Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Politics in Twitter vs Blogging

"What was I doing before Subway? Was I tilling wheat?" -- Pete Holmes

I'm going back to blogging.


I've been running my Twitter page lately as a propagandist and not a researcher. I'm talking at people and not talking from the heart anymore. I think Twitter is suited well for this purpose, to clarify a fact or two, or to get the ball rolling with a hashtag although I'm not very experienced with that. Twitter  also involves some wonderful libertarian ideals -- there's very little hierarchy, it serves as a kind of public record -- but I fear for me personally it is becoming what Noam Chomsky and Adam Smith have warned about. I am becoming as stupid as possible as it is to become. My feed is becoming a dizzying source of obsessive stimulation.

What was it like for me before Twitter? I wanted to puzzle out history like my heroes. I wanted to do research. I meditated on things, and looked forward to my next piece of writing. Nowadays I feel my goal is just getting a response. But while that's great, socializing is great, I think I would rather have people respond to a fuller expression of my thoughts.

I'm not trying to lead people away from Twitter. It's still the best no-nonsense tool to communicate with people instantly. But I do think it often brings out the worst in people I would like to have on my side.

The final straw for me was a tussle I had with Glenn Greenwald who is a passionate defender of civil liberties. The format of Twitter just did not allow me to discuss what I wanted to say about the issue. Rather we traded insinuations about the other and then went back to what we were doing. After the discussion my mentions started blowing up with people "favoriting" his most powerful tweets against me and my arguments. I'm grateful he didn't put his replies with a ".@" to hang me out to dry on his timeline, but this is not the first time this happened to me.

The format of Twitter resulted in a situation where I felt like I was seeing people cheer on a bully while I took a beating, and it could go on for as long as they want it to. On Twitter there's nothing better than a favorite or a retweet provided it goes your way. I am constantly asking myself what I'm doing wrong when my timeline gets no responses. I find myself feverishly tweeting more and more to this end. So you can imagine the frustration when I do get a thread going and I face the robotic jeers of the favorite button.

Needless to say this is not good for contentious human rights issues where multiple interests and grievances converge, let alone my nerves. There are some things that an animated GIF or a 10 word insult cannot and should not summarize.

And I think this is happening to others. Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch recently went on record asking why poor women should be denied the job of sexual prostitution. Putting aside just why that's stupid, it's pretty clear he's claiming ground on a contentious issue. He is anticipating flak. The flak has already changed people, that's the power of Twitter. It's not very different in this regard from Rush Limbaugh's crude jokes.

Another more enraging example is from the nationalists in the liberal world: How quickly did the followers of Jeffrey Goldberg dismiss the notion of feminist rights in occupied Gaza being Israel's responsibility? People gave him 418 retweets and 118 favorites. All he did was say "You'll never guess" and people filled in the motive of anti-Semitism. Suppose he's right, and most good propaganda is at least partially right. Did it educate anyone on the complex webs of responsibility involved in collective human rights? Something our mainstream newspapers are already failing to do? No. It simplified them to a standard rhetoric about enemies of the state -- in this instance a swipe at the UN -- being untrustworthy. It gave Goldberg and his followers a quick burst of endorphins.

I don't want to live for reweets anymore.And it should go without saying I don't want to be a Dittohead.

The passionate and the laconic have fewer problems. It seems they thrive on Twitter. But I don't want Twitter to become my social life, or worse, to replace a real one. At the very least I'd rather write full paragraphs again.

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