There’s worse things, no doubt

by John Holbo on January 27, 2019

I got on Twitter.

Honestly, I deserve some credit. I joined a couple years back because, suddenly, every time I landed on any Twitter page it was all in Arabic. Weird. I figured if I signed in I could adjust the language setting. But then the problem resolved itself. I never bothered. But I follow enough people I should be on the platform, but if I’m on the platform … So I logged in. Erased the Arabic script handle Twitter had wisely chosen as my default. Reset my country of origin from the default: Hungary. And Bob’s your uncle!

So what do we think of the ethics of Twitter? I mean: how can one live a flourishing life on Twitter?

It’s just the worst, right? I’ve made a terrible mistake.



Chetan Murthy 01.27.19 at 2:53 am

I’ve twice now (since the 2016 campaign season) started using Twitter, found myself wasting enormous amounts of time there, got banned for an offensive tweet (which was in both cases not offensive unless satire and “describing the natural outcome of GrOPer policies” is offensive), and found that it’s a blessing to neither be able to check one’s homepage timeline, nor post.

I still read tweets when they’re posted elsewhere in blogs, but no longer go to Twitter. Maybe someday I’ll get sufficiently exercised about something that I’ll re-enable my account. But for now, being banned is a benison.


John Holbo 01.27.19 at 2:53 am

I think I want to be following more comics and lit bloggers. More comedy and weird Twitter. Thing is: I only ever remember to check the politics stuff. And that’s the worst.


Benjamin L.S. Nelson 01.27.19 at 2:55 am

You can probably get by as an individual user, but overall it seems to be an echo chamber made up of systemic distortions. Arguments go from zero to bloodsport in 60 seconds and the crowd salivates for more. Group polarization, but of a strangely high-octane variety.

My dream is to write an article in social epistemology called “Fuck Twitter”, but I’m sure someone will beat me to it.


Brad DeLong 01.27.19 at 3:08 am

Insisting on viewing “latest tweets” rather than “algorithmic timeline” helps, as does muting and blocking everything you see that you are tempted to respond to with anything other than your Best Self. Do those and you have a chance. Otherwise, you are damned…


Alan White 01.27.19 at 3:26 am

Are you old enough John to remember party lines on the phone? I am. Twitter is like exponent-engorged party lines with free international long-distance but with selective callback/answering machines enabled for everyone on the party line all the time. Why in the world would anyone, anyone wish to sign up for that? Twitter is just electronic egomania–which is why it is Trump’s choice of voice.


Cheryl Rofer 01.27.19 at 4:42 am

I agree with Brad DeLong’s suggestions. Whom you follow is critical. You will find communities of like-minded people and great conversations. Start by following people you know in comics and lit.

Consider using an interface like TweetDeck. The Twitter interface is not user-friendly.


John Holbo 01.27.19 at 5:50 am

On the one hand, Brad tells me to be my Best Self. On the other hand, he retweets me, causing me only to wish to get more MORE MORE of this sweet, sweet heretofore unknown retweet aspartame of affirmation. More MORE. Thanks for the retweet, Brad!


John Holbo 01.27.19 at 5:50 am

“Consider using an interface like TweetDeck.”

I’ve heard that’s good, thanks.


Bruce Baugh 01.27.19 at 8:36 am

Looks like you’ve already got the best advice, John. I will add that if you have any interest in horror fiction, it can be worth following authors you like and then those they recommend – the percentage of interesting and decent human beings is much higher in horror than in a bunch of other genres. Also, daily and hourly tweets for cute or otherwise fun animals like foxes and capybara are good to follow, to keep yourself supplied with things to look at and think about apart from anyone’s news cycle.


Lee A. Arnold 01.27.19 at 11:26 am

Twitter is absolutely the best news feed for developments in science, technology, medicine. I don’t write many tweets myself, I just listen in. And there are folks who find old SF cover art and new steampunk paintings.

Which reminds me John have you ever seen Everlasting Blort? An endless feast. The archives go down the side for 17 years.


oldster 01.27.19 at 2:34 pm

huh. I have no Twitter account, and therefore find it easy to obey the Prime Directive (sc. “never tweet”).

However, it is easy for me to look in on the twitter feeds of a handful of people whom I find interesting and topical — Jamelle Bouie, Jeet Heer, Dave Weigel, Josh Marshall, and a few others. Then I sometimes look at the people whom they retweet, though sporadically. I treat it more as a collection of blogs with short posts that update rapidly.

So far as I can tell, this gives me all of the benefits of a Twitter account, with none of the downside. So my advice is: read twitter! never tweet!

Granted, I am acting on a maxim that I could not consistently will that everyone else should adopt, but there’s nothing wrong with that, surely.


AcademicLurker 01.27.19 at 2:54 pm

Since the full-throated anti twitter contingent seems to be underrepresented in this thread, I guess I’ll step up.

You’re making a terrible, terrible mistake.

Twitter is on of the most powerful engines ever devised for identifying and promoting the worst. It’s absolutely no coincidence that Trump is the twitter president.

Interacting with twitter will make you a worse human being. For the sake of your immortal soul, turn back before it’s too late.

More seriously. There are lots of great things about the internet, but everyone agrees that one of the worst thing about the internet is the prevalence of psychos and trolls and jerks. As far as I can see, the main innovation of twitter (and most other social media) is to seriously restrict your ability to control who you interact with. How on earth is that a good thing?

The best I’ve heard about twitter is “If you carefully curate your feed and constantly update your settings you might not end up with a fire hose of crap sprayed at you”.


Heliopause 01.27.19 at 5:15 pm

“It’s just the worst, right? I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

Possibly, if you use it to socially network. I deliberately minimize my use of its capabilities so as to not invite trolling and mob justice. I drop a few bon mots per day but rarely engage in an extended conversation. Its main use to me is to keep abreast of what various parties are thinking and as a handy aggregator of links to material of interest. YMMV.


Ray Vinmad 01.27.19 at 5:43 pm

I tried to follow Brad DeLong to see whom he follows but he’s blocked me. I’ve never thought to look at his Twitter account until this thread. But somehow he knew what a whiner I was, though it’s unlikely he’s ever seen my Twitter feed given my obscurity.

He clearly knows something that I don’t about Twitter. I follow the worst people, just to know what they’re up to.

Every time, I’m like an hysterical medieval peasant thinking I’ll assuage my anxiety over a reported outbreak of the plague by going to go to the town square. Hey, at least I’ll get plague updates in real time rather than fretting alone! Add dopamine, intermittent reinforcement, and the let the magic happen. The Lord Mayor might retweet me.


Birdie 01.27.19 at 7:44 pm

Bad drugs drive out good drugs.


Neville Morley 01.28.19 at 6:56 am

Another vote for Tweetdeck, as a means of harnessing the usefulness of Twitter’s list function: add people to thematic lists (Cartoons, Lovecraftia, People Who Reliably Talk Sense, Idiots You Nevertheless Want To Keep An Eye On etc), assign each to a column, and arrange them so that you see the good/positive stuff first up.


John Garrett 01.28.19 at 1:58 pm

Bruce Baugh, #9: “the percentage of interesting and decent human beings is much higher in horror than in a bunch of other genres.” As a non-horror reader, this strikes me as profoundly weird. Anybody else?


Dave 01.28.19 at 3:22 pm

William Gibson (@greatdismal) is a good follow because he is a prolific retweeter.


Brian 01.28.19 at 5:07 pm

My guess is the greater the atomization of the community, the greater the percentage of decent human beings…


Karen Lofstrom 01.29.19 at 2:19 am

I just follow a few spec-fic (SFF, science fiction and fantasy writers) and never tweet. My exposure to idiocy is close to nil.


Jerry Vinokurov 01.29.19 at 2:19 pm

oh no holbo wyd



hix 01.29.19 at 9:24 pm

So who is using twitter? In Germany the only relevance seems to be that journalists use it in significant numbers (maybe just bec. they are lazy looking for some quotes) , so if one wants to get a message to the public via traditional media, its a good place to start.


hix 01.29.19 at 9:28 pm

Maybe the dark side will get me someday and ill end up using twitter instagram and god knows what, i did try tinder recently after all, but for now it just doesnt seem to make sense for more average internet users purposes.

Comments on this entry are closed.