Saying Goodbye to Twitter
I had my second Twitter violation last Friday. The first one was in January, for a tweet in response to Curt Mills, a friend who writes for The American Conservative. He’s a big believer in generational warfare, which I’m not a fan of, so one time I sarcastically responded to him in kind. When Twitter puts you in jail, you open up the app and get a pop-up that leads to a screen that looks like this.
In this case, they told me I could either delete the tweet and only be locked out for 24 hours, or I could appeal the decision, which would mean not even being able to scroll with my account until they got back to me.
I decided to just delete the tweet and move on. Then last Friday, I got this message.
In this case, I was telling people to sign up for the Salem Center/CSPI forecasting tournament. Michael Landgrave, who I’d met at Institute for Humane Studies gatherings when I was in grad school, asked whether he could compete for the UT position despite already having an academic post because as an immigrant he wanted to take two American jobs. I made a joke mocking nativist paranoia.
It’s of course hilarious that all Twitter has ever punished me for so far has been hate speech against boomers and Americans. After all the LGBT, black, and women stuff that I’ve posted, this is like Al Capone going away for tax evasion.
It’s hard to believe any human being actually looked at those tweets in their proper context and decided they violated the rules. Especially if this was part of a system that involved looking at my other tweets and leaving them up. I’m guessing there’s some algorithm here, where if you say “Death to [some identity]” or “Throw [some identity] off a cliff” it gets flagged. I’d also assume some accounts are given less leeway than others because of the networks they’re in or the number of previous complaints about their tweets, and I may have been in that situation, although I can’t prove it.
For the second violation, the one about throwing an American off a cliff, the offer was that if I deleted the tweet and admitted the error of my ways, I would be locked out of my account for a week. I didn’t appeal the first one because it was only 24 hours and I was pessimistic about the prospects for success. But Philippe Lemoine later told me that he was locked out of his account for something the algorithm must have thought was anti-vax, and he actually appealed and won.
I put in my appeal Friday night. Twitter’s “safety” judges apparently work weekends, as by Sunday evening I had a response.
As of Friday night, I couldn’t even scroll my account or send DMs. On Sunday, I deleted the tweet, which meant I got those features back, but it’ll be September 18 before I can like, post, or retweet. And even that’s not guaranteed, as they go out of their way to tell me that after their “careful review” maybe it’ll take longer than a week, and they’ll decide when I get full functionality back. The top of my account looks like this.
The rules around what you can and can’t do while in Twitter jail seem extremely petty. So although you can DM people, you can’t send them a picture through DMs, as you’re too dangerous of a person to be trusted with that power before enough time has passed.
Given this experience, and my experience with what life without Twitter has been like during these last few days, I’ve decided I’m not going back. From now on, I’ll only post on Twitter to promote my articles and Substacks, including threads summarizing my work, and to make personal and professional announcements. The DM system is actually a great way to stay in touch, and I don’t think me taking advantage of it contributes to their ad revenue, so I’ll probably still use that. But I won’t tweet anything else, and I won’t scroll or like or retweet anything. If you noticed I unfollowed you in the last few days, don’t be offended, because I’ve unfollowed almost everyone. I’m making a few exceptions for accounts like Birth Gauge, which provide analysis I can’t get anywhere else. For my few remaining follows left, I’ll get notifications to see their tweets, which I will check out without also looking at the replies or retweets. I reserve the right to read tweets other people send me or ones that are linked to in news articles. But that’s it.
Everything one spends time on has an opportunity cost. One thing I’ve realized over the last few days is that the opportunity cost to Twitter for me is not my main work or reading books – I always made enough time for that – but reading newspapers and Substacks. The other day I scrolled through the WSJ app for the first time in a while, and it was more valuable than what I usually get from Twitter. When I got that paper through e-mail, I used to look over the headline of every article and read the ones I was interested in. Since I started becoming a Twitter guy, however, I usually don’t scroll past A1.
This isn’t because my brain has melted and I’m no longer able to focus on anything for a sustained period of time. It was simply a time management issue.
Twitter gives you a telephone version of the news, where people take facts reported by journalists, which then gets spun and argued about, and soon there are not only the facts, but they are interspersed with discussions about the narrative, then a narrative about the narrative, and a narrative about the narrative about the narrative. The search for information gets diluted by gossip, dunking, theory building with regards to the motivations of rival tribes, and petty feuds and arguments. The vast majority of “takes” on the news are lazy nonsense put together by people who would, if they actually had the focus and patience to have anything worth saying, communicate their views in a more substantive format.
There have been times where I’ve taken a screenshot from a NYT front page story, put it in a Tweet, and seen it go viral. This used to surprise me, before I realized that these posts get popular because a lot of people on Twitter, even ones that seem smart and who care enough to argue about politics all day, aren’t even reading the front page of the NYT on topics that interest them. I always at least still got to A1, but now I’ll have more information in my life and fewer hot takes.
From talking to friends, it seems to me that a lot of non-leftists see social media as a substitute for reading actual articles, and this is often accompanied by an arrogant dismissal of the press. The MSM has its problems, but a half hour reading the NYT on a particular issue – as long as it’s not related to race, sex, or gayness, where they’re completely deluded and make people dumber – will give you a lot more information than a half hour keeping up with what people are saying about the topic on Twitter, and without the distractions. Social media can be better for fast-moving events, but I’m not a day trader and so can wait a few hours to get my news.
Putting aside accounts like Birth Gauge, most of what is beneficial on Twitter is just a cheap substitute for something better. For example, Sofia Horta e Costa is a journalist who covers China for Bloomberg News. I’ve followed and benefited from her Twitter account for a while, but because I’m too cheap to pay for another subscription I’ve never actually read any of her articles. Every week, she posts 10 things that happened in China, in which she summarizes Bloomberg pieces she or other journalists have written. I’ve stopped following her on Twitter and decided to subscribe to Bloomberg instead.
Of course, the proximate cause of me leaving Twitter is the censorship. But the suspension has caused me to reflect a bit, and I’ve come to realize that I dislike what the website does to me and people I know, along with the dynamics it creates between us.
It’s amazing to me the extent to which my group chats center around what’s on Twitter, and how much we’re pretending to be sophisticated observers of current events as an excuse to act like little girls. In a typical discussion, someone will send the latest clueless Jason Stanley tweet, and we’ll all laugh about what a goofball he is. Then there will be a Yglesias one, and people will be like “oh he gets it but can only go so far. har har har.” Andrew Sullivan is a nice guy we all have fond memories of reading but too naïve to understand the need to ban Critical Race Theory. There will be the latest Rufo or LibsofTikTok outrage, although these are actually useful because it’s good to know how deranged major institutions are getting, and Rufo is the rare right-wing social media personality who translates his celebrity into policy action. And of course there’s always the black academic who has devoted her life to studying blackness and the texture of her hair crying about how someone looked at her funny and this is the new slavery. Someone has been banned from Twitter, and everyone cries about American conservatives and so-called “dissidents” being the most wronged and oppressed human beings who have ever walked the face of the earth.
None of this strikes me as healthy. I’ve been so busy being proud of the fact that getting attacked on Twitter doesn’t cause me much anxiety that I’ve neglected the larger question of whether being on the site is a good thing overall, and when I do address that question it appears clear that it’s not. As I told Tyler, Twitter has been great for me, helping to build my profile and connect me with others. But now my Substack audience and personal network are large enough that the costs outweigh the benefits.
The right-wing whining in particular gets to me, and another motivation here is I don’t want to end up like my friends. Tyler’s attitude is much healthier on these things and maintains the proper perspective. I don’t feel particularly oppressed by leftists. They give me a lot more free speech than I would give them if the tables were turned. If I owned Twitter, I wouldn’t let feminists, trans activists, or socialists post. Why should I? They’re wrong about everything and bad for society. Twitter is a company that is overwhelmingly liberal, and I’m actually impressed they let me get away with the things I’ve been saying for this long.
I would bend my libertarian principles to be in favor of using government to take away Twitter’s power to censor, but not based on some broadly applicable principle, because principle points in the other direction. In fact, I’d hate to see a social media website completely devoted to free speech. Already, my replies were polluted with ad hoc attacks, insults, and anti-vaxx nonsense. I couldn’t imagine how unpleasant Twitter would be right now if they didn’t already purge the most defective personalities. As I’ve pointed out before, the problem with modern liberalism isn’t its intolerance, which is mild by historical standards, but the fact that it is wrong.
Of course, suspending my account for anti-boomer and anti-American hate speech indicates either that Twitter wants to get rid of me, or that life on the platform means indefinitely being at the mercy of censors who lack basic reading comprehension skills. Either way, the correct response to the predicament for me is not to stay on Twitter and cry about it, but cut the cord and move on.
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