Matt Lewis has a knack for starting conversations about topics that other people may be thinking about, but aren’t discussing. Judging by the behind the scenes chatter I’ve seen, he’s done that again with his latest column, “Why I Hate Twitter.”
Soren Dayton and Rob Bluey — two conservative tech geniuses — talked me into joining Twitter during a lunch Ed Morrissey organized at an Iraqi restaurant in Minneapolis during the 2008 Republican convention. Life hasn’t been the same since.
….It’s hard to even fathom now, but at the time, few journalists were really using Twitter. I was working at Townhall.com, and I can still remember some of my colleagues mocking me for “tweeting about what sandwich I was going to have for lunch that day.” (Within a year, they would all succumb to the sweet temptations of Twitter.)
My next writing gig was with the now-defunct Politics Daily, and Twitter was very important to my job security. Our staff consisted of mostly seasoned and accomplished mainstream journalists who had worked at places like The New York Times and The Washington Post. And then there was me.
How did I compete with these highly accomplished journalists? My unique selling proposition was that a) I was a conservative-leaning writer, and b) I used Twitter.
Really, my ability to leverage my Twitter feed to find story ideas — and to drive up pageviews by tweeting out links — helped me survive and thrive.
Again, it’s hard to believe, but in 2009 and 2010, most mainstream journalists weren’t on Twitter — and if they were, they weren’t terribly active. They weren’t using it effectively.
….It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it happened — but at some point, Twitter became a dark place.
It’s a lot like the transformation of the 1960s. It started out being about free love, sharing ideas, and changing the world, but somehow we ended up being more about Altamont and Charles Manson.
Somewhere along the line, our optimism faded.
Once everyone was on Twitter, everyone’s problems were on Twitter. The early adopters might have been tech-utopians, but the succeeding waves were angry cynics and partisan cranks who used the technology to make the world even louder and worse than it was before Twitter.
Compounding the problem is that — unlike everyone else — if you work in journalism, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Being on Twitter is now part of the job, meaning that you can’t not be on Twitter. What was once an inspiring place that gave you a competitive advantage became a prison.
Twitter has become like high school, where the mean kids say something hurtful to boost their self-esteem and to see if others will laugh and join in. Aside from trolling for victims after some tragedy, Twitter isn’t used for reporting much anymore. But it is used for snark.
….Look, I’m no saint here. I’ve said some things I regret on Twitter. The medium is dangerous and tempting. When Abraham Lincoln was mad, he would famously write people scathing letters. He would then file them in his desk drawer, never to be sent. Abe was lucky he didn’t have Twitter.
Just as I was once an evangelist for Twitter, I’ve had a conversion. I’ve repented. I’ve reformed.
Writers should be thinking of big ideas, but Twitter sucks you into small, petty battles. It can distract you from the important to the urgent. Like a game of whack-a-mole, you can end up chasing the things that irritate you — hoping to correct every misconception or lie. This is no way to be productive. It’s no way to live.
This is a unique challenge. We have it much better than past generations, but past generations could mostly leave their problems at work. Their bullies and bosses didn’t follow them home — didn’t hound them on their iPhones.
Like every medium, the way Twitter has been used has evolved over time. And, yes, it is very snarky and very “high school.” However, I also find it essential. It’s a useful place to acquire links, hear breaking news, communicate with people I don’t have access to via email, crowdsource ideas, and test lines out that will later be used in my columns and post on RWN.
So, does it have utility? Yes.
However, is Twitter also annoying? Again, yes.
Not only is it cliquish and a little like high school, but there is an almost unlimited number of liberals who’ve come up with the “original” idea of creating accounts just to say obnoxious things to conservatives. It’s probably not a problem for everyone, but if you write columns, blog, etc., you have to deal with an inexhaustible supply of idiots. Also, let me tell you another little secret: Most people on Twitter are boring and they have nothing of interest to say. So, with all that in mind, here’s how I manage Twitter without hating it…
1) Limit whom you follow: Once you get past a certain number of followers, your Twitter stream becomes completely incoherent. So, either don’t follow more than a few hundred people or set up lists to focus in on the ones you find most introguing so you aren’t trying to make sense of 2000 people at a time.
2) Pay attention to Tweet-to-follower ratios: Some social media junkies spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. By that, I mean that on an average day they can pop off 80-150 tweets. It doesn’t take a lot of people like that to overwhelm your whole stream; so you need to pick them carefully. One of the best ways to do that is to check the ratio of followers to tweets. If they have a high signal to noise ratio (A lot of tweets, but few followers), it’s probably not worth your time to follow them.
3) Keep the debating to a bare minimum: Trying to debate at 140 characters is a frustrating experience and it’s generally not worth doing, even when you’re dealing with intelligent people. As to the stupid people, if the American education system couldn’t smarten them up in 12-16 years, I accept that I probably can’t do it either when I only have 140 characters to work with.
4) Punch up: Not everyone is temperamentally suited to handle twitter fights, but if you are going to do it, punch up. Why spend an hour of your life in a pissing match with some anonymous liberal with 73 followers? What do you get out of that? Nothing but aggravation.
5) Block: If I find someone annoying, I block him. If someone is particularly gross, crude, stupid, or obnoxious, I block him. If a liberal wants to register his disagreement with me, I’m fine with that. If he keeps doing it over and over again, I find it tedious and I block him. High school and for that matter, much of life in general would be a much more entertaining experience if you could simply block people out.
Apply those rules to your Twitter feed and it will become much easier to manage.