After using Twitter (again) on a regular basis for the last few weeks (leading up to the Referendum, and in its aftermath), I’m giving it up (again) for now. Mostly. The reason is that I usually find myself upset whenever I read my timeline. Some of this is Twitter’s fault, and some of it is the nature of a pervasive social network.
Twitter’s blame lies in the way it is manipulating my timeline to increase my “engagement.” I see a lot of spam now. I’m sure Twitter sees them as adverts, but it’s unsolicited commercial messaging, and I call it spam. So I use the tools on the website to block the sender (or “promoter”), and flag the message. This is tiresome, because there is just so damn much of it. (More in the UK than in NL, because of geo-targeting.) No matter how much I block, there is always more. When spam became a problem on email, we built adaptive filters that could be trained to recognize and discard a large proportion of the junk automatically. Twitter cut off the market for third-party clients, so I can’t just use a different app or site that offers a better blocker. On Twitter itself, I can block “@bmw”, but the next promoted tweet from “@bmw_uk” or “@BMWGroup” or “@BMWhateverTheFuckTheyThinkOfNextToAvoidBlocking” will get straight through.
In Twitter’s native apps, the option to flag a tweet as spam is even more deeply buried than on the website. It makes me wonder how long it will be around for at all any more.
Additionally, Twitter is now trying to make me read tweets that have a high engagement metric, by putting them in my timeline as “Favourited by @xyz” (whom I follow), and just last week by sending me a push notification to say that “@xyz and others I follow” have retweeted something. From here it is a very short step to removing tweets from my timeline altogether if they don’t meet a certain minimum engagement threshold, or to rewrite the timeline to push them below the/a fold, keeping higher-value tweets at the top. I know that the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy, but really. Look at how Twitter has evolved to date, and tell me with a straight face that this isn’t just around the corner.
The second part of it is my own inability to cope with the volume of everyday anguish and indignation. Erin Kissane put this very eloquently a couple of weeks ago:
Mostly it’s not police killings or mourners being tear gassed or a new war. Mostly it’s a dumb thing a reporter wrote, or vile thing a politician or celebrity said, or a tech industry thought-leader defending sexist practices, or the latest schoolyard cruelty from 4chan, or a novelist nattering on about the wickedness of Muslims or gays or trans people or so on and so on forever. Often, these days, it’s an account of someone who’s been threatened and abused for having written in public while female or a person of color or trans or something else that angers the churning undernet of uncontrolled id. These incidents are necessarily anecdotal, but they’re usually representative of larger trends—and often sufficiently nasty and detailed that they’re hard to shake loose from my head. And there are so, so many things wrong that it gets hard to do anything but react (aka “engage”), in increasingly less coherent ways.
None of us are angry about everything, or even most things, but in the whole slimy pond of troubles there is something to injure every one of us in a particular and personal way that makes us turn to the stream and yell this is bullshit. And each shout makes the water rise a little higher, because how can you not respond to your friends when they’re in pain? Add in the flood of information and emotion from something like Ferguson (or war crimes or an epidemic) and there we all are, gradually drowning. So people get huffy about the volume emotion that these events arouse—angry that others are angry about the wrong things or too many things or in the wrong register. As with stampedes, we tend to blame individual or group character for these self-escalating conditions.(I am properly angry, you are merely “outraged.”) But as with crowd crushes, I think it’s more about the properties of bodies in space than about character or personal choices. PV = nRT.
Right now, I can’t handle this. I don’t like the feeling that I’m turning my back on the emotional outpourings of my friends and acquaintances, but this is oxygen mask time: I have to put on my own before helping others with theirs. I’ll be using Twitter strictly as a write-only medium (auto-tweeted links to new stuff I write here on my blog), at least for a while.