Learning the news: Twitter is the worst

Twitter — the modern day version of smoke signals — garbles messages and amplifies ugliness, writes Roger Plothow.

Of all the social media, Twitter is the worst, for reasons that are complicated and nuanced, but I’ve now used most of my allotted 140 characters. INSANE!?

If you’re still reading, well, thanks. You’d be bad at Twitter.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens recently swore off Twitter. I’d like to reprint his whole column, but fair use laws allow me to quote only a paragraph or two. Google him and read the whole column for yourself. Here’s a taste:

“Twitter doesn’t merely amplify ugliness. It erases nuance, coarsens thought, turns into a game of ‘Telephone’ in which original meaning becomes hopelessly garbled with every successive re-tweet. It also facilitates a form of self-righteous digital bullying and mob-like behavior that can wreck people’s lives.”

It’s one thing to attempt to reduce the essence of your message into a single, powerful thought, like a Churchill quote. It’s quite another to attempt to communicate important and complex information without the option of adding context or even real nouns and verbs.

The attempts of our president notwithstanding, one cannot explicate foreign or domestic policy, engage in meaningful discourse or lay out the course of an administration 140 characters at a time. It’s no way to run a country and it’s no way to have any other kind of meaningful dialogue.

I get that a tweet is often just clickbait with a link to a longer post or story. Trouble is, just as with Facebook, few people go past the original tweet. Worse, many re-tweet it without really knowing what they are sending to all of the Twitter friends.

Twitter is the modern-day version of smoke signals. Haven’t we moved past that?

One more paragraph from Stephens, at which point I’ll have pushed my fair use of his piece as far as I dare:

“Bigotry flourishes on Twitter, since it offers the bigot the benefits of anonymity along with instantaneous, uncensored self-publication. It’s the place where their political minds can be as foul as they want to be — without the expense or reputational risk of showing their face at a Richard Spencer rally.”

As I’ve written before, as the Internet was beginning to emerge 30 years ago, some futurists thought it had the potential of making wars and international disagreements obsolete, because we’d be able to communicate instantaneously and work things out. It’s obvious now that the opposite is true. We may, at some point, have our first shooting war started entirely on Twitter.

We make very spare use of Twitter at the Post Register, reserving it for promoting stories and some other modest marketing. We have always been conservative in our use of social media, and I think that position has proven to be the right one.

Unfortunately, there may be a whole block of news consumers whose attention span now ends at 140 characters.

Roger Plothow is editor and publisher of the Post Register. This is part of a year-long weekly series on media literacy.