Twitter is throwing the towel on democracy

When I was growing up in Turkey, one of the more curious political insults was a “statukocu”, or “one who favors status quo”.  I remember asking my parents what it meant. And when I got the answer, it didn’t satisfy me either; why would wanting things to stay the same be a bad thing? It took me a bit longer to fully understand what that really meant.

Jokes about “move fast and break things” are as original as an Adam Sandler blockbuster these days. And so are essays about them. Sure, democracy is too important to accidentally break by moving fast. We get it. Facebook gets it too, they changed their slogan.

But what if what kills democracy is not Zuckerberg et al moving too fast but the crippling inability of Twitter to take a single action? Those jokes haven’t been made yet by others. Luckily for us, though, Twitter management continues to be that joke. And we are the butts, I think.

It ’s hard to describe this any other way, without sounding mean. As I mentioned yesterday, Trump couple days ago tweeted some blatantly racist tweets, showing people getting killed. Twitter first said they didn’t delete those tweets because they were “newsworthy” and provided “both sides” of an argument. I am of the opinion that inciting violence and racism are universally derided but OK, maybe Twitter knows better?

Then, and here’s the joke part, they walked back on their decision making. Not their decision, but their decision making. I wrote yesterday that “newsworthiness is just a fleeting moment of decision making done in San Francisco” but I was wrong. My larger point was that “newsworthiness” was a sham, a non-falsifiable hypothesis that allowed Twitter management to do as they wished. But, with the new “explanation”, I am not sure if there’s even anyone in the room anymore. Maybe there’s just a robot that just throws darts at a Wheel of Apology?

Imagine getting rejected for a job application, and the recruiter sends you an email the next day “Sorry, we didn’t hire you not because you are too junior, but because we just didn’t like you”. That would be hugely disrespectful, and would show a startling lack of professionalism. But this has been going for literally years when it comes to Twitter. Is this fine?

At this point, I am not sure what to say. One running joke is that Medium  is a Silicon Valley blog for apologies. Maybe we can say that the main reason Twitter exists at this point is to provide a platform for Trump to spread vitriol and for Jack to come up with post-facto rationalizations on why that’s a good thing, some Nazis, and sure, a bunch of startup (read: Uber) drama. This joke works on many levels, considering Medium is also founded by a Twitter co-founder.

I consider myself a progressive. I think favoring the status quo is not a amenable political position in general, and definitely not ideal in today’s America. But here’s the thing; I am from Turkey. I know how fast the sense of normalcy shifts under you when you let a few people play you. My Turkish diaspora jokes about how “we had Trump years ago, no big deal” but there’s darker underbelly here. Nothing is too sacred to discuss, but some things are worth saving. Democracy is a good one. Twitter is throwing the towel here.

Erdogan’s rise to the authoritarianism didn’t happen overnight. Turkish mainstream media did not become a single propaganda machine overnight. Educated Turkish youth who are hopeless, tired of the constant political drama that sucks the oxygen out of any room did not start looking for jobs abroad en masse overnight. There were millions of people screaming about how dangerous Erdogan and AKP is before he got elected, and before they changed the laws left and right.  The madness came slowly, and then all of a sudden.

America is nowhere near Turkey, but it’s also farther ahead when Erdogan first gained power. Turkey and US are similar in many ways, mostly depressing ones such as lack of belief in evolution and income disparity. But it will slip, and it’ll happen both faster you can think and slower.

So, this is the world we live where Twitter (and Facebook and Google and YouTube) operate. Don’t be fooled; these companies are American companies that prospered under American values and are headquartered in America, mostly staffed by Americans in decision making levels. And the American values are under attack. There are no sides here. There’s only one side. It’s the side of liberal democracies.

Our, and yours, current leaders of social networks are flailing. In their attempts to keep their businesses afloat and provide a semblance of impartiality, they are picking the side of chaos. As Bret Stephens aptly puts in his piece, we are all part of Trump’s game now. Politicians of all statures, even heads of state, all across the world are on the edge, because they think the US president is unhinged. Everyone who is letting these shenanigans are going to be on the wrong side of history. A few people who have points of leverage are failing.

History books are being written. And they will definitely outlast any Medium blog post.

On quiet

Istanbul is not a quiet place. The streets are filled to the brim with cars, honking. The kid is screaming to his mom, the girlfriend to her boyfriend, the police to the street vendor. It’s not pleasant, but it is Turkey.

However, the real noise is not the people, or the cars, or the ferries. It is the news. Everyone in Turkey is always watching the news. It’s on the background when you are at home, with your parents. It’s blaring at you when you are at the corner store from the TV hung to the corner. It’s shouting at you when you are at bank, from the small radio sitting next to the framed photo of the teller’s daughter. It’s even on at the waiting room at the doctor’s office, because that’s when you really need a pick me up.

And when you are, by some miraculous happenstance out of the earshot of a TV, there’s Twitter. Everyone is always on their phones, and if they are not checking Instagram, they are checking the news on Twitter. It never ends. It wasn’t always that way, I want to say, but for the love of me, I can’t remember when it wasn’t.

It used to be fashionable to call Turkey the “Little America”, largely due to an overzealous adoption of neoliberalism and all the joys and pains that come with it. It used to be a thing, a family tradition, to enjoy the even the most inane of American traditions. Having visited America was a sign of not just wealth, but also a checkmark on the pursuit of a more enlightened world.

Now, slowly it looks America is on its way to become a “Little Turkey” itself, primarily starting from people’s addiction to the news and a constant state of screaming.

Many a words have been said about the 24/7 cable news networks in the US. How the inane, and insane, need to fill up over the hours drives networks to just have talking faces on TV. The current boogeyman for the orange man in the White House is partly responsible, people argue, for him being there. When I was a kid, CNN for me was the night-vision imagery from the first, of seemingly endlessly many, Iraq war. Now it’s a bunch of talking heads, that are always there.

And then, there’s Twitter. And push notifications. Always the push notifications. It used to be different though. When I first moved to US, in 2006, we also had a scandalous president. He didn’t seem to be that coherent, and his policies didn’t earn him many favors in or outside the US. There was some political turmoil, maybe even a war, but it happened on a different timescale. There were other things going on.

One of the first things that America lost when Trump got elected is the quiet, the personal space millions had to themselves. You had a time to yourself to be in love, to be with your friends. There were conversations that never touched on politics. Some things were downstream politics, but most things were not. There was a time, when you could just be angry at your things in your world at your own time. Now, you are required to be angry all the time because of something you didn’t do, don’t have control over and seemingly with no end in sight.

Has it been 6 months since Trump took the office, or 6 years? Is anyone even counting anymore? How would it feel different if this wasn’t just 1/8 (hopefully) into the dumpster fire that’s this administration but we were just halfway there. I am aware that I am speaking from a privileged position here, as a white man with a stable job in a well-paying industry, as opposed to being a minority. Maybe things were always this loud, if you always had to worry about your job, or your livelihood.

But in the objective space I can carve out, I feel that things got worse. And we need to do something about it.

I am not suggesting that people ignore the news or disengage from the public discourse. Or disconnect entirely or at all. I don’t think a democracy works with a fully disengaged public. And it certainly does not, with a public that only is informed about topics that interest them. We all have a responsibility to be informed, including on things that don’t matter to us but to those around us. But it also matters what we each decide to think about, what we need to care about. We built ourselves empires on capturing attention, and we are slowly realizing that our minds cannot keep up with its demands. But, I think we have yet to realize that our minds aren’t also capable of being outraged, all the time. We can’t always be mad, lest we lose our connection with the reality. Everything is political but politics isn’t everything.

One goal of politics is to arrange relationships between big groups of people. Not necessarily divide or unite them, but to establish some sort of structure. A network of roads, where connections happen. It doesn’t care if you run tanks on them, or ice-cream trucks. You can drive away, or run towards someone. But the world is not about those roads. It’s not not about them either, of course -just ask any commuter- but it’s just a part of it.

Somewhere along the way, we need to park our cars, get off our bikes and look around the world as is. The quiet is easily disturbed, but in the end, it’s what makes each of us human, unique and it’s what keeps the society humming along. We can’t always scream, we need to be quiet so that everyone else can have it too.