Twitter Is a Cesspool, But It’s Our Cesspool

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Poor Bret Stephens. He’s the latest punching bag for the left among New York Times columnists, and apparently he’s getting sick of it. “Twitter is about the naked, grunting brain,” he says. “It’s whatever pops out. And what pops out is altogether too revealing.” So he’s quitting Twitter.

There’s not much question that Twitter is a cesspool, but I think he’s making a mistake nonetheless. A lot of people blame social media for making our politics cruder, but that misses the reality. Our politics has always been this crude. We just didn’t know it. All Twitter has done is expose our collective id in a way that’s hard to brush off.

This is difficult to accept. Is this really what America is like in the privacy of our own thoughts? Yes it is. There’s no point in denying it. The question is, are we better off knowing it, or were we better off when we all pretended to be better people than this?

I’m not sure. There are surely advantages to norms of civility in public life. A Burkean conservative would probably say that those norms have been developed over a long time and we should respect the fact that we’ve historically found them useful. However, one thing Twitter (and Donald Trump) have demonstrated is that there are damn few Burkean conservatives in the United States. Conversely, a liberal would presumably believe that it’s important to know the raw truth. On the other hand, it’s liberals who are the biggest complainers about the rampant sexism, racism, xenophobia, and so forth that are so common on Twitter.

As for myself, I have an unusual attitude toward this stuff: it doesn’t bother me much. In fact, it kind of amuses me, which is why I’ve never blocked anyone. I get a little bit of a kick out of seeing the tidal wave of idiocy that comes my way periodically when someone gets pissed off for one reason or another and brings along a troll army.

Of course, I’m white, male, straight, and sort of emotionally stunted. So I don’t get burning crosses sent my way, or threats to rape me, or piles of people telling me to get the hell out of the country. The stuff I get is plenty nasty, but in a generic sort of way—and since I have stunted emotions it never upsets me that much. In fact, it’s kind of useful to know how idiots feel about stuff, since I don’t spend much time with idiots in my day-to-day life.

This could all change, I suppose. One thing I find odd is how uncreative Twitter trolls are. There are things that would provoke me, but they never seem to have any clue what they might be. They just stick with all-purpose insults that are so dumb it’s hard to believe anyone actually being upset by them. I wonder if they’ll ever get smarter?

Probably not. After all, they’re idiots. If they were smart, they wouldn’t be doing this kind of dogpiling in the first place. In the end, I think this is what will save Twitter. There’s only so much damage that idiots can do, and I think we already know what it is.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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