Twitter is great. Twitter is a dick.
Here’s how Twitter is making us think we hate each other, when we don't at all, why you should leave and why you should stay.
Back in 2010 I started playing with Twitter, because mates kept banging on about it, I was sitting alone in my house trying to build a company, and I wanted to feel connected, to be inspired, to expand my horizons.
That’s what happened. Most of my new friends in the last decade have come from Twitter. I’ve hired through it, found solutions to (some of) life’s problems, driven a company with it and spent thousands of hours staring at it.
At first I flayed about, saying what I’d had for dinner, what a great bike ride I’d had, or how I couldn’t think of anything to say. BLAHHHHH.
Then it somehow clicked. I expressed opinions, chatted, followed, wrote, blogged, shared, built. I became, somehow, a wee Twitter authority on inclusive cycling, my greatest passion at that time, a tiny niche within a niche within a sub-niche. My first venture was built through Twitter.
There was little negativity or trolling. Once, back in 2012, I referred to my “wifelet” (her preferred moniker, along with “Missus” and “Fish”…I know, I know) and I got roasted by a very angry person as being a sexist pig. I really didn’t think I was, but I had a think, tried to stay polite and felt a bit wobbly. I was blocked and it lingered awhile. Like a perfect pink birthday cake with a spec of bird poo on it. No no, scrape it off, it’s fine. Pretend it never happened. Fine.
Friends, colleagues, investors, my wife, would often joke about my ‘life’ on Twitter. They often thought it was just bleating out into the web-o-sphere, desperately trying to find some attention. Maybe I was. But great things did happen.
Gradually a little more negativity began to creep in. Overly attentive ‘fans’ who retweeted everything you did, who seemed to take notes on your family. The Incredibly Angry, who, rather than discussing opinions or trying to find common ground, or to persuade; screamed, blocked and bitched until they slept and forgot about it.
I had fun trying to talk trolls round with kindness, occasionally it worked, and I glowed a little when it did. It was fine.
Twitter was a wonderful, exciting, fun, thought provoking and sociable place. What I put in I got back,. So it continued for years.
Then, trolls gave birth to The Pro Trolls. Katie Hopkins. Piers Morgan. Donald Trump. Ann Coulter. Just typing their names makes me feel sick, sad and pessimistic.
People who knew how to game the algorithms.
Anger is easy. Anger is a temporary hit of hormones and empowerment. Anger is weakness, wrapped up as strength. Anger is a drug. It’s hard to resist anger. It takes REAL strength, and experience to resist anger. We weren’t experienced, because social media was new. It still is. The growing pains are proving terrible.
These spunkpunnets knew how to trade in anger. Polarise. Exaggerate. Lie. Keep it simple. Shout, ever louder, nastier. Those ‘with’ you would be stirred up, but now, those against you too…MORE attention, more hits, more TV appearances, ad revenues, ego expanding attention, it all snowballed. Anger sells.
Anger is brand building for prannets.
Presidencies could be taken with this power. Harness human anger, divide and conquer. Win.
Most of the media, looking for hits, under pressure, loosening their scruples, wanted their attention. Journalists could now say “Twitter explodes as ….”, and as long as you had a few shouty tweets, somewhere, on something, from someone (real or not), you could drive a story of controversy* and division. More forum comments, more shares, a life ruined, but heh…HITS. The skill of pot-stirring tabloid journalism, now easily applied by (almost) every journalist.
*Everyone loves a controversy, it’s like gossip squared.
The Pro Troll’s anger drove businesses.
Everyone stood to gain. Except us. Humans. Goodness. Society. Debate. Compromise. The Middle Ground.
Now we’re dividing, not coming together. Millenia of social development, of growing cohesion and understanding, being crushed under the weight of basest instincts. MUST. SHOUT. LOUDER.
The Russian State is clever. They saw the way it was going, and fed it. Democratic, international, progressive society was coming together and beating Russia. A cohesive international society is a strong society. This is a human movement that can tell Putin and his cohorts to be democratic. To watch over human rights. To look after gay people, dissidents, anyone they hate. Cohesive society messes with their plans. It pisses them right off.
“Let’s sow a little discord”…This is easy. Pump the anger up, create tens of thousands of shouty tweets that hit politicians between the eyes. That’ll make them think. Let’s go for targets that can divide opinion and let’s push these groups apart. Immigrants. Muslims. Women’s rights. Europe. Globalism. Climate Change. Transsexuals. Etc etc etc.
Liberals get offended and angry. Conservatives are offended and angry. Bingo.
Insults. Mistrust. Defensiveness. Obsession. Depression. Pessimism. Worry. Policy changes. Brexit. Trump. Far right parties nearly gaining power.
The middle ground is lost. A vacuum. How can balanced debate compete in a media full of screaming? There is no debate, no calm reflection and mutual respect. The quiet, less angry but concerned middle, the majority, is disenfranchised. Into that vacuum come opportunists. Politicians with far-edge agendas, who suddenly have a voice. And an increasingly angry, scared public who will suddenly listen to them.
Boy are the Russians are clever.
Now we all feel like the world is stuffed. We are surrounded by human negativity. Liberalism, globalism, democracy, trust in the media, law, all this seems to be falling.
Breathe. Close your eyes. Keep breathing. Let’s get onboard the International Space Station, orbiting Earth and look down.
Calm. Quiet. Wonderous insignificance.
The Earth is beautiful.
The universe is infinitesimal, huge, magnificent.
Love is everything.
Our children are gorgeous (mostly).
Green grass is soft.
The sun is warm.
The rain is life giving.
Life really is beautiful.
There is still and always will be pain, but we are kind. Humans are born kind. We want to help each other.
Strangers in strange countries will invite you in for dinner and give you strange spirits to drink as you laugh, without understanding a word. That is our default attitude. We humans are bonded.
You can call it spiritual, or chemical, but get rid of the online screaming, and we naturally want to help.
Life is good, looking quietly down from I.S.S.
The data supports this.
We’ve never been safer.
For most of us, we have never been called to go to war as soon as we’re old enough to leave home.
We don’t know what shelling cities really sounds like.
We don’t know hunger. REAL hunger. Hunger that kills.
Child mortality rates have never been lower.
Poverty is decreasing, worldwide.
We don’t die from things we used to die of.
We’re getting really old.
We worry about paying the bills, not losing a child, an arm or our lives before we’d lived them.
This is not normal in humanity’s history. Humans have always struggled and fought to survive. Never has this been less the case.
The world isn’t perfect. Far from it. Children die. There is horrific poverty. Cancer. Rape. Even genocide. We have been, and we can continue to work on this. We are getting better all the time. Optimism.
Except on Twitter and most social media, in fact, The Media. Don’t believe the screen in front of your face. Turn it off. See the world. See beauty and wonder. Don’t be angry. Love. Run. Laugh. Cry and get angry about the stuff that REALLY matters. Not that retweeted link.
I left Twitter last week, as “Nick Hussey”. It was taking up a space in my head that was stopping me do the things that used to matter more to me. My children, my wife, reading, learning, cycling, building a company to be proud of, making jackets, looking at clouds, stopping, thinking, BEING.
I couldn’t escape the negativity online, no matter what Pro Troll I blocked or who I followed. I’m an optimist, but I found that hard. I want a simpler life.
So far, I like it. When my kids do something amusing, I immediately start constructing a witty tweet about it…Then stop. There is no twitter account to do it. So I go back to my kids, I smile, I look at them, and I’m present. I’m with them. I remember it. I’m not head in screen, telling strangers about my boring life, eroding it for myself.
Twitter is tempting. It gives us a little tweak of self affirmation. Like fame. But then it’s gone. It means nothing. When you die, telling people what your kids just did won’t be what you remember. It’ll be WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID. What YOU did. This is what counts.
There is a glaring contradiction. You may be reading this via Twitter. Hello! I, or rather FRAHM, is still on Twitter as @FRAHMjacket. I’m a hypocrite.
Maybe. But maybe FRAHM can help, in some small way, to encourage a more humane, explorative, listening, interested Twitter.
Maybe we can sell better, longer lasting, kinder jackets, give a bit to charity, and be one of the brands that sells stuff in a decent way.
Maybe FRAHM can be on Twitter and exist to ADD to society, not take away from it’s sum. Maybe?
We make jackets to explore life. That’s about getting out there, be it work, some woods, a beach BBQ, a mountain or a bench surrounded by ducks in an urban park. It can be exploring someone else’s life and opinions. Someone different from you.
A polite and generous Republican Christian in Tennessee. A Malaysian dance teacher who does crosswords faster than anyone alive. An Argentine mine worker who sings arias. That misunderstood bear of a man round the corner with the scary dogs who’s too shy to talk to you in the park, who raises money for kid’s charities every weekend.
Everyone is innately good. People are fascinating. You are good. and fascinating! (I checked).
Twitter CAN be good, because it’s run by humans. But it takes moral self discipline, listening and kindness.
Throughout history, the kinder, cohesive society has always eventually won out. We are becoming better at being a global family. Twitter enables and erodes that. That is how it lives. Twitter is a parasite that keeps you optimistic enough to feed the shocked anger that it feeds off.
Resist. Optimism, open-mindedness and kindness is resistance.