Periodically I try to make Twitter work for me, a productivity tool! Or if not productivity, a way to be informed, entertained… just to promote things I care about, perhaps? It’s failed for me, at the very least the way I was using it has not been working to any of these ends.

Productivity on Twitter

A Venn diagram of productivity and Twitter would have virtually no overlap. Not to say no upside exists from Twitter, I’ve made friends and had a few good conversations. But most interactions with any meaning or positive impact are a result of leaving the Twitter platform.

Like meeting someone in a crowded, unpleasant place full of angry people, but later chatting over coffee. Twitter is a meeting ground, not the place for discussion. It’s not even a good place to become informed.

Twitter is Real-Time (Irrelevant and Unreliable) Information

Being informed is a productivity tool; only when the information is correct and impacts your life or contains a truth that expands your mind in some way. Some of this exists on Twitter. But, I’ve forgotten how many times I learn something with no impact on my life is true, only to later discover it was false and feel a pressure to understand how everyone was duped.

An example I always point to; CNN did not accidentally air Porn during Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.Within about 4 hours of a random account tweeting a photo depicting porn broadcasting on CNN it was reported in 20+ mainstream news outlets, and about 10 hours later pronounced a hoax.

I learned something, learned it was fake and learned why, all in real-time. Not only does this three-stage fake news cycle not improve my life, CNN routinely broadcasting porn, would not matter in my day to day life.

Because of the sources, expanding verification wouldn’t have prevented this story from spreading. Traffic-hungry websites benefited, they got the initial outrage clicks, and later the retraction & explanation of what happened clicks. Good reporters, who waited for comments from CNN, or the local broadcast hub, earned no traffic. Bad reporting got rewarded with eyeballs.

Be informed or be entertained? 

Nuance is the enemy of the humorous hot takes pushed by the Twitter algorithm. This Tweet from Jesse Walker sort of sums up this point.

With nearly any topic, you must choose, be funny or be informative. Doing both requires a level of wit and topical expertise most people don’t have when preparing a Ph.D. dissertation, or comedy album. This mix of skills is possessed by almost no-one using 280 characters, commenting on topics they know little about, directed to a general audience.

Twitter is not devoid of humor or information. But it seems Twitter as an organism, of users and algorithms. Favors, sensationalism, and attacks on famous people to thoughtful commentary or even pure jokes and photos of cute animals.

Distribution Roulette 

I have a small following, about 3,500, my average tweet (excluding when I tag others), receives about 130 impressions. 3.7% of your audience seeing something on a real-time platform is great when you have 100,000 or more followers. But 130 people are much less likely than 3,700 people to create follow on engagement that causes a substantial distribution.

The odds of anything I tweet receiving substantial distribution seems to require a. Tagging someone influential, b. Ads or, c. Luck. When I say luck, I mean that I tweet something, that resonates with several of the 130 people who will see it, at a time when they will have followers online who are also interested in the thing I shared.

The Story of My Top Tweets

  • Russell Brand Retweeted it.
  • Brent Spiner Liked and Replied to it.
  • Tim Ferriss Retweeted it.
  • Jack Dorsey Liked it.
  • The week Alex Jones was ban from Twitter, I donned an aluminum foil hat, and posted a video weaving a tapestry of conspiracy theories tying into every Twitter trending topic.

Yes, it’s possible to engineer some form of “viral” pickup, but why? Just getting impressions doesn’t translate to clicks or Followers, much less customers. It seems like Twitter is subject to the rich get richer, poor get poorer distribution in a lot of ways.

A Graveyard of Old Tweets May Dig Your Grave

Some portion of people dig up old Tweets to attack the author. I won’t say public shaming is never appropriate, but the looking for dirt in old Tweets seen with James Gunn, Sarah Jeong, and Kevin Hart offer seemingly little benefit to society. Certainly, the lives of Gunn, Jeong, and Heart would have been better Twitter-free even with the exposure and engagement the platform allowed them.

For, Kyler Murray, the University of Oklahoma quarterback who received the Heisman Trophy in 2018, homophobic tweets he sent in 2012 when he was 15 years old became a media frenzy. He apologized, his life seems unruined. But that unpleasantness was over a tweet I can’t imagine over a couple of dozen people saw between 2012 and 2018.

If these examples aren’t enough, Jon Ronson has a great Ted Talk, When Online Shaming Goes Too Far.

Times And People Change

In 2012, I lived 10 miles from Murray’s home town of Allen, Tx; there were a lot of adults in that area using gay slurs as an insult at the time. It’s not a defense of anything he said, but his tweet and subsequent apology reflect positive social change when it comes to LGBT acceptance. Look at the changing views on gay marriage over time as an example.

Some things are wrong and were always wrong even when commonly accepted. As an optimist, I think we are moving positively. I hope people 80 years from now, will be shocked by things today that are commonplace. The essay Virginia Woolf? Snob! Richard Wright? Sexist! Dostoyevsky? Anti-Semite! Does a better job of encapsulating my point than I think myself capable of here.

Going Forward

Twitter, doesn’t benefit my life at this moment, and I see far more risk of harm than possible benefit. This is without even going into the psychological harms like feelings of isolation associated with social media, and trolls.

It seems wises to use Twitter only as a sort of RSS and trackback tool since those have fallen out of favor. I’m sure I should never actively engage on the platform. I should probably just delete my account, But for some reason, I feel like sticking around. For now, I’m taking a break from Twitter, as I have with Facebook.

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