Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: Twitter (page 1 of 1)

x nay

I’ve deactivated my X account and won’t be coming back. I’ve despised Twitter for several years, but I have been willing to keep the account active in order to promote the journals and publishers I write for — my own writing and that of others. But I’m done with that. Why? 

  1. X is now owned by one man. 
  2. That one man doesn’t just tolerate but promotes straightforwardly antisemitic discourse — he’s increasingly open about his own hostility towards Jews, and is ready to sue people who criticize him for it. 
  3. That one man also — and let’s think about the merits of a system that grants to one private citizen this power — intervened meaningfully in the Russia-Ukraine war on the side of the aggressor. We could debate whether, and to what extent, the U.S. should directly support Ukraine, but there is no question about who invaded whom, and Musk is directly aiding the invaders. 

I don’t see how, in the circumstances, I can keep an account on that man’s platform. So I’m out, for good. 

UPDATE: See also this by David French: “Twitter isn’t so much a free speech paradise as the generalissimo’s playpen, and the generalissimo’s values shape everything about the place.” 

UPDATE 2: Turns out that Musk did not cut off Starlink service to Ukraine in Crimea: it was already deactivated, and Musk declined to activate it in response to a request from the Ukrainian government. Walter Isaacson, in his biography, got that wrong, and has admitted it. A pretty significant error. 

A common experience for me: 

  1. Someone tweets (or “X-es”?) about something I’ve written, maybe with a quotation, maybe with a summary;  
  2. Someone else reads that tweet and on the basis of it alone decides what I must have argued … 
  3. … and then writes me an angry email refuting the argument they’re sure I have made. 

The situation reminds me of all those ancient writers we only know through the descriptions of their works by others. Those writers’ work is probably unrecoverable; but not so in this case. My emailers could have secure knowledge with a click but they prefer ignorance. 

Paul Ford: “The real reason Twitter lies in ruins is because it was an abomination before God. It was a Tower of Babel.” This would be a lot more convincing if Ford didn’t then go on to praise Mastodon, which is an earnest attempt to rebuild Babel, just by using stones from several different quarries. 

why liberals should read smart conservatives

Liberals should read smart conservatives not because they need to be convinced by conservative arguments — though let’s face it, sometimes they do — but rather because conservatives frame issues differently than liberals do. They describe the conditions of history, and the circumstances of our debates, in a language that’s strange to liberals. And dealing with these alternative framings can be very clarifying indeed. 

An example: in The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties Christopher Caldwell argues that the grief over the assassination of President Kennedy led to more sweeping legislation than JFK himself would have dared to pursue: “A welfare state expanded by Medicare and Medicaid, the vast mobilization of young men to fight the Vietnam War, but, above all, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts — these were all memorials to a slain ruler, resolved in haste over a few months in 1964 and 1965 by a people undergoing a delirium of national grief.” And he then claims that this set in motion a dramatic transformation of the American legal and political order — a transformation that we have inherited: 

The changes of the 1960s, with civil rights at their core, were not just a major new element in the Constitution. They were a rival constitution, with which the original one was frequently incompatible — and the incompatibility would worsen as the civil rights regime was built out. Much of what we have called “polarization” or “incivility” in recent years is something more grave — it is the disagreement over which of the two constitutions shall prevail: the de jure constitution of 1788, with all the traditional forms of jurisprudential legitimacy and centuries of American culture behind it; or the de facto constitution of 1964, which lacks this traditional kind of legitimacy but commands the near-unanimous endorsement of judicial elites and civic educators and the passionate allegiance of those who received it as a liberation. The increasing necessity that citizens choose between these two orders, and the poisonous conflict into which it ultimately drove the country, is what this book describes.

Now, it is probably true that only someone who questions the wisdom of “the de facto constitution of 1964” would frame our recent history in this way; but it is certainly true that this framing is powerfully illuminating: it yields insight into both the nature and the intensity of our current political differences. You may not interpret or judge those differences as Caldwell does, but even so, he has presented their causes in ways that ought to earn your assent. 

Another example: Mary Harrington is not just a conservative, she is a self-described reactionary. But some of her recent work is, like that of Caldwell, extremely useful, especially her argument — in, for instance, this essay, which has many links to her earlier work — that what I have called Left Purity Culture (see the LPC tag at the bottom of this post) operates as a kind of de-personalized and even de-humanized swarm. And in certain recent controversies, especially the ones involving Twitter, that swarm is confronted by a version of what she calls Caesarism: 

The Biden administration is fond of talking about “democracy” versus “autocracy”, but it might be more accurate to talk about swarmism and Caesarism. Swarmism is a kind of post-democratic democracy: a mutant form of liberal proceduralism, characterised by collective decision-making in which no one is ever individually accountable. Instead, consequential decisions are as far as possible pushed out to supposedly neutral procedures or even machines. When NGO officials whom you can’t vote out of your political ecosystem talk about “our democracy”, they’re talking about swarmism.

Caesarism, on the other hand, looks substantially the same at lower levels. The main difference is that you get named humans in key decision-making roles — complete with human partiality, eccentricity, and occasional fallibility. Twitter was, until recently, a key vector of elite swarmism. And to swarmists, such rule by a named individual, rather than a collective and some committee-generated “guidelines”, is by definition morally wrong. This core assumption oozes, for example, from this report on the takeover, with its empathetic depiction of the anonymous, collegiate collective of sacked Trust and Safety workers sharply contrasted with the autocratic, erratic individual Elon Musk. 

This, like Caldwell’s framing of American history since the 1960s, is not just interesting but useful. It helps me to think about the structure, as it were, of the debates over Twitter. Now, I might prefer a swarm to a Caesar — and Harrington herself doesn’t see anyone to support here: “I’m not cheerleading for Musk as Caesar. Just because I dislike faceless proceduralism doesn’t mean I have much appetite to see political authority gathered into the mercurial hands of a transhumanist billionaire who wants to implant microchips in human brains.” But whether you take the swarm’s side or Caesar’s side or no side at all, this is a very helpful way of describing the conflict, and is a description that neither a a swarmist nor a Caesarist would have been likely to discern. 

Ezra Klein: “A town square controlled by one man isn’t a town square. It’s a storefront, an art project or possibly a game preserve.” Yep. 

It’s very hard not to laugh at this: Twitter-addicted journalists decamping for Mastodon only to resume, immediately, their familiar habits of bullying, shaming, proclaiming their victimhood, and Trying to Get Management To Take Their Side. As I have said: “Which way I fly is Hellsite; myself am Hellsite….” 

Ian Bogost:

If Twitter does fail, either because its revenue collapses or because the massive debt that Musk’s deal imposes crushes it, the result could help accelerate social media’s decline more generally. It would also be tragic [me: tragic?] for those who have come to rely on these platforms, for news or community or conversation or mere compulsion. Such is the hypocrisy of this moment. The rush of likes and shares felt so good because the age of zero comments felt so lonely — and upscaling killed the alternatives a long time ago, besides.

If change is possible, carrying it out will be difficult, because we have adapted our lives to conform to social media’s pleasures and torments. It’s seemingly as hard to give up on social media as it was to give up smoking en masse, like Americans did in the 20th century. Quitting that habit took decades of regulatory intervention, public-relations campaigning, social shaming, and aesthetic shifts. At a cultural level, we didn’t stop smoking just because the habit was unpleasant or uncool or even because it might kill us. We did so slowly and over time, by forcing social life to suffocate the practice. That process must now begin in earnest for social media.

Home invasion:

For those of us who have been using Mastodon for a while (I started my own Mastodon server 4 years ago), this week has been overwhelming. I’ve been thinking of metaphors to try to understand why I’ve found it so upsetting. This is supposed to be what we wanted, right? Yet it feels like something else. Like when you’re sitting in a quiet carriage softly chatting with a couple of friends and then an entire platform of football fans get on at Jolimont Station after their team lost. They don’t usually catch trains and don’t know the protocol. They assume everyone on the train was at the game or at least follows football. They crowd the doors and complain about the seat configuration.

It’s not entirely the Twitter people’s fault. They’ve been taught to behave in certain ways. To chase likes and retweets/boosts. To promote themselves. To perform. All of that sort of thing is anathema to most of the people who were on Mastodon a week ago. It was part of the reason many moved to Mastodon in the first place. This means there’s been a jarring culture clash all week as a huge murmuration of tweeters descended onto Mastodon in ever increasing waves each day. To the Twitter people it feels like a confusing new world, whilst they mourn their old life on Twitter. They call themselves “refugees,” but to the Mastodon locals it feels like a busload of Kontiki tourists just arrived, blundering around yelling at each other and complaining that they don’t know how to order room service. We also mourn the world we’re losing. 

I’m a bit concerned about micro.blog — I don’t use Mastodon — for just this reason. That’s why I wrote a few months ago, “On micro.blog, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.” 


Since so many journalists spend most of their time on Twitter, it’s unsurprising to hear the more addicted among them now saying that other people should stay on Twitter too, Musk or no Musk. One of the most common arguments that I’ve seen goes like this: Twitter, for all its flaws, has made otherwise unheard voices of the marginalized audible, and the rest of us should hang around if only to listen to them. To which I respond:

First: Twitter made the voice of Donald Trump, and still nastier figures, even more audible. If the sound level of Black women goes up by 10db but that of Orange Man goes up 50db, I don’t call that a big win for diversity.

Second: Those marginal voices can be heard in many places other than Twitter, for anyone interested, and in some of their venues (articles in newspapers, essays in magazines, books) they articulate their experiences and their understanding of the world in considerably greater depth than they can on Twitter. If you want to become better informed while avoiding doomscrolling, RSS is ready when you are.

Third: About the attention that those marginalized voices get on Twitter — how good is that for them? On Twitter, too often attention = abuse.

Which leads me to what I think is an important question: Is more visibility always good? Is having more eyeballs on your work invariably better for you than having fewer? People reluctant to leave Twitter seem to believe that whatever you have to say or show needs to be seen by as many people as possible; but I don’t agree. One reason I left Twitter is that I was tired of getting responses from people who were (a) incapable of reading, (b) angrily malicious, or (c) both.

Now, one might reply that I could make any number of adjustments to my Twitter preferences to prevent that sort of thing — but in that case, why be on Twitter at all? It’s specifically designed for the amplification of the cruder emotions, so what’s the point of being there if you prefer to avoid the cruder emotions? Wouldn’t it make more sense go find a place to write that isn’t interested in the cruder emotions?

Because here’s the tradeoff: you can have more eyeballs, but they’ll be Sauron-like eyeballs.

“And into this Tweet he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life.” 

If you leave Twitter for less obvious places, fewer eyeballs will see your work; but if people have to make a bit of an effort to find what you write, they’re far more likely to be intelligent and receptive readers than the average Twitter user.

We all need to stop thinking arithmetically. For good and for ill, the people who make the most significant impact on the world are those who pursue what Milton called “fit audience though few.” Very few people have read Wang Huning’s academic writings, but he directs the ideological program of the Chinese Communist Party. A far more positive example, from Eno: “The first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet … everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Eno brings home the import of his comment in the sentence that follows that extremely famous one I just quoted: “Some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.” (Some of the most important things always do.) If you realize the truth of this, then maybe you won’t be quite so desperate for eyeballs.

Blogs don’t have the important place on the internet today that they once had; I know that perfectly well, and I don’t care. Those who are genuinely interested in what I have to say can find me here on the open web. Those who aren’t willing to leave Twitter to find good writing … well, God bless them. But I won’t be trying to flag them down.

so let’s chill

Noah Smith:

So, Elon Musk bought Twitter. Personally, I’m pretty sanguine about this development. It’s no secret that I think that Twitter is a uniquely dystopian feature of the modern media sphere — a bad equilibrium that traps the nation’s journalists, politicians, and intellectuals in close quarters with all the nastiest and most strident anonymous bottom-feeders. There’s a nonzero chance Musk will be able to improve this situation; if not, it’s hard to see how he could make it particularly worse. If he destroys the platform, we’ll find something else — probably a number of different somethings, which I think would be good for the media ecosystem. Our entire society was not meant to be locked in a single small room together; we need more room to spread out and be ourselves. 

This is the right take, I think. For those who haven’t seen it, here is a collection of my posts on micro.blog in particular and and open web more generally. And here is a useful brief guide to getting started with blogging. 

Manton Reece – Dear Elon Musk:

I agree that we shouldn’t be stuck in our own bubbles of misinformation. But the part Elon gets wrong is the premise that there should even be a “common digital town square” controlled by a single company. I reject that idea.

The common digital “square” should be the entire web, with a diverse set of platforms. There should be common APIs but many communities with their own rules, goals, and business models. Concentrating too much power in only a couple social media companies is what created the mess we’re in.


This long post by Jesse Singal makes one key point perfectly clear: People on Twitter may know that 10,000 alarmist posts about their political enemies have been thoroughly debunked and discredited, but when that ten-thousand-and-first comes along they’ll instantly retweet it and add, “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS CRAP???” And of course the lies will get a hundred times the exposure of the corrections. We all do well to remember Mark Twain’s “Advice to Youth”:

Think what tedious years of study, thought, practice, experience, went to the equipment of that peerless old master who was able to impose upon the whole world the lofty and sounding maxim that “Truth is mighty and will prevail” — the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved. For the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with evidences that a truth is not hard to kill, and that a lie well told is immortal. There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years. An awkward, feeble, leaky lie is a thing which you ought to make it your unceasing study to avoid; such a lie as that has no more real permanence than an average truth. Why, you might as well tell the truth at once and be done with it. A feeble, stupid, preposterous lie will not live two years — except it be a slander upon somebody. It is indestructible, then, of course, but that is no merit of yours.


Elon Musk could become the world’s greatest hero by buying Twitter and then immediately shutting it down.

Seriously, it would be a revelatory moment. Ninety percent of the people who shitpost on Twitter would just start shitposting on Facebook and after a few days wouldn’t remember that Twitter had ever existed. But ten percent would have a fighting chance of finding something better to do with their time.

UPDATE: Now that the deal is done — probably? — I think one of the biggest immediate consequences is a dramatic upturn in the use of text-replacement apps by journalists. Can you imagine writing this piece if you had to type all the scare quotes around “free speech” with your own fingers? Hello RSI therapy.

Adam Roberts:

I’m wondering if we could theorise Twitter itself as a huge, sprawling and continually refashioning sequence of aphorisms. And, as a regular user I know that, more often than you might think, a tweet does hit the sweet spot that Lockwood captures so well in her Part 1: a tweet that is funny, or clever, or thought-provoking, or poignardesque. But most of Twitter, the vast majority, is drivel. Chaff. Irritable gestures, smugnesses, narcissisms, randomness, phatic fumbles of the finger on the iPhone typepad. But still all aphorisms. The form of the website mandates that. Which gives us a huge unspooling aphoristic megatext that is neither pedagogically worthwhile, metaphysically tantalising nor even deconstructivistically labyrinthine. That is, rather, just banal. Banal on an epic scale. A huge ongoing drama in which the aphorism has become the main vehicle for the radical, collective banalism of life today. Perhaps the reason ‘we’ (for certain metrics of ‘we’) are so addicted to Twitter is precisely because it satisfies our yearning for an aphorism of banality rather than an aphorism of profundity; an aphorism that closes down rather than discloses, that glues us together in our shared pettiness.

I think what Adam is trying to say is that Twitter is the natural habitat of the banalphorism.

the death of journalism

From Charlie Warzel’s newsletter:

Julia Marcus: I’m fairly new to Twitter but it’s felt to me that the people who are amplified in news media as experts are often the people who have large followings on Twitter, which creates this feedback loop that can build a false sense of consensus. And that makes it very difficult to put forth alternative perspectives. It’s hard to imagine how the pandemic would’ve played out without social media but it feels to me that social media contributed to an unhelpful polarization of the discussion.

Charlie Warzel: I’ve heard public health people say that before everyone flocked to social media a lot of these scientific discussions were happening on private listservs or messageboards and in those spaces there was room for disagreement or to express a greater spectrum of doubt. It was a safe space. And then the discussion moved into the public and it was distorted. Is that true in your experience?

JM: Twitter rewards certainty. How often do you see a tweet go viral when somebody is unsure about something? And it’s an addictive process. Certainty is rewarded, high emotion is rewarded, especially anger and fear, and it’s a self-perpetuating phenomenon. When the scientific discourse largely moves onto social media it begins to degrade. I think it moved to social media because it was the easiest way to get the word out, and because so many scientists were working at home and social media provided a forum for conversations in their fields. But sometimes it has felt more like a middle school cafeteria than a scientific discussion.

From Zeynep Tufekci’s newsletter:

Many top media outlets took this group of critics’ dismissal of a version of the lab leak hypothesis and then acted like that dismissal was universal and a scientific consensus, which it wasn’t, or was conclusive, which it couldn’t be simply because we … don’t know. We certainly didn’t have the evidence we need to be so conclusive, especially not at the time.

In addition, press reports suggested that everything that fell under the umbrella of the term ‘lab leak,’ which has been a conceptual mess, had also been dismissed, although it hadn’t been, even by some of the original opponents of that particular version.

Then, for a whole year, the coverage implied that any question or statement skeptical of the lab leak critics, broadly defined, was essentially unscientific and could only be motivated by racism. Social media sites took down posts, and even news articles that made such claims.

In the meantime, the reporters did not do the leg work to separate the pieces of the question or seek a broad range of experts. If they had, they might have realized that many experts were quiet on the topic partly because they didn’t want to die on this hill last year, and partly because many were actually eminent experts very very busy doing work on the pandemic itself. Unfortunately, many media outlets failed to do the work necessary to pull themselves out of the tight Twitter/media feedback loop that dominates so much of our media coverage.

Twitter has absolutely killed journalism. Killed it stone dead. And there’s not one journalist in a hundred who has brains enough to realize it.

couldn’t have said it better myself

Megan McArdle: “Will is a friend, so naturally I’m dismayed by what happened. I’m also dismayed that it should have happened at Niskanen, a center-to-leftish institution I admire. And I’m even more worried to have yet another example of the damage Twitter is doing to American discourse — damage so profound that I’m beginning to think that the only way to fix it is not to urge tolerance, but for major institutions in the media and think-tank world to tell their employees to get the hell off Twitter.”

it’s time

I read stories like this almost every day: banned from Twitter for no good reason; banned from Facebook for no good reason; banned from Facebook supposedly by accident, but come on, we know what’s going on here.

I don’t for an instant think Bret Weinstein’s Facebook account was flagged by an algorithm: someone there wanted to silence him and hoped to get away with it. But most of the time these bans happen because the sheer scale of these platforms makes meaningful moderation impossible. Facebook and Twitter would have to hire ten times the number of moderators they currently employ to make rational judgments in these matters, and they won’t voluntarily cut into their profits. They’ll continue to rely on the algorithms and on instantaneous denials of appeals.

Here’s your semi-regular reminder: You don’t have to be there. You can quit Twitter and Facebook and never go back. You can set up social-media shop in a more humane environment, like micro.blog, or you can send emails to your friends — with photos of your cats attached! If you’re a person with a significant social-media following, you can start a newsletter; heck, you can do that if you just want to stay in touch with five of six friends. All of the big social-media platforms are way past their sell-by date. The stench of their rottenness fills the room, and the worst smells of all come from Facebook and Twitter.

In your heart you know I’m right: It’s time to go.

P.S. Of course, I’ve been singing this song for a long time. I return to it now simply because the election-as-mediated-through-social-media seems to be exacerbating the misery of millions and millions of people. I’ll try to sing a different song from now on.

the circle game

A year-and-a-half ago or thereabouts I deactivated my Twitter account and was very happy to escape the place. But I have a new book coming out, and one’s publisher always reminds one that social media are super-important for promoting books, and Twitter is the only mainstream social media platform I have ever used, so … earlier this year I re-activated the account. Round and round.

At first it didn’t go badly. Twitter created a new setting that allows users to hide replies from anyone they’re not following — an important and decade-overdue step. Also, when the lockdown started a good many people enjoyed using Twitter as a place to re-connect with people they had fallen out of touch with. There was a positive vibe.

For a while. It didn’t last long. The old habits of malice and ignorance soon reasserted themselves. And even the best-natured, gentlest people would regularly feel compelled to share some horrific news item or appalling celebrity/politician/journalist tweet. I could get Twitter’s filtering of my replies only by using its own apps — its API doesn’t provide that feature to third-party apps, naturellement — which regularly served me ads I didn’t want to see and promoted tweets I would’ve paid to avoid. (I have been asking for at least ten years why Twitter doesn’t create a paid level where that kind of shit can be escaped.) Frustrated by all that, I would return to a third-party app — I like Tweetbot best — only to be confronted by replies I was even more eager to avoid.

My feelings about replies from strangers, I realized some time ago, are largely a function of my Southern upbringing. For years, whenever I got some random question or comment from someone I didn’t know, I would feel honor-bound to reply. That’s what a gentleman does, isn’t it? I was certainly raised to believe that when someone addresses you you have an obligation to respond, and to do so politely. (I didn’t always manage the “politely,” though.) After some years of obeying the promptings of conscience, I finally understood that four out of five strangers who addressed me on Twitter were not seeking good-faith conversation but rather were angry or needy or some combination of the two. And yet my felt need for politeness had me answering them for far longer than was healthy for me. That’s why being able to hide replies from people I don’t follow relieved me of my burden: I can’t respond to tweets directed at me if I never see them.

However, that didn’t altogether solve my problem. I still felt an obligation to reply to the people I do follow, almost all of whom are friends or at least acquaintances. So if any of them addressed me or tagged me in a tweet I had to come onto the site at least to like the tweet, maybe to comment. But that always ended up exposing me to a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t want to see. And so I would fulfill my felt duty to my friends but go away frustrated by what I heard and saw. Round and round and round.

That’s why I was I was really content during that year or so my account was deactivated: my friends couldn’t tag me there, so if they wanted to get in touch with me they had to send me an email. I wasn’t failing them by not answering their tweets, because there were no tweets to answer. Perfect!

But when I returned to Twitter to promote my new book, I fell back into the same frustrations as before. If I just didn’t have this Southern training that makes me feel an obligation to anyone who asks anything of me, I probably wouldn’t be in this situation, but you can’t unlearn your rearing. Or I can’t anyway.

My friends make fun of me for my long-standing ambivalence about Twitter, but since the 2016 election season I haven’t been ambivalent. I have despised it wholly. I believe that Twitter and Facebook have done unprecedented and unhealable damage to our social fabric — I believe that they are evil, and that no morally sane person should be comfortable using either of them. I do not say that every morally sane person should refuse to be on them — for some people the decision to be on social media is wholly justifiable and maybe even admirable — but if you’re happy on social media then you need to reset your moral compass.

So I wrote to my peeps at Penguin Random House and asked if I would be betraying them if I deactivated my Twitter account again. My wonderful editor Ginny Smith wrote back reminding me that Twitter is a “useful tool” — “but it’s not worth your sanity.” Exactly. Thank you. I’m outta there.


Nothing is stupider than using Twitter to write anything longer than, you know, a tweet. This we know.

It’s a terrible experience first for the writer and then for the reader. Thread Reader is meant to make things less miserable for readers, and to some degree it accomplishes that, but whenever someone sends me a thread — I would never choose to look at one — you know what I inevitably think? Lordy, this is badly written. See, Thread Reader can’t do anything to reverse the damage the 280-character limit inflicts on a person’s writing: such writing is invariably choppy, imprecise, abstract, syntactically naïve or incompetent, lacking in appropriate transitions — a total mess in every respect. (Some of this happens because the writers get distracted by comments that start coming in before they’ve finished the thread, but an undistracted threader is still a poor writer.)

When you write a Twitter thread, what you are telling me is that you don’t care about your own ideas enough to articulate and display them in a proper venue. And if you don’t have respect for your own ideas, you certainly can’t expect me to.

You don’t have to create a blog of your own to post something to the web. You can use a free service like Rentry — I used to recommend also txt.fyi but I think it’s dead. [UPDATE: It’s back!] You can even do what the celebs do and write something in Apple Notes, screenshot it, and tweet it as an image. There are a hundred ways to post longer-than–280-characters writing to Twitter, and when you write threads you are choosing the very worst one.

free as in more coffee

I use the Freedom app to keep me off Twitter for 22 hours a day. I get an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to check what’s happening.

Freedom isn’t perfect: especially on iOS it sometimes fails to kick in until I open the app. (Today mid-morning I reflexively checked Tweetbot and chatted with folks for a few minutes before I realized that I shouldn’t be able to do that. I quickly opened Freedom and then found my way blocked. Relief!) But overall it’s great.

I tend to think of Freedom in theological terms, as a technological instrument to produce instant infused righteousness. After all, did not Augustine say — see the last paragraph of the City of God — that the blessed are truly free because they are unable to sin? And does not Freedom prevent me from tweet-sinning? (I see that I need to add prevenient grace to my theology-of-social-media vocabulary.)

Anyway, here’s the best thing about Freedom: It allows whole cycles of tweet-rage to pass me right by. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and check Twitter and see some outrageous thing that some dunce tweeted the previous day or evening, something that I might be very tempted to respond to — but by the time I see it that person has already been raked over the coals so thoroughly that he’s already dead. It’s great. Thanks, friends, for doing the Lord’s work for me so I can have another peaceful cup of coffee.

one more post about Twitter

I deactivated my Twitter account more than a year ago, and set a recurrent reminder to log in every 28 days to reactivate and then deactivate again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to let my handle go to some other person who would no doubt bring shame onto the noble ayjay name. This little dance became tiresome, and my publishers like it when I broadcast useful (read: sales-related) info on social media, so I decided to make the account active again and leave it that way.

Twitter is even worse than I remember it being. The same compulsive temporary madness-of-crowds obsessions — sure, of course, Kobe Bryant is the most important person in your life, even though you’ve never mentioned him before and will probably never mention him again — but conducted with a greater intensity than I had remembered. Also, it seems that the reply function is now reserved as a dedicated performance space for sociopaths (if you don’t believe me, look at the first ten replies to any widely-read tweet).

What a horrible, horrible thing Twitter is. If the people who work there weren’t sociopaths themselves they’d shut the whole thing down for the good of humanity.

So I’m bringing back Freedom, which I had used in the past but set aside when I left Twitter. There will be 20 minutes a day when I can see Twitter, mainly to be sure that things I post here actually show up there. I’ll spend the rest of my time praying that the whole platform will die a swift and irreversible death.


The issue of my newsletter that I posted today is concerned largely with the Hong Kong protests, but let me add a note to that. In that post I quote Maciej Cegłowski, who has been in Hong Kong participating in the protests, and he recently tweeted:

So let’s keep this in mind for future reference, okay? If you are a tyrannical government, or you work for such a government, and you want to get your lies about what’s happening in your country before as many eyeballs as possible, Twitter is ready and eager to sell you access to those eyeballs.

a plea to journalists

Peter Hamby:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

two thoughts on Twitter

After being away from Twitter for a few months, I have two thoughts.

The first is that I wish I had departed years ago.

The second is that when I peek at Twitter, the whole enterprise seems so weird. It’s not that it seems worse than I had remembered, nastier or stupider; rather, the fact that people spend time on that platform now strikes me as absurd, inexplicable. And I was tweeting for eleven years before I departed! It’s remarkable how quickly my mind has re-set itself to the pre-Twitter norm.

welcome to the new Twitter

Hi, and welcome to the New Twitter™! Over the years, many of you have told us how tiresome and time-consuming it is to type your tweets. Well, we have listened, and we have a solution! From now on, you won’t need to type your tweets at all. Instead, you’ll just click or tap to choose one of the following words, which we have put in hashtag form to promote ease of searching:

  • #cuck
  • #disrupt
  • #inclusive
  • #innovate
  • #intersectionality
  • #loser
  • #MAGA
  • #privilege
  • #sad
  • #whitesupremacy

We’re confident that these ten words faithfully represent the full intellectual content everything that users of Twitter say — but with the added bonus of concision and clarity! From now on, to use Twitter you’ll just need to select one of these words and hit the “Tweet” button. And you’re done! — with less bother and fuss for you, and lower bandwidth costs for us. It’s a big win all round!

And one more thing: you’ll see that our new, custom-designed “I am literally shaking with rage RN” emoji will be automatically added to each tweet. Yet another way that we’re here to serve your needs!

the “gradual decay” of Twitter

Am I finally done with Twitter? After years of leaving and coming back, leaving and coming back? If I haven’t learned how to leave Twitter, at least I’ve learned how not to claim that I’m leaving Twitter. But I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

There’s almost never any pleasure in visiting Twitter now, just the utility of finding out what my friends are up to. Still, something in my brain remembers better times, so left to my own devices I check in far more often than makes sense. So lately I’ve been using Freedom to block Twitter except for a brief period each morning and a brief one each evening. I have found that I don’t miss the place, yes, but also that more and more often I forget to visit when the window is open.

Now that Twitter is finally hobbling the third-party clients that make using the site bearable, and is continuing to get bad publicity for its inability to control bad actors on its platform, I’m seeing in my RSS feed a number of suggestions for how Twitter can be fixed. All of them are ideas that have been put forth for a decade now — adding a paid tier, forcing the third-party clients to show ads, improving the ability to block users — so it would be very strange if Twitter started making intelligent decisions at this late date. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t known for his wit, but I think often of what he said some years ago about the creators of Twitter: They drove a clown car to a gold mine, and then fell in.

Twitter’s current leadership are flailing around right now, looking for ways to fix their platform, but there’s virtually no chance that they’ll make good choices. They have never understood their own product, in large part because few of them use it themselves, and a dozen years in that’s not going to change. And for people like me, it’s too late anyway.

There’s a very moving passage in one of Samuel Johnson’s essays about how friendships end that captures much of how I feel about Twitter:

The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint, and too numerous for removal. — Those who are angry may be reconciled; those who have been injured may receive a recompense: but when the desire of pleasing and willingness to be pleased is silently diminished, the renovation of friendship is hopeless; as, when the vital powers sink into languor, there is no longer any use of the physician.

But if my friendship with Twitter is dying, I still care for the friends whose company I have enjoyed there. I hope I will hear from them elsewhere — maybe even at micro.blog.

farewell to Twitter?

(Cross-posted, with edits, from Text Patterns

A few weeks ago I deleted my private Twitter account — it was a good way to keep up with friends, but I found it impossible to control it (via disabled RTs, muted strings, etc.) well enough to prevent the frustration from exceeding the pleasure. That left me just with my public account, which I have been using primarily for linking to my own writing (e.g. blog posts like this one) and to cool things I’ve read by others. But I really really want to be out of the Twitter ecosystem completely — for obvious reasons: everybody knows that Twitter is horrible, there’s no need to belabor that point — so I have now deleted the public account too.

My chief concern with being off Twitter altogether is that I’ll be unable to provide a signal boost to people who are writing or making interesting things that other folks might not notice — and for that reason I could, I must admit, come back. So when Twitter notifies me, 29 days from now, that my account is about to be deleted, I might have a moment of weakness and log back in. (Twitter does prompt you when your account is about to be deleted … doesn’t it?)

I am aware, of course, that most people who read this blog get to it via my Twitter links, so I am perhaps making myself more marginal than ever. Who will even see this post? But if you happen to see it, and want to see more, please try RSS. It’s great. Most of the cool things I read or see are posted here, or on Text Patterns, or on my Pinboard page. And all of those have RSS feeds.

P.S. Have I written before about quitting Twitter? Have I quit Twitter before? Yes on both counts. I am pathetically irresolute. 

UPDATE (a few days later): Several people emailed me pleading with me to come back to Twitter, just for linkage. I guess for a great many people RSS is just a foreign technology. And since I can set up automatic posting to Twitter, why not? So that little experiment didn’t last long….

Joe Posnanski wises up

About 15 or 20 years ago, I realized that talk radio was wrecking my writing process. I would be writing a column, and I would hear the talk radio voices in my head screaming, and I thought: “This isn’t helping me.” And so I stopped listening to talk radio. That’s sort of how I feel about Twitter now. All of the good — and there’s a lot of good in Twitter — just doesn’t for me outweigh the negativity, the rashness, the time-suckitude. At some point — I wrote about this — I figured out how many words I have written on Twitter, and it just about broke my spirit. I’ve written a full book on Twitter. A full, lousy, grammatically challenged, snarky, largely unfunny book of snap judgments and surface-level philosophy. I don’t have time for that. I have real books to write.

Joe Posnanski. Every few days or so I check in on Twitter and I see people still trying to write about important, complex matters there. They think, Hey, we have 280 characters per tweet now and I can link thoughts together in a tweetstorm. And then they produce inarticulate, disconnected, logically-challenged clumps of assertion— even when they’re perfectly capable of writing articulate, connected, logically clear arguments, at least when they’re on platforms that don’t enforce the equivalent of the electrical jolts used to keep Harrison Bergeron from thinking clearly.

If you’re trying to address complex issues on Twitter, you are serving as your own Handicapper General. Please stop. Get a blog. You’re damaging your brain and the quality of public discourse. We all deserve better.

what Twitter does to journalism

Earlier today I tweeted: “Gap that needs to be filled: the journalism that journalists ignore while spending all day every day insulting each other on Twitter.”

I’m serious about this. I only follow one account on public Twitter (a truly vital one), but I had for some time a Twitter list called “Politics” that contained the accounts of some of the reporters I have the most respect for. I just deleted that list because all these people do is snark at each other and at commenters. They call each other names, they trade insults with random people who criticize them, they RT most such insults — basically, America’s political reporters think and act like sixth-graders. And they’re on Twitter all the time. You can’t learn a damned thing by following any of them — or any of the ones I know of, anyway.

Journalists are always saying that they have to be on Twitter because that’s where the information is. I think that’s bullshit. Twitter is where the childish bickering is, and that’s what seems to make journalists happy. I’m now going to begin my search for journalists who aren’t on Twitter, or are rarely there: those are the ones who are more likely to be doing some actual research and reporting.

Twitter’s missing manual

A ton of people have been linking to this, which is meet and right, because it’s excellent. (There were even a couple of things I, Past Master of Tweets, didn’t know.) However, I need to make a few small edits:

• Due to the nature of Twitter, it’s common for a tweet to end up on many people’s timelines simultaneously and attract many similar replies within a short span of time. It’s polite to check the existing replies to a popular tweet, or a tweet from a popular person, before giving your two cents.

After “polite,” add “but almost unheard-of.”

• It’s generally considered rude to barge into the middle of a conversation between two other people, especially if they seem to know each other much better than you know them, and especially if you’re being antagonistic. There are myriad cases where this may be more or less appropriate, and no hard and fast rules. You’re a passerby overhearing two people talking on the street; act accordingly.

In the first sentence of that quote, delete “It’s generally considered.” Such behavior is of course rude, but nothing on Twitter is “generally considered” rude. Alas.

One other etiquette matter I would mention: some people have figured out that I have a locked account and tweet at it, hoping I will notice and (I guess) respond. To me, this is the equivalent of walking up to a hotel-room door that says “DO NOT DISTURB” and pounding on it. This annoyance could easily be eliminated if Twitter had a setting for not showing me @-messages from anyone I don’t follow* — a setting that surely many people who suffer actual harassment on Twitter would want to take advantage of, at least at times, and which ought to be the default for locked accounts. Locked accounts aren’t very private if you regularly have to deal with noise from strangers.

* My bad, Twitter-for-web does have that setting — it’s just, I believe, not part of the API and therefore not available to any Twitter clients, including Tweetdeck. But I have found that even if I use Twitter-on-web, which I never want to do because of its annoying eccentricities, that choice is not sticky: I set the tab to “show replies only from people you follow,” and if I leave that tab and return to it the setting has gone back to “show replies from everyone.” Thanks to Gabriel Rossman for reminding me of the setting on the home page.

excerpt from discussions on the Twitter HQ Slack channel

A: We’re still getting hammered in the press — well, everywhere really — for all the abuse some of our users take. Do we have any new ideas about how to fix that?

B. I’ve got this idea for adding a kind of news feed, we can call it … hang on … yeah, let’s call it “Moments”

A. “Moments”?

B. Right. “Moments”

A. And this will help us deal with the abuse problem how?

B. If we put it where the Notifications tab used to be people will click on it like all. the. time

A. Okay, but …

C. You know this “140 character” thing has been an albatross around our necks for EVER

A. Hang on, can we get back to the issue I was raising?

C. I mean, *one hundred and forty*? Why not, like, TEN THOUSAND




E. We’re totally doing this


So sad about Cedric the lion!

So sad about Cedric the lion!

So sad about Cedric the lion!

The guy who killed Cedric ought to be put to death himself.

So sad about Cedric the lion!

The guy who killed Cedric ought to be put to death himself.

Why do you care about lions more than black people?

So sad about Cedric the lion!

The guy who killed Cedric ought to be put to death himself.

So sad about Cedric the lion!

Why do you care about lions more than the unborn?

The guy who killed Cedric ought to be put to death himself.

Why do you care about lions more than black people?

So sad about Cedric the lion!

Why I Don’t Believe Twitter Will Do Anything to Address Abuse

Today I tweeted, “Okay that Twitter says it will deal better with abuse, but policies are only as good as their implementation. I left @flickr because they wouldn’t even respond when I was being harassed, in plain violation of their ToS. So policies as such are empty.” (FYI, I tell a very brief version of my experience with Flickr’s unresponsiveness in this post. And you can read more about Twitter’s new policies here.)

A few minutes later I got this response:


I followed, and provided the old case number. But all I got in return was a link to a page for reporting abuse — something I did a long time ago. So I replied, “Well, I already did report the abuse. And nothing was done. So basically you’re asking me to start over. If you folks want to do customer care, you can pick up the ball where you dropped it.” Flickr’s reply? “Thanks for helping us to make Flickr a safer place! We really appreciate it!”

In other words, a big fat middle finger extended right in my face. Publicly, Flickr expressed concern and responsibility; privately they mocked me.

This is what I mean when I say that stated policies mean absolutely nothing — indeed, in some cases, as with Flickr, they are PR ruses designed to hide total irresponsibility. (And remember, I was a paying customer of Flickr when they they couldn’t be bothered to address the abuse. Twitter has no paying customers, and no real competitors either.) I see absolutely no reason to believe that Twitter will do anything to curb the torrents of abuse that afflict so many of its users, especially women. I’d be happy to be proven wrong; I don’t expect to be.

All-Purpose Responses to Expressions of Puzzlement or Resentment on Twitter

  1. Here, let me google that for you.
  2. If you read a few other recent tweets of mine your confusion is likely to be remedied!
  3. I think you just tried to cram 500 words of meaning into 140 characters, so, alas, I find your reply incomprehensible.
  4. Thank you for sharing your passionate lack of interest in what I just tweeted about. Had I known that in advance it would have had no effect on my tweeting, though.
  5. Please do not take my tweet as an indication that I wish to conduct a debate on Twitter. I don’t use Twitter for that.