On (being off) Twitter

In the past I have described Twitter as ‘my living room’. It was a place (and we can go on about paradigms of representing networked digital media as actual media or as de facto pseudogeographical sites but I would like to keep the word count down and avoid a reference list, so feel free to think of the internet however you want) I enjoyed being in. Unfortunately, I didn’t own it and therefore I had little way of guaranteeing an environment that would always be pleasant.
In an essay for my MA, I wrote about why Twitter was not a particularly useful website for learners of English (or other languages) and that it would be unwise for teachers to recommend people with vulnerable senses of self – in part due to to the way L2 learning affects one’s identity – to use Twitter. I said that Twitter was good for language teachers’ CPD.
I now disagree with myself. I now think that Twitter is becoming an ever more toxic venue, with ranting being an ever increasing form of discourse. This makes sense for people selling advertising. The more ranting, the more tweets in argument, the more promoted tweets you can insert into the time lines and the more money you can get.
However, what is the effect on our mental health, individually and collectively? When our phones vibrate in our pockets to give us a dopamine hit, does it really help us to build community or does it build dependency upon likes, retweets, confirmation and identity politics dumbed down to hectoring people who operate under different beliefs? I don’t have answers, but anecdotally, I’d say I disliked the person I became when participating in the Twitter ELT community.
So I left with a rant (see a pattern?) of asking people to not be awful to one another and actually try to be nicer. Perhaps this was wrong. The people who are always nice came out to be nice and imploring me to stay (some while carrying on skirmishes created on/made bigger by Twitter). One user asked if it was something he’d tweeted. I was furious and righteous BUT! I knew I had seen something from a perspective that I’d never appreciated before. I could have said, “Yes, it was,” and been correct; but I would have been equally correct had I said, “No, it wasn’t” because while a particular hectoring series of tweets back and forth made me decide that, yes, finally it was time to delete my account on a website that totally sees Nazism as an acceptable point of view but won’t happily tolerate ordinary users tweeting the words ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ to its verified users, it was simply one incident building up to a sum of many. I then saw more hectoring, gathered email addresses from my direct messages and deleted my account. I never replied, perhaps rudely. But would it have been ruder to call that person an obscene name in the heat of the moment? I think I feel OK being a bit rude instead of being a shitbag, actually.
What makes it worse is that much of the ranting was and is probably still being done by people I respect immensely. Unfortunately, I am too knackered to be able to read much more of it.
So, Twitter, it’s not me, it’s you. It’s your cynical manipulation of people by boosting controversy (hot topics, or things to get irate about) and having absolutely shit community guidelines.
You can find me on Mastodon until that succumbs to the darker side of human nature.

10 Replies to “On (being off) Twitter”

  1. Such a shame that you’ve left, Marc, but I understand your reasons. Twitter has done a lot for me over the past year (incidentally, I don’t know if I would have crossed paths with you had it not been for Twitter!). I’ve still got your blog on feedly, so hopefully we can keep in touch that way xxx

    1. Hi Teresa. Twitter is not wholly bad – it was very useful in collecting dissertation survey data – but sadly the advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages at the moment.
      I also have your blog in my favourites and I will set up an RSS reader for all my non-Wordpress blogger friends. Cheers!

  2. Hi Marc
    I hope you are enjoying your newly freed up headspace away from Twitter. If the minuses outweigh the pluses then it’s def. time to get out. As I tweeted to you, life is just too damn short for some things.
    I was only thinking a few days before all this blew up how I enjoy the discussion & debate that there can be on Twitter. But some blog posts and tweets can go 1 step too far and before we know it, it’s the Wild Wild West, rifles and all.
    One thing I will say is that these kinds of online ELT spats tend to mostly involve men and I can’t help but notice the distinct absence of Women in ELT in moments like this. Speaking for myself, I can say that I do have opinions and my silence does not mean that I am uninterested or unaffected by what I read/hear. It’s more to do with the fact that I do not want to risk getting involved in a series of unpleasant arguments, which can be upsetting and emotionally draining. I wonder if other Women in ELT feel like me? And other men, too, at this point.
    Anyway, that’s my 2 penn’orth worth and wishing you a good summer break.

    1. Oh, it is absolutely *only* the men. Considering most of the people I followed on Twitter were women, it’s clear that the men made more noise.
      I wonder if men would tend to stay quiet or not. I know I was brought up in a value system that rewards pugilism. I wonder if I just got tired or just woke up to myself.
      Anyhow, cheers for the two penn’orth. I hope you have a lovely break and all.

    2. Hi Sarah, hi everyone,
      I’d say I feel very similar to what you said. I believe the more energy we are giving to the haters and trolls the more power they get, so I just don’t react to them. If I can, I don’t even read them. For me the pluses, the friends, the professional and personal support, the tips on teaching still outweigh the negatives. Most of the arguments on Twitter seem to be about people’s egos, not about a substance, so not worth going into.

      1. You’re absolutely right about the friends and support; I think it’s that my brain just doesn’t cope well enough.

  3. Some folks just can’t drop things and move on. It’s the same old stuff re-hashed. That’s what’s the particularly draining aspect for me of this latest episode. Yet interesting stuff is written and discussed by the same folks….
    Anyway, not gonna go on. I’ve got to play cricket with my daughters! Not something I thought I’d say!

  4. Hi Marc,
    I totally understand how you feel as a) that was one of the reasons I left Facebook two years ago, it was a similar situation and also needed to concentrate on other things and b) Twitter really has become what you describe it to be. The block button has been working quite often lately, and I don’t feel as I used to. I am happy we can still keep in touch here and via email too!
    Have a great weekend,

    1. Hi Vicky,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I felt totally overwhelmed by Twitter and Facebook. For me, Facebook was a problem just because of their privacy policies. Twitter was getting there, (do check their privacy policy: it’s fairly awful) and the benefits were totally outweighed by the despair.
      Once my dissertation is finished, I think I will have time to start emailing people randomly with long emails, hahaha!

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