I’ve noticed an increase in meanness and vituperation lately among the people I follow on twitter. I’m not completely sure why this is–certainly it’s due in part to the steady increase in the number of people I follow, but I also suspect the tenor of twitter has changed as it has increased in general popularity and ease of use.
The behavior I’m talking about breaks down into two loose categories:
Personal attacks. Twitter is not a tool that affords deep, substantive conversation, but it turns out 140 characters is just about the perfect length for slinging fallacies back and forth. And people leverage this affordance to build up a catalog of fallacies that would have made your high school logic teacher proud:
- ad hominems (“stop being such a dickhead, @twitteruser. anyone who paid attention past 3rd grade knows Glenn Beck is a p.o.s.”)
- poisoning the well (“where’s the intelligent debate about affirmative action? God knows we can’t ask the feminists to weigh in–all they do is bitch.”)
- spotlight fallacy (“gay people seem incapable of arguing for gay marriage without eventually getting hysterical & irrational. http://bit.ly/buSY0y“)
- hasty generalizations (“law students are more ignorant about the law than any group I know.” )
Bigotry. I don’t know exactly why people feel comfortable making disgusting generalizations about entire groups of people on twitter. I just know it happens an awful lot. Most typically it appears to come from members of some dominant group complaining about ethnic, political, or cultural minorities (though I’m also willing to consider the possibility that I only think this is true because it pisses me off so much more than when it comes from someone who’s part of a minority group).
I’m tired of it. I want twitter to be the space of coolness that it used to be for me. This is not, though certain lawyers may disagree, a desire for a “happysphere”; this is a desire to surround myself with the most civil discourse possible, in the highest possible number of communities I frequent.
Srsly: be cool, you guys. Try being exactly as nice on twitter as you would be in person. That way, when the twitter community makes decisions about which users to follow, they can decide what level of kindness or pettiness they’re willing to put up with, on twitter just as in real life.
Being both a witness to and target of meanness and pettiness has made me reflect on my own behavior, too. I will grant that I have been known to vituperate, from time to time, on twitter and in other social networking spaces (primarily in the form of so-called “vaguebooking”). I’m sorry, and I’m going to try to do better, so that you can fill up your life with as much intelligent, civil discourse as you want to fill it with. I ask that you do the same for me.