I am done with Twitter, for a while at least, if not forever. I will still read tweets, and might even occasionally tweet, if anything to keep my account alive or for major announcements, but I decided to cut it out my life.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that I use it a lot. It is the only social network I use. I have met people through it, made professional connections, and I generally have fun reading it. Unlike the tamed, manicured, creepily synthetic feel on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter feels raw. I loved Twitter.
But it’s over. At this point, the more I spend time on Twitter, more I feel like I am helping the evil normalize. I feel icky, and disgusted. I feel like I am frequenting the same places as a bunch of skinheads. I am in their lives, and they are in mine. And it’s because Twitter management wants it that way. They are fine with Nazis. Make no mistake. They are not happy, I sure hope they wish they didn’t have them on Twitter. But at the end of the day, they are fine with Nazis. And they are also fine with Trump.
Yesterday, I broke. It’s over for me.
I have a very short username on Twitter, that also happens to be a modal verb in English. So, I get probably on the order of a few dozen “mistaken” mentions a day. I like it. In fact, I love. it. I used to joke (to myself, largely) that it’s my escape hatch from the filter bubble. It’s like a tiny sliver of all tweets handed to me. A random sampling of real people tweets, not the more or less same kind of tweets from the tech / media people I follow.
But then yesterday, I got a “mention” from a Nazi. But not any other Nazi, a Nazi whose profile photo is a swastika made from Trump typography. He wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t being obnoxious. He was just quote tweeting an article about Trump’s tax bill. This is the world we live in now.
I thought whether I should call him out, like I sometimes do. Or just block him. Should I respond to him and block him? Would he try to gang up on me? I have been bullied on Twitter before, people have tried to steal my account many times. But here was a Nazi. And then it hit me. Why am I engaging with Nazis? Why is this on me? Because Twitter wants me to.
There’s a perverse belief in American society that corporations exist on a different plane of reality. It’s not just Main Street vs Wall Street. But that corporations do business, and there are people, and sometimes they interact via #brands or whatever, but largely they are separate. But that’s just dumb. Corporations exist in a society. They are made up of people, operate via people. They have people on their boards, their employees are people. Software might be eating the world, but it hasn’t yet.
Corporations have voices. Here in the western world, they largely operate in democratic societies with a strong rule of law. They trust some people cannot come and take their property away. And more importantly, these people that make up these companies trust that their lives won’t be in danger for just being themselves, for being who they are. Yet, here we have people who want to throw it all out, and the strongest reaction from most social networks is “meh”. The profits Twitter (tries to) make are predicated on a set of values that these want to overthrow. Twitter is fine with it.
Silicon Valley has taken that illusion of dichotomy to a new level though. It’s not just corporations vs. the people, but also the corporations that make up the online world, vs the meatspace portion of our existence. I grew up on the internet. Living in a mid sized city in Turkey, I was largely alone, save for the internet. It was a conservative town. People called it the Citadel of Islam, and I wasn’t (and still am not) into that much. I spent hours, days, weeks probably perusing The World Wide Web, establishing DCC connections via mIRC in the hopes of downloading questionable material. For me, back then internet was the primary place, but for rest of the world, it was just another place.
That tide has shifted, I think, with advent of smartphones and addictive social networks. Now, the online is the primary place for not just me, but many people. It’s not just where you read the news. It’s where you meet people. It’s where people share their deepest secrets with strangers, or apparently write suicide notes often enough that Facebook will try to detect that before your friends and family does. The idea that “online” can be taken out of your life is an antiquated, Luddite belief that guides most of the decisions of the tech elite.
So it’s baffling to me that we all sit here and pretend that Nazis befriending us because Twitter is fine with it is normal. It’s not. It really isn’t. There’s nothing normal about bringing the white supremacists and their imagery to the national stage. I don’t think Nazis should be punched on sight. But I also don’t think they should be given the platform that Twitter gives them. I am going to go online, just to see another swastika on the woke guy’s network.
And speaking of Nazi idols, let’s talk about the President of the United States (2017). Two days ago, Trump retweeted some extremely racist content from Britain First, a right wing group in the UK who has advocated for, among other things, violence against minorities, politicians. It’s disgusting, among other things. Of course the tweet received criticism not just from British PM, Mayor of London, but even people like Paul Joseph Watson, famed alt-right instigator and supposed journalist, and Piers Morgan, another famed alt-right instigator and supposed journalist, (again, 2017) chided Trump for it.
But it’s OK. Twitter is fine with it.
The cop out is there. “Newsworthiness” is the new “Algorithms did it”. But be careful what you are really saying.
Trump might subtly incite violence towards an entire world religion, create animus towards millions of Muslims living in the US, but as long as newsworthy, it’s OK. Twitter is fine with it. Stay woke, my friends.
Let’s run a thought experiment. Would it be newsworthy if Trump tweeted, say, a video of him shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, like he said he could? Or, what if he posted a photo of him holding a women’s genitals, like he said he does? Or what if he just goes on Twitter and says “If this tweets gets 200M likes, I am going to nuke North Korea?” Would you like RT it? Would any of these be a) surprising b) not newsworthy?
Newsworthiness is not a thing. You can’t hold it, you can’t argue with it. You can’t point to it on a document, or test it in court. It’s a judgement call. It’s a fleeting moment of decision making that happened somewhere on Market Street in San Francisco. You might catch a glimpse of it, but never can really observe it on demand. It’s a sham.
So either Twitter says that in their judgement, a possibly delusional president who thinks what he said on tape might not be real, tweeting about inciting violence is OK. If any of your friends made a call like this, you’d be worried. Jack Dorsey postures that it’s not about the ratings. But I wish it were, Jack. Because your current look, that you think this is newsworthy to keep on your service, is worse.
And that’s the end of it. This is it for me.
When I tweeted that I was done, a couple people reached out. I told one of them that I was already on the verge, since I was sick of the mentally adversarial relationship I’ve been having with social networks. The instruments of attention based economy, I told her, was already taking a toll on my mental health and productivity.
This stuff is out of control. Imagine someone asked me what I was doing tonight and I told her that “Oh not much, I’m just going to go to this bar called Aryan Paradise. It’s a weird place, but I like it”.
I am done with Twitter. I am done seeing Nazis in my mentions, I am done frequenting the same places with them. I am done contributing meaningfully to a service that caters to Trump. I will be reading tweets from people I follow, will be checking the news via Nuzzel. I might tweet here and there. But for me, it’s too much.
I can’t go on sharing the same space with Trump and Nazis. I am done.