Two months ago, I decided to try an experiment. I took my Twitter account that I reserved back in 2012 with hundreds of followers and deactivated it. Before deactivation, I created a new account and invited folks to follow me there. This not only gave me a fresh start, but it also gave me a chance to curate who I follow and who I allow to follow me a bit better than I had before. After having it up for a few months, I finally decided to deactivate it. For good. Here’s why, and how my life has been better because of it.
Generally speaking, I’ve found Twitter to be an extremely toxic environment. I originally joined the site just to reserve a common handle I’ve been using across the web. Eventually, I found it useful to disseminate things that I had been learning and writing about. Then, I got wrapped up in the sht-posting about accounts who exist only to share information, and not engage with people. And so, I found myself wanting to show that wasn’t all I had to offer. So I started to engage in conversations with folks beyond the content I was writing and putting out. Holy sht. What a mistake. While I had many great exchanges with folks, there were always a handful of folks who would ruin things for everyone.
For example, I came across a tweet where an individual out of San Francisco was talking about salaries in New York. Having grown up in a divorced set of households outside a smallish upstate city, I knew how drastically different the salaries were compared to somewhere like New York City. So I commented on the individuals post that they might try looking beyond major tech hubs when it came to making statements about salary and cost of living. With this comment, I was met with an unreasonable, aggravated response. All because someone suggested to this individual to broaden their perspective. And so I blocked the individual and moved on with my day. (This person had 10’s of thousands of followers.)
Only then, I realized that this was the kind of behavior that the platform not only encouraged, it incentivized. It wasn’t about the propagation of useful information, or for that matter, factually correct information. It was about the response. The likes. The punching down. That was how you got followers.
That is not what I’m about. I recognize that more often than not, there are people behind these accounts and each of these people have their own thoughts, feelings, and livelihood. In my opinion not enough people recognize this, and it has led to an extremely charged, toxic, and polarized atmosphere.
The second big thing that drove me away from the platform was the hypocrisy from some of the more influential individuals. Over the last six months, the phrase “punching down” has been tossed around a lot. And yet, many of those advocating for not “punching down” are some of the worst offenders of it. Want a good example? Just do a search for “web 3” on Twitter. They continue to re-hash the same negative points over and over again, without adding any value to each other’s previous comments. Instead of highlighting advancements or changes in this space, these individuals choose to continue to highlight the negative elements.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe there are some very good and valid criticisms of web 3, but solely harping on the negatives doesn’t help. You just sound like a broken record, playing on repeat. To contextualize this a bit more, let us compare it to something like AWS billing. Too often, we here about students who forgot to shut down a project for class, and now they’re left with a large bill to pay. Why aren’t these individuals highlighting these issues with AWS and other cloud providers? (Surprise, some/most work for them.) One frequent criticism of web 3 technologies is the environmental impact. Climate change is a surprisingly complex topic that I’ve been diving more and more into recently. The current leading factor is transportation, followed by energy consumption (where web 3 falls). How many of these influencers drive a hybrid or a Tesla? Why aren’t they saying more about the transportation industry or doing more?
This problem is then amplified by echo chambers on the site. Echo chambers have long been a problem with many social media platforms, but stem from human-kinds tendency to align with like-minded narratives. While this is most often seen in political discussions, I find echo chambers happen in technology and many other areas as well. It’s easy for us to look to technology, tools, and practices that have helped us develop systems in the past and continue to leverage them. But just because something works the way it is, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for innovation.
I wish I could find the TEDx talk, because it was a good one. The speaker talked about how money impacts elections. Specifically, they talk about how money acts as a preselection filter instead of letting voters vote on the merit or qualifications of the candidates. The gist is that by having a high financial barrier to entry, many qualified candidates are forced out of the race rather than allowing the candidates to compete on their qualifications. Analogously, we can observe this on Twitter (and many other social platforms).
First, I should say that I have never worked at Twitter (or any social media company). Therefore, I cannot say for sure how their algorithm works. However, I can make some educated guesses based on my experience and public knowledge. By and large your news feed is driven by the likes, tweets, and retweets of the individuals that you follow. This can be augmented by following specific topics or hashtags, but the use of hashtags in and of itself is a rather hot topic of debate. The thing is without any followers, hashtags are the only way for your content to show up in someone’s feed. Without them, you must rely on your followers and followers of followers to see your content.
In my opinion, the debate around the use of hashtags is a rather toxic one. I’ve found those who feel the most strongly about not using them, are often those who have an established following, not those without. This not only fails to consider the perspective of a newcomer, but acts as a gatekeeper to anyone who wants to participate.
Discrimination happens on the site as well. Beyond the overt misogyny / racism / xenophobia / homophobia / transphobia / etc…, some have weaponized block lists and block chains. These tools were originally developed to give individuals the ability to better moderate trolls on the site. However, we’ve seen these tools be used to block entire classes of individuals. A recent example of this was when a notable individual blocked the entire transgender community and it’s supporters over a difference of opinion. I was one of the folks who got blocked, so unfortunately I cannot speak to the details of the event, only the outcome.
In the end, I don’t think I can identify a single reason for why I decided to no longer engage with the platform. Whether it was being publicly attacked for asking someone to consider a broader perspective, their incentive structure, the ever-present hypocrisy, the rampant misinformation that’s still perpetuated on their site, or even their incentive structure. I literally give 0 f*cks.
I can say that since I’ve stopped engaging with the platform, my mental health has improved significantly. While I’m still taking anti-depressants, I can tell you my general mood has improved and the amount of time I spend staring at a phone screen is significantly less. Eventually, I will hopefully try and find a way to better incorporate some of my content from Twitter on my own site.
Thank you all for stopping by and reading. I wish you all the best and hope you have a happy 2022!