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Why I’m Not On Twitter

On more than one occasion, a reader has emailed me to ask why he or she couldn’t see me on Twitter. My answer might have seemed inconceivable to them: I’m not on it. I never have been. I’ve researched it and thought about it and waffled about it almost since there was a Twitter. I still haven’t gone there. And at this point, I’m unlikely to.

One reason has always been that I don’t think in 140-character text bites. I’m a careful and methodical writer on both the fiction and nonfiction side, and being methodical (not to mention fair) requires more than 25 words, or five words and a hotlink. I’ve recently experimented with what I call nanoarticles on Facebook. I’m currently on Day 13 of a 50-entry meditation on writing over there, with individual entries running from 40-100 words or so. I’m still not sure it’s useful.

I like epigrams, and I’ve written a few. I’ve gotten hundreds of Twitter posts and retweets of my statement: “A good tool improves the way you work. A great tool improves the way you think.” A few have liked “If you see a pinata, remember that somewhere close by is a blindfolded person swinging a stick.” I’ve gotten some pushback on “Self-esteem is confidence without calibration.” (This leads me to believe it may be truer than I thought.) It might be in the family; my father said, “Kick ass. Just don’t miss.” I guess I’m good enough at epigrams to post them publicly, and Twitter is epigram-sized. That said, I don’t think I want to be known primarily for my epigrams. On Twitter, you pretty much have four choices:

  • Epigrams.
  • Forwarded links.
  • Retweets.
  • Shouting.

Note that novels, technical books, and long-form journalism are not on the list. I already do Odd Lots here on Contra. One cannot retweet without tweeting.

So then there’s Number Four.

“Shouting” is the short form. It’s almost always indignant shouting, self-righteous shouting, or outright hateful shouting. The basic Twitter mechanism is a sort of amplifier, and once the person doing the shouting gets above a certain level of popularity, a runaway feedback mechanism ensues. Boom! (Squeal?) We have a mob. And far oftener than you might think, we have a lynch mob.

It struck me a few months ago: Almost all the current Internet wars are Twitter wars. Gamergate could not have happened without Twitter. Neither could Donglegate. Mobs require the sort of immediate feedback that only immediate presence provides. Twitter is as close as you come online to immediate presence.

Twitter wars would be mere popcorn fodder (low comedy, actually) and easy to tune out if there weren’t real-world consequences. There are. Adria Richards eavesdropped on two dorks making dumb jokes at a conference, took photos without permission, and tweeted them. One of the two dorks was fired from his job, as (a little later) was Adria herself. People have objected angrily to a Twitter lynch mob’s reducing Rosetta mission scientist Matt Taylor to tearful apology over his dopey Hawaiian shirt. I have a suspicion that he had no choice but to apologize. It’s not easy getting a probe to a comet, and it wasn’t easy for Dr. Taylor to be part of the team. Had he not made obeisance to the lynch mob, he might well have lost his job, and in fact his entire career. Employers can be cowardly in this fashion without much cost to themselves: There are always 400 people waiting to fill the void that you make when your company shows you the door.

We have a phenomenon here related to what I call “comment harpies.” There is a psychology that feeds on outrage and hate. Comment harpies are this psychology’s manifestion in blog comment sections. On Twitter, the psychology is amplified way past absurdity, and becomes an online lynch mob. It’s so easy to join in: Are you an umbrage vampire? A recreational hater? Choose your hashtag and join the mob!

I don’t associate with such people, and I don’t want my participation on the Twitter system to be seen as validating what might well be the Internet’s most efficient hate machine. Whether Twitter would be good for my writing career is still an open question, and while Twitter leaves an ugly smell in my nostrils, I rarely say never. Attention amplifiers are very good things, if they can be controlled, and somehow prevented from melting down or blowing up in your face. This happens; there is an SF writer I once respected who has frittered away much of his reputation on laughably rabid Twitter attacks. This may be a calculated strategy: Is he deliberately trading the broad but shallow support of his casual readership for the slobbering adulation of a Twitter mob? If so, he may not be as smart as he looks.

I strive to always be smarter than I look. The smart path may be to avoid Twitter entirely. Time will tell. In the meantime, watching the Twitter lynch mobs at work has put new steel up my back. If some jackass umbrage vampire ever calls me some sort of ist or phobe, I will reply: “No, I’m not. Now back off.”

I might be thinking worse of them inside my head, but…civility matters. And civility is the exception on Twitter.


  1. If ever I needed a coherent reason to leave twitter, you’ve just articulated it. Even people I otherwise respect retweet (shout) the most hateful stuff… I believe I will close my twitter account forthwith.


  2. Mike Weasner says:

    There is a positive side to being on Twitter. I’ve been on it since 2008. I use it to notify my followers of updates to my web sites and to post (tweet) notices of important events, such as the recent award of “International Dark Sky Park” status to our local state park (I headed up the effort). I occasionally post other things, such as info about the flawed and unfair and flawed FCC Nielsen Designated Market Area rule (affecting TV viewing here). BUT my favorite part of being on Twitter is NOT for what I post, but for what I receive: immediate and important news from scientists, scientific organizations, news outlets, science fiction authors, and friends. I don’t follow sources of Twitter Wars or rants. Like anything, Twitter is what you make it. (@mweasner on Twitter)

  3. Ruminator says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful exposition, Jeff. I always enjoy what you have to say, regardless of whether I agree or not. I have to go away and reflect and that is one outcome of good writing.

    I have a couple of Twitter accounts. One for personal stuff and another (basically unused) for my professional web presence. I have not yet really figured out what to do with either of them. I follow a few friends, but really that’s not all that interesting. I catch a couple of interesting links now and again and perhaps that justifies my continued scan of the feed.

    I like Mike’s suggestion for following scientific posters and that might be where I actually land. I could certainly curate a number of interesting things I find (professionally-related) on my “professional” account. That might make the effort of maintaining an account worthwhile and might lead me to something useful with the service.

    Now, I must go away and think for a bit. Nicely done, sir!

  4. TRX says:

    I feel much the same about Facebook…

  5. Bob Fegert says:

    Might be wise to sign up on Twitter just so some fool can’t sign up as Jeff Duntemann.

    Doesn’t mean you have to actually use the account.

    1. This possibility intrigued me, and having lost out on “Fake Oscar Wilde” I figured I’d at last grab my own name. Not intending to do much with it right now.

      1. Jeff: Well now you already have four followers, including me. You’re being drawn in…

        Cheers, Julian

      2. Erbo says:

        Followed, and added to about six lists. 🙂

        The account might be useful as an automated or semi-automated blog-post announcer, similar to one of the things you do with Facebook. If you stick to that, I doubt it’ll do much harm, and may even be of some use.

  6. Tony says:

    Have a Twitter account. Rarely use it. It just sits there. In fact I have it when I have an issue that is ignored by front line support staff. It has helped on those few occasions I’ve needed. it.

    And now I am following Jeff Duntemann on Twitter. 🙂

  7. Jim Tubman says:

    Mike Weasner hit the nail on the head.

    Although I do post on Twitter (probably more than I should), it can be a very useful service even if all you do is lurk, as long as you are selective about what/who you follow. You don’t have to post responses to anything; you don’t have to argue with anyone.

    As a practical example, I created a Twitter list called “Commute.” The Twitter accounts in it are all related to road and traffic conditions in my area: the city and provincial transportation departments, local radio stations that have specific Twitter accounts just for traffic information, and the local chapter of the Canadian Automobile Association. The tweets on that list have lots of good, practical information for safe driving.

    When Calgary had its flood disaster in 2013, Twitter was the best and fastest way of finding out what was actually going on. News organizations tweeted links to their articles and other information. Our mayor, Naheed Nenshi (@nenshi), is very clued about social media and used it to get information out there.

    Twitter is valuable if used with discretion.

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