What’s the point of Twitter?
A meditation on one of the internet’s most toxic places
Like many people, I have a hard time getting out of bed without browsing social media for far too long first.
This includes Instagram, Reddit, Facebook (for five seconds before I realize what I’m doing and close the app) and my least favorite: Twitter.
On Instagram or Reddit I can at least have curated and visually interesting content, but the same cannot be said for Twitter.
And yet, I can’t discern the reason that I can’t seem to stay away from the app.
Now, there are a variety of reasons that Twitter is so abhorrent to me.
The first –– and possibly most egregious –– is the fact that there is no such thing as “winning an argument” on Twitter. Tweets are limited to 280 characters, which means thoroughly explaining a point becomes a fool’s errand. When you have a site based on conversation and interaction in the way that Twitter is, having a real conversation becomes impossible.
There are approximately 330 million monthly active Twitter users. What this means is that any viewpoint expressed on the website, no matter how horrid, radical or factual it is, is likely to receive some form of validation from at least a few people. And when you’ve received that validation, that means you’re automatically right in the eyes of a Twitter user. Someone with a differing opinion may bring up their viewpoint, but since your tweet got 10,000 likes and theirs only got 300, your opinion must be correct, right?
Consider an argument taking place in real life. Most of the time, they don’t occur in forums composed of 15,000 people who are asked to pick a side. Most arguments happen within a small group of people, and even if your one friend validates your opinion, it makes what you’re saying seem more valid.
Now take that feeling of validation and multiply it by thousands of people giving you a cosign. The fact of the matter is, almost everyone is going to have an opinion on everything, and just because thousands of people agree with you doesn’t mean that you’re automatically right.
But this validation effect is enough for some people to not care, and it creates an echo chamber where no problems can be solved. This is an issue that has only gotten worse in the time of COVID-19, where most of our daily interaction takes place in a digital landscape.
Another issue with Twitter is a more recent development: the advent of seeing suggested tweets you may like that someone you followed also liked. Not only does this feature often not work, but it also is one of the sources that generate the arguments I described earlier.
Following people on Twitter doesn’t mean that I’m going to enjoy what they like. I’ve learned some very strange things about my friends because the mysterious Twitter algorithm showed some of the frankly bizarre things they like on a daily basis. Maybe this is just a sign that I follow too many people who I don’t necessarily agree with, but something about the feature just weirds me out and leaves me frustrated.
With all of these complaints though, why do I still go on Twitter? With all of the tweets that I see of people complaining about the site, why does anyone use Twitter?
Maybe it’s because some people secretly like to get angry at small facets of life like this. Maybe it’s because social media has that much of an addictive hold on so many of us. Maybe it’s just the fear of missing out.
I know that I’ve personally found out about bands releasing albums, movie companies releasing trailers and learned about similar events through Twitter. But even then, if I’m actually that interested in said band, movie, etc. I would more than likely find out about it eventually.
Twitter has a strange gravitational force that is equal parts addictive and grotesque. And whether I open Twitter to find people shaming an amputee taking nudes (for an admittedly good reason), users engaging in useless political back-and-forths (neither side is going to convince the other, so why bother?) or men replying to women talking about their trauma with misogynistic gifs and pictures of the rapper Future, I question why I and everyone else continues to use it.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey should do the right thing and just take the website offline. It would probably be a net-positive for mankind.
But until that day, catch me scrolling, refreshing and questioning why I’m subjecting myself to one of the most miserable places on the internet today.
Alex Whetham is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.