Candidates who make policy-by-Twitter, the ones who chase every micro-news-cycle, risk losing sight not just of what voters care about, but also why they’re running for president in the first place. […]
Those loudest voices on Twitter aren’t marginal. The platform has become a petri dish for the formation of elite opinion, with outsized power in the political press, and it has provided a lane for smart and clever people who deserve a voice to have one. But the convulsions of everyday Twitter, a small club of media elites and professional opinion-havers, are plainly disconnected from the concerns of most Democratic voters. There’s a real risk that otherwise smart, promising 2020 candidates begin to self-sabotage in their haste to appease this microscopic cluster of social-media activists just because they’ve got a megaphone.
This pattern of self-sabotage-by-Twitter is being repeated in various circles of our culture. Consider, for instance, the knots that publishers of young adult fiction are twisting themselves into by trying to appease tiny groups of angry people who have declared themselves the voices of their ethnic group — a pathetic phenomenon that Jesse Singal has recently been documenting, in depressing detail, in his excellent newsletter.
It’s really astonishing how few people can summon the critical facility necessary even to ask whether a person who claims to speak for all black or Latinx or trans people actually does. But I think it’s very relevant that this dance between triumphant resentment and instantaneous appeasement happens on Twitter: the pace of the medium seems to activate users’ fight-or-flight instinct. And then the ordinary mechanisms of human pride kick in, and people double down on their first responses rather than step back and question themselves.
I’m not even going to bother asking politicians to get off Twitter, because how many of them have ever declined the offer of a megaphone? But if we’re going to start repairing the damage that Twitter has done, and continues to do, to our social fabric, the leaders in this endeavor need to be journalists.
Recently a journalist commented to me that he is on Twitter because, for better or worse, that’s where the conversations in his profession take place. I think that’s definitely for worse, not better, and I think every journalist would be better off not participating in those conversations. Here’s why:
- Journalists talking to other journalists ad nauseam all day long leads to a kind of professional hermeticism, which in turns leads to limited intellectual horizons and a lack of independence.
- The utterly false assumption that people on Twitter are characteristic of the society as a whole leads to laziness: asking questions to the people who follow you on Twitter is something you can do in bed — way easier than putting on some clothes and going out to talk to your fellow citizens.
- That assumption also leads journalists to treat lunatic-fringe ideas as though they are commonplace. When your daily journalistic practices render you unable to distinguish between the most vitriolically-expressed ideas and the most widely-shared ones, you cannot do fair and accurate assessments of the national, or even the local, mood.
I truly believe that the climate of hatred that Thomas Edsall documents in his recent column has arisen in part — and maybe in large part — because of journalists who spend too much time on Twitter and as a result become mouthpieces of the anger and hatred that dominates the lives of some of the worst among us. American journalists, by immersing themselves so regularly in that anger and hatred, have extended its reach. They are passing along the contagion; they need to start washing their hands.
So, journalists on Twitter, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, for the sake of your professional integrity, for the sake of our nation: Delete your account.