[I’m quitting Twitter but I’m launching a newsletter in its place. Subscribe above! I’ll plan to cross-post my emails to this blog when it makes sense, which it does for the one below]
Why we’re here
Twitter’s problems with harassment go way back, but in the past few weeks, it’s made some decisions that have forced me to reconsider my relationship with the platform. First, this cryptic message from Seth Rogen about Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey:
I’ve been DMing with @jack about his bizarre need to verify white supremacists on his platform for the last 8 months or so, and after all the exchanges, I’ve reached a conclusion: the dude simply does not seem to give a fuck.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) July 3, 2018
While outsiders may perceive Twitter’s verification system as impartial, it’s not. Twitter only verifies people who have reached a specific notoriety level or who hold specific jobs (e.g. journalist, actor, etc.). Verified users get features that unverified users don’t. While Twitter claims verification isn’t an endorsement, in the past, it has removed verification as a means of punishing bad actors.
The fact that Dorsey did not seem to care about verifying white supremacists, even when one of the most popular users of his platform was chiding him about it, was a red flag to me.
Then, the Info Wars wars.
If you don’t know, Info Wars is a despicable media organization whose main claim to fame these days is that they propagated a conspiracy theory about how the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. This has brought untold misery upon the already-suffering families of this senseless tragedy.
Last Monday, every major tech platform took steps to remove Info Wars content. Every platform, that is, except Twitter. In a series of tweets, Dorsey defended his decisionmaking:
We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified.
— jack (@jack) August 8, 2018
I don’t know why this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, but maybe it solidified the notion for me that Dorsey just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get the extremely basic notion that banning Jones would be far more effective than relying on journalists to rebut his remarks. He doesn’t get that it’s a reasonable position to want your platform to be free of toxicity, and to take steps to make that happen. He doesn’t get that sometimes you need to make a moral choice.
To me, Twitter’s inability to ban Alex Jones was a litmus test. Aja Romano puts it really well in her article at Vox discussing it:
Jones represents what is perhaps the clearest opportunity to draw a moral line that Twitter will ever have. Forget the Nazis for a second; Alex Jones is a man who has seen his followers harass the parents of dead 6-year-olds and continued to egg them on, using the completely fabricated claim that these parents’ grief is just an act. There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating — there’s only a lie told purely in order to spread harm, confusion, disorder, and pain. Jones is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Twitter’s choice to defend his place on its site, however, signifies everything about what Twitter is choosing to be.
I couldn’t get these words out of my head after I read them: “There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating.” If Twitter can’t draw the line at Alex Jones, it has no line.
When writer Lindy West quit Twitter, she wrote a piece for The Guardian explaining why. The whole thing is worth reading, but two points stuck out to me. The first is that by using Twitter, we are essentially helping it to generate value and revenue:
Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.
The second is that we wouldn’t be willing to accept this behavior from any other organization. Why should we do so with Twitter?
I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business. If my gynecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix. If I found out my favourite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether.
Twitter has added so much to my life. It’s allowed me to have a career. It’s introduced me to tons of amazing people, many of whom have become my collaborators. I used to love the platform and enjoy using it. But until its leaders demonstrate the willingness to make incredibly basic moral choices like banning Alex Jones, you won’t find my work on there.
I realize it’s a privilege to not “need” to use Twitter, so I don’t begrudge anyone whatever decisions they make. Everyone has a different place to draw their own line, and people often do so in different ways with different social platforms. I don’t judge anyone on this matter. Just want to explain my position on it.
And hey, it’s possible Twitter could reverse course tomorrow and I’ll be back on there. But until that happens, you’ll find me on Facebook, on Instagram, on TinyLetter, on YouTube, and here on my blog. Just not on Twitter.