I would say one of my greatest achievements of 2018 was finally leaving Twitter.
It was not easy. Like a good crack dealer, Twitter makes it very hard for you to leave.
It gives you a 30-day probation period, when you can re-boot your account, which is the dealer equivalent of leaving you a little baggie, just in case you need a hit.
Needless to say, I re-booted my account numerous times.
But I knew I really had to leave when I got into a raging argument with a stranger, because he gave away the ending of Murder On The Orient Express.
I called him a ****. Then I thought, 'my God, what have I become?'
It felt like a sacrifice, finally killing off my Twitter self.
I had built up over 5000 followers over the last four years. Not a huge amount, but a decent pile of chips.
As with crack, there were definitely some good times.
Twitter can be fun. It’s the first draft of history and the first draft of comedy. When something WTF happens – a celebrity has a public melt-down, an underdog team upsets the odds – Twitter is where you can go to find the instant witty response.
In that sense, it reminds me of being at an 18 century opera, with the audience murmuring witty ripostes (or re-posts, as they’re now called) from behind their fans. How very droll!
And Twitter is also very useful for connecting to interesting people. You can just lob them a Tweet and then – amazing! – you get a reply.
Suddenly, you get to see into each other’s mind-streams, not just each other’s big thoughts, but all your little ones too.
The problem is, Twitter produces far more little thoughts than big ones. It encourages the petty in us.
It makes all of us our worst selves.
If Twitter used to be like a witty 18 century opera, now it’s like a terrible party where everyone has drunk or smoked too much, no one really knows or likes each other, the atmosphere has turned evil, and people are lunging into each other’s conversations, shouting abuse, or screaming ‘did you see? He spilt my drink! Hey, this guy’s a racist!’
Also a group of actual Nazis have crashed the party.
Why would you stay at that party? Leave it!
It is sad to go on Twitter, and see people you admire – artists, politicians, sports stars, academics – reduced to their worst, smallest selves. It's like seeing David Attenborough sucking on a crack pipe in a tunnel. You're like 'Oh David, you too?' But people are so addicted they don’t see how little they have become.
There are three basic varieties of tweet:
Twitter fosters a cult of shaming and victimhood. Tribe A go looking for things to be offended and outraged by – a phrase, an image, anything that shows their opponents in a bad light and is easily retweeted. They then seize on it as evidence of the evil of their opponents (Tribe B). Their tribe gets worked up into a frenzy. ‘This is sickening! This is pure evil! I am literally crying tears!’ Then they pile in to shame, attack and insult their opponents. Tribe B then seize on these attacks and use them as evidence of the pure evil of Tribe A. They pile in to shame, attack and insult Tribe A. Tribe A then seizes….and so on. And on.
An endless escalating feedback loop of hate, contempt and polarisation.
It has destroyed our civil society in a few years, scorched through it like a wildfire.
People blame Facebook and Facebook adverts for polarising our political culture. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a political ad on Facebook and I’m not sure those ads really have much power over us.
But Twitter? Look how it turbo-charged Donald Trump to the White House, making him the first Troll-in-Chief.
He understood perfectly how to use Twitter to control the flow of attention. Just say the most asshole thing you can, and then both your supporters and your opponents retweet it.
The scum also rises, as Hemingway almost said.
In the UK, Twitter has turned the Labour party from a century-old defender of the working class, to an anti-semitism party.
Can you imagine? The UK’s main progressive party has become infested with anti-semitism. And that’s largely thanks to Twitter, which gives the biggest assholes the loudest voice.
Twitter fosters an asshole bullying culture. And it also fosters a victim culture.
You often see people tweeting about how they have been attacked, in a bid for sympathy clicks.
Tweets like: ‘To the builder who wolf-whistled at me and told me to ‘cheer up love’, thanks for ruining my day’.
It’s bizarre. You’re not actually confronting the person who offended you. You’re just airing that offense to get sympathy and clicks.
And that leads to grotesque situations like the actor Jussie Smollett apparently faking a racist attack on himself, to win the 2019 victim award.
He almost overdid it – the noose round the neck was a little over-egged.
Then he milked it. ‘I’m the gay Tupac’ he declared on stage.
Needless to say, Democrat Twitter and Black Twitter were full of sympathy and outrage for his plight. ‘This sickens me! This is pure evil! I am literally crying tears!’
Almost as full of outrage and sympathy as when those racist white kids in MAGA hats surrounded the poor Native American in Washington.
The Twitter reaction was instant and visceral. ‘Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid?’ asked CNN journalist Reza Aslan. Another called him a ‘leering, privileged little shit’.
Then it turned out the kids had been relatively restrained, and the real racists were a group of African-American religious zealots standing nearby. But that’s too nuanced a story for Twitter.
Twitter fosters mindless, emotion-driven knee-jerk reactivity. It fosters polarisation. It fosters the Donald Trump within us all – that part of our monkey brain that is vain, biased, over-emotional and dumb.
We need to wake up to the fact that it’s colonized our minds, cultivated our worst qualities, and ruined our political culture incredibly quickly.
The best thing you can do for your well-being, and for your country’s well-being, is leave.
The world will survive when you do. Your career will survive. Suddenly you will have more free time, time not spent in pointless arguments with Nazis. Time to read a book, go for a walk, or see people you actually like for meaningful conversations, rather than boasting and self-pitying.
Leave Twitter. You are better than it.