Tell me again why I’m supposed to care that Twitter is now a smoldering pile of embers? Have you been there at all in the last four years? These questions are rhetorical: it is a horrible, rabid, angry place filled with vitriol and ego, falsehoods and personal attacks, arguments that never resolve, grudges that never exist in actual human dimensions but only in the formless space of the Internet.
For me to mourn its demise under the hapless thumb of the world’s richest man, I would have to believe that the part of the last decade that I have wasted on the platform was inherently good. Better than all the time I lived before Twitter existed for me.
As a staff writer at a local newspaper, I giddily jumped onto the platform in 2011 when our web editor gave us the go-ahead to do so. The whole thing felt resplendent with promises of reaching audiences further and wider than the newspaper boxes on street corners in our small, often mispronounced and mischaracterized city. Maybe people far beyond would see what great work we were doing: we were a staff of eager, engaged writers who all deeply gave a shit about our weekly project. If people ever noticed us because of Twitter, it was not as resplendent as I dreamt it would be.
Later on, when I became a freelancer, Twitter seemed essential to getting new work. Suddenly I could drop DMs into the inboxes of editors who might not ever return my email. Or, even better, maybe they’d come to me. And I did get work because of my tweets — quite a lot of it. I’m thankful for that.
I think it was around 2015 when the platform really started to take over my job, and my life. If I had to pinpoint that shift to one thing, I’d guess it was because I started to really embrace the idea of live-tweeting: a thing I did enthusiastically through dozens of Portland street protests and court proceedings. Live-tweeting showed people I was a presence they could rely on to understand events that were playing out. I watched my follower count grow, and I’ll admit that I felt my confidence grow with it: like maybe I wasn’t just an art-y freelancer trying to make it, but someone people actually trusted. There were things I missed about being in a newsroom, having a regular byline and a solid home for my work. Twitter replaced that.
The problem was that when I wasn’t tweeting, I was thinking about tweeting. I was checking the platform compulsively. I bought into all the bullshit about being a part of the conversation, about watching things happen in real time, that being on Twitter was just part of modern journalism. It stoked in me a need for recognition for my work that was toxic and that I don’t recall existing so loudly before.
This was when my job started to feel like my life, too. The world was turning and I was spending large parts of my day on Twitter: siphoning Supreme Court Justice hearings into my veins and all the hot takes around them; mainlining the long 2016 Presidential Campaign — Cruz, Rubio, Clinton Sanders, the other guy — and the subsequent election. I tweeted my shock, my awe, my half-baked thoughts. Entire seasons passed outside and I was inside refreshing refreshing refreshing refreshing what my world had become. Twitter was meant for the hot-blooded, for people who like to be right and who like a fight. There were times I think I really loved it in the way that anyone can convince themselves that something terrible is worthy of their love. There were brief times in my past that I loved bad boyfriends, whole years I loved drinking until I blacked out. I relished in quitting those bad men, felt proud how I left drinking (mostly) behind.
Why have I stayed in this toxic relationship? Why have I felt so indebted to this acid-spewing fire hose because it brought me some work (I’ll note it was not well-paid work) ten years ago? Why does anyone stay in a relationship with something, or someone, that doesn’t do anything for them?
In her book The Witches Are Coming, the writer Lindy West talked about the epiphany that led to her quitting Twitter: why should she write for a platform for free when everyday she gets paid to write? Tweeting is, in fact, the opposite of the point of writing for actual money. You line tech billionaires’ pockets with your quippy ideas. They get everything. You get nothing.
In her earlier essay for The New York Times, called “I Quit Twitter and It Feels Great,” West wrote:
“The social contract of the internet seems to insist that there’s a nobility in weathering degradation. You can call me oversensitive, but the truth is I got far better than any human being should be at absorbing astonishing cruelty and feeling nothing. Undersensitivity was just another piece of workplace safety gear. The fact that we’ve learned to cope doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand better.
Being on Twitter felt like being in a nonconsensual BDSM relationship with the apocalypse. So, I left.
To be clear, it’s not brave to quit Twitter, or righteous (I’m still on Facebook, which is just a differently shaped moral stockyard), or noteworthy. Quitting Twitter is just a thing that you can do. I mention it only because there was a time when I didn’t think it was a thing that I could do, and then I did it, and now my life is better.”
I remember thinking I would never log on to Twitter again after I read West’s words. But then I did. I stayed. I’m still fucking there.
It has brought me many a dopamine rush and plenty of people who hate my fucking guts — I know this, because they love to tell me so. Twitter handed a direct-to-my-eyes mechanism for those people to get in touch with their words of disdain, to tell me how terrible I am at my job. I have been trolled, both mildly and majorly, because of Twitter. Every conversation I’ve had about my personal safety in my work has happened because of Twitter. If I think about the times I have really had the shit scared out of me because of reporting on extremism, it was always because of some interaction on Twitter.
Still. I stayed.
If I hate anything more than Twitter itself, it’s how it created a hate inside me for myself: a Frankenstein chorus of all the negative voices on Twitter who became my own. I was not enough. I needed to be better at my job. I was terrible at my job. I should quit. I am useless. Journalism does not need me. How pathetic for letting social media affect you.
The irony here is that I do have Instagram, but I don’t hate it, and that you might be reading this because I posted it on the Twitter account I won’t dispose of because of impersonators. The reality is that social media is just fine for other people. It doesn’t rot them from the core. I have to just admit I am not one of those people.
The platform has, and likely still can be, a conduit for journalism. I wrote in 2020 in the Columbia Journalism Review about how 2020 social movements were covered by journalists who relied solely on the platform. But even then, there is nothing carefully-considered about using Twitter for journalism, nothing that encourages people to think things through, to be mindful or deliberate.
And using it for journalism means trying to out-shout propaganda — and look how well that’s gone. Think about all the ways falsehoods have been spread by propagandists with literal millions of followers. Think about the myths people believe to be truth because Twitter made them feel like they were. Think about Andy Ngo. Think about the photographer manufacturing shots of a child burning a mask. Think about Donald Trump, or actually don’t do that, because god dammit can we not think about that man for one fucking day.
You know what I mean, and you know what I’m saying by now.
The cold is coming. This is the time of year when everything gets darker, more introspective. It seems appropriate that Twitter burns as the seasons change, during this time of the death of everything, when the world goes from bright to dark, full to spare.
Not a word of this missive should be interpreted as my belief that the times will roll back if Twitter truly shrivels up and dies — that suddenly journalism will go back to newsprint on front doorsteps, that facts will be facts, that blue check marks won’t mean a thing. I am allergic to nostalgia, and wary of its cold creep.
Going backward is not the way, nor is the over-eulogization of Twitter. My point is that there is a way forward. That journalists who are journalists will keep making journalism. That social movements always will find ways to mobilize, as they always have, long before any of us were here. Maybe there is hope that the superegos of the platform will dissolve and go elsewhere. Maybe we could all use a little healthy ego death.
Since Elon Musk bought the platform and made it worse than it already was, I don’t feel much need to be there. It feels like an everything-must-go sale in an old K-Mart. And — maybe I’m getting ahead of myself — but it feels like some of myself is coming back. Not my 31-year-old self, full of vim and optimism, but someone more concerned with the character of the cold outside and the quiet that comes with it. Someone who chooses to stay away, and doesn’t feel conflicted that I’m missing something.
I have to believe that you will see what I write about, even if I’m not on Twitter to tell you all the time. Maybe you won’t, but I think for the first time I feel permission to take that risk. To leap into a new unknown and embrace whatever comes with it. I doubt there will be a 51-year-old version of me who will mourn the death of Twitter: that it died and took my career with it. If it does, so be it. If being a writer means I have to torture myself, then I guess I don’t want it that badly anymore.
I recently heard this quote, from the volcanologist Maurice Krafft, who spent his life peering into lava-spewing volcanoes with his wife, Katia: writing books, making films, paddling boats across lakes of acid. He said he preferred to live a short, loud life than a long boring one: “a kamikaze existence in the beauty of volcanic things,” is how he put it.
The world of Twitter has, at times, felt so vast and important. But it is a world of smallness. It is possible to live an untainted life free of the distilled poison of strangers. A life staring into real pools of burbling liquid fire and acidic lakes. Considering wonder. Considering life. Considering death. Considering things deeply, not quickly.
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- THIS WEEKEND: I’ll be at the Miami Book Fair on Saturday, reading from When the Moon Turns to Blood, signing books and trying not to sweat too much. Come say hi!
- SIGNED BOOKS: If you would like to give a signed copy of When the Moon Turns to Blood to someone for the holidays this year, drop me a line: I have really cool bookplates I can sign and mail out to you, and you can stick it in the front of your copy of the book.
- VOLCANO PEOPLE: If you like that Maurice Krafft quote above, I can’t recommend the film Fire of Love enough. It is narrated by Miranda July, and is just lovely.