please clap.”
This is not redundant; it is simply pathetic. Such a plea for agreement, couched in the inclusion of the hashtag, renders the statement not merely subjective, but simply pointless except as a gesture meant to court social desirability in the form of agreement from others. We will return to this point, because it explains the pervasive horribleness of Twitter.
But what of a different use of the hashtag, say, something like this?
O Tempora! O Mores! #MAGA #tcot
This is harder to translate to English. Purely literally, it comes out to “O Tempora! O Mores! Make America Great Again. Top Conservatives on Twitter.” This series of disconnected nonsense is obviously not how it is meant to be read, however. Rather, the hashtags are meant as tribal demarcations. So the phrase really means, “HEY! If you agree with the sentiment ‘Make America Great Again,’ or consider yourself one of the Top Conservatives on Twitter, read my statement ‘O Tempora! O Mores!’”
In other words, statements like this are, again, a bid for social desirability. Except this time, they’re targeted more narrowly at specific communities embodied by the hashtags in question. Again, remember this, because it, too, explains what’s wrong with Twitter.
Now we come to the final usage of the hashtag, which I will illustrate as follows:
@MytheosHolt says, “I am an utter fool for using Twitter.” #tcot
In this case, the hashtag is clearly meant to refer not to the content, but to the speaker. Translated, this can be read as “Mytheos Holt says I am an utter fool for using Twitter, and Mytheos Holt is a top conservative on Twitter [Author’s note: I am not. Thank God], so if you care about what top conservatives on Twitter say, you should care about this.” Notice—again—that the hashtag simply takes the form of a plea for attention, this time from people with interest in what a particular group, other than the Tweet’s author, says.
The point I am driving at here should be obvious by now: Based on the usage of Twitter’s most popular invention—the hashtag—it’s obvious that Twitter is optimized for only one type of expression: the type that cries out for positive attention. All Tweets, whatever their content, are implicit requests for approval, since approval is the currency of the medium. A Tweet’s telos is mass approval, and if it fails to achieve that, then it falls short of the Platonic form of a Tweet (and it kills me that I had to type that phrase). Thus, robbed of any other context, the ideal Tweet might look something like this:
Puppies and kittens are adorable! #catlovers #doglovers #meow #ruff
And indeed, a very large percentage of Twitter is given over to precisely such sycophantic, crowd-pleasing, vacuous statements. Though, of course, one could also probably achieve a similar result simply by posting things that are continually funny, but even this can’t carry on forever, since certain types of gags invariably get beaten to death after being wrung through social media several million times. In other words, given infinite time and zero disagreement between users, Twitter would naturally kill both profundity and humor in those users’ statements.
But what if there is disagreement? Here, the most pernicious element of Twitter bares its teeth. Disagreement on Twitter, being confined to such short statements, and also being—like all Twitter discourse—designed to attract attention, is almost always incapable of being persuasive writing. Rather, it invariably turns into some combination of choir-preaching snark, virtue signaling piousness, or else into long, awkward Tweetstorms that would’ve been better served as single posts on a less restrictive platform. If you wondered why so many conservative “intellectuals” can’t tear themselves away from the medium, the fact that it makes real thought awkward while rewarding self-righteousness and snark should be all the answer you need.
But even if this wasn’t all it rewarded, a simple fact still arises: discourse between opponents where both opponents are talking less to each other and more at each other in the hopes of winning social approbation, is not a good medium in which to resolve disagreements. Were the messages permitted to be longer, it could be useful as a platform for long-form debate between committed adversaries, with the audience signaling its approval. But to turn everyone into a committed adversary by the nature of the platform, and then restrict their debates to shallow, content-less soundbites, is not how discourse is supposed to work.
Thus, the kind of glib sniping that you’d expect to see between two mental patients with severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder gets universalized across millions of people. Those people, with their empathy already deadened by the facelessness of the internet, then permit their desire for social approval to override their every instinct to be charitable, thoughtful, or even coherent toward people whose social stock they’re trying to one-up. In short, Twitter transforms even otherwise mature and sage people back into high schoolers simply by virtue of its architecture.
Well, I say we take a cue from that great high school revolutionary, Carrie White, and burn the whole thing down. Twitter is a disaster for our relations to each other as people, for the state of our language, for the maturity of our ideas, and simply for the maintenance of civil society. Not since Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds has an endless flock of jabbering, twittering squawkers so threatened civilization. Only this time it’s not fiction. For the sake of Western civilization, and for the sake of the archaic idea that capitalism should reward only ideas that create value, I say we let Twitter go bankrupt and give its toxic blue avatar the bird.