Twitter’s Sins…& Ours
I spend an exceptionally egregious amount of time on Twitter. After falling into the abyss of continuous scrolling, the search for my next dopamine hit is reflected in my choice to refresh the timeline — a process Twitter has made all too easy. Feeding on our insatiable curse to want more, Twitter has become unparalleled in its ability to keep you craving. Subtly surfacing your followers’ likes on your timeline or injecting a random person’s tweets onto your feed, Twitter has developed numerous ways to keep you engaged and searching for more content. This has, unfortunately, led to the proliferation (online) of our sins.
Though not intentionally, the platform has amplified a wickedness that exists in all humans. Constant confrontations creating a state of fear and anxiety — albeit for some, joy — has now been embedded in Twitter’s fabric. From senseless arguments to unwarranted insults and ill-wishes. Communities vs communities, factions vs factions, inter and intra arguments. It is no longer debatable whether Twitter is a reflection of society at large. With this being the case, the conversation needs to move beyond blaming social media for the innate maleficence in us, and more towards how we can prevent ourselves from exacerbating these evils.
This is not to say Twitter does not have a role to play. Being placed in such environments where the worst in us is rewarded, there’s no questioning why some would choose to feed into that. With that being said, while social media encourages such behaviour, no person is forced to act a certain way.
Troubled by our desire to fit in, we regurgitate rhetoric, replicate behaviours, that have proved to have the most reward. From making (harmful) jokes to being malicious, the endorphins one gets from the increase in “likes”, “retweets”, “followers” serves as an encouragement to continue. While this form of banter — jokes at the expense of others — does take place offline, there are guardrails (in the form of disapproving looks, higher risk of fights, etc.) in place to prevent this from happening often. Online, however, there is a different social currency. That social currency goes hand-in-hand with social validation, thus spurring others to keep repeating such approaches irrespective of their victims.
So some of us, the virtue-signallers, arrive on our horses and shining armour believing we are above it all. “Hear ye hear ye!” We shout, in search of validation from others with little thought as to whether our statements match our true views and actions. Virtue signalling to our tribe, morally shaming others. Outrage, thus, becomes the status-quo. While we, the virtual-signallers lie in wait, the irony of our existence is reflected in our fears: becoming the crucified as opposed to being the crucifier. So we continue following the crowd, peacocking for the masses, because on social media everyone thinks they are right. And if the world turns on us, why not play the role of the victim, using any excuse as to why we should not be questioned?
The most common example of such behaviour is when one attacks another, yet, when proved wrong, blames the other for using their larger social media following as a weapon. This newfound social hierarchy determined by the number of followers one has severe implications beyond encouraging victimisation. We place a level of power and expectations in those with a large following. Expecting them to be smarter than they were yesterday when they had less followers, we rely on them to have all the answers or the necessary impact to make change. Leaving no room for disappointment, we put them on a pedestal only to yank it out from under them the following day.
In disappointment we see ego-driven conversations, with the aim being to have a psychological advantage over the other, whether right or wrong. The lack of understanding and compassion shown in these dialogues is unfortunate. There is no room for nuanced conversation, only what will win the argument. Whether rumours, lies, or other, misinformation is rife. And what starts off as Chinese whispers turns into so-called facts, whether true or not, and regurgitated as rebuttals. Refuting on social media means nothing. The internet always remembers what it wants to remember. And moral outrage, no matter how self-serving, always wins.
Yet we seem to understand the importance of nuance when it comes to us having to explain ourselves. Whether it’s simply being blind to the impact of our interactions or hypocrisy, we afford ourselves more grace than we do others. We pad our misinterpreted tweets with reasons, but dismiss the same when it comes to others…
I could go on and on, but I fear the picture painted will be misinterpreted. Twitter has, for the most part, had a net-positive effect. From growing social movements to enabling individuals to find support, Twitter has been instrumental in giving a platform to issues that may previously have been ignored.
However, we have also seen the negative impact Twitter has had on a number of people. From a psychological standpoint, this negative impact is partly due to platforming certain opinions and not providing ‘adequate’ guardrails. The lack of repercussions due to the level of anonymity social media offers, as well as other factors, encourages certain behaviours. Which does equally show that human nature and those who choose to act on the negatives are also to blame. It’s imperative we all pay attention to what is happening around us.
All in all, we are but a social experiment. Socially engineered, we have become accustomed to this new norm. With this in mind, we must regain control of our lives and use these platforms, these tools, for better. We must do better. We must be better.
Part 2 on how we can do better, coming soon.