Twitter's rock bottom
Late last week I marked my eight year sober anniversary by comparing my own trajectory with that of Silicon Valley. The TL;DR version: As I’ve spent nearly a decade becoming less of an asshole, so the tech industry has made the opposite journey.
Still, while I’ve stayed completely sober these past eight years, I’ve never let myself become complacent. Never let myself forget that whatever cocktail of biological and social factors that made me an addict in the first place might still be bubbling away under the surface.
Exhibit A: My relationship with Twitter. As long ago as 2011 I wrote on TechCrunch about my on-off relationship with the service. Back then the worst most people could say about Twitter was that it was a time suck; a creativity killer. But still…
Since then I’ve probably deleted, suspended, recreated and unsuspended my account a half dozen times. In the process I’ve probably lost and regained about 50,000 followers. I’ve been verified, unverified (which happens automatically if you delete or significantly modify your account) and then verified again.
My most recent Twitter relapse (and I hate to use that word lightly) came a couple of weeks ago. The trigger: My frustration at how absolutely fucking useless the mainstream media coverage of Silicon Valley awfulness has become.
Just one obvious example: Night after night, new anchors and analysts prognosticate over the links between Facebook and the Trump campaign – and yet in almost every case they fail to connect the two clearest dots of all: (Pando investor) Peter Thiel’s place on the Facebook board and his starring role in the Trump campaign.
We all know the reason, of course: Charles Harder. When Thiel’s pet lawyer managed to shut down Gawker he succeeded too in shutting down the mainstream media’s ability to use the words Peter and Thiel in a sentence without first checking with an army of lawyers.
But that’s no excuse. Thiel’s continuing role at the heart of Facebook and his continued behind the scenes machinations inside Team Trump are a gigantically relevant story, especially Facebook continues to churn out the absolute, solid gold bullshit story that executives knew absolutely nothing about the company’s role in swinging the election for Trump.
I fought and fought my urge to return to Twitter to vent about this, and other crimes against journalism. I really did. But eventually, like Roger Rabbit bursting through that wall, I couldn’t help myself.
Of course I should have turned on my heel the moment I saw what Twitter had become while I’d been away. During my previous Tweet tenure there was already plenty of awfulness – harassment, bullying, white supremacism – but if one chose one’s followees carefully it was still possible to enjoy conversations about, say, books or travel or kittens dancing on countertops.
Not any more.
Today the streets of Twitter are paved with bile. The authors who once talked about literature and the arts have been transformed into crazed doomsayers, using their platforms to scream about the latest Trump outrage. I don’t blame them, but nor can I bear to hear any more awfulness. Sportscasters, actors, philosophers, tinkers, tailors, soldiers and spies are all joined in a chorus of fear and loathing.
And those are just the good neighborhoods. On the other side of town – the MAGA trolls, the casual “I’m just asking the question” misogynists, the self-hating liberals, the Russian bots and, of course, the President of the United States goading his way towards WWIII – the landscape is more toxic still.
After just a few short days – a record for me, I think - I’ve run for the exit once again. I’ve uninstalled the Twitter app, obviously, and deleted all of the tweets I wrote during this past misadventure, returning my account to limbo. Like most public-ish people who quit Twitter, I’m prevented from actually deleting my account because it will then immediately be re-registered by someone pretending to be me.
As someone who literally wrote the book on knowing when to stop for good, I feel reasonably confident in saying that this time I won’t ever be back. I suppose I could caveat that by saying I might return if there were a change in company leadership and root-and-branch reform of the company’s content policies… but no. That ship has sailed. Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone have decided what they want Twitter to be – a paradise for bigots and harassers and a hellscape for everyone else - and they’ve got their wish. My decision to stay or leave will affect them not a jot.
Still, as a former addict with some experience in this field, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the glaringly obvious: Twitter has finally hit rock bottom. Its behavior has become so toxic that even its biggest advocates are finally abandoning it. Absent an immediate and sincere decision to make a dramatic change – not a half-assed pledge to tweak a couple of terms and conditions – there really is only one possible way the Twitter story ends.