Why Twitter kind of sucks right now

Updated: Jul 13

I really do love Twitter, but I also want to live in a world where people who love U2 and people who hate U2 can co-exist.

There are two types of people in the world: Those who aren’t on Twitter because it sucks, and those who are, and complain about how much it sucks. But isn’t Twitter the ultimate just a reflection of society?


The short answer, and the good news, is no.  

To understand why what you see online doesn’t necessarily represent reality, it’s important to understand how social media platforms work, which conversations are elevated, how information is shared, and how people behave behind the keyboard. 

Imagine you’re at a loud, crowded bar. You’re speaking to a group of friends, and happen to share a bit of a controversial opinion, perhaps you say that U2 is for the most part, a pretty terrible band. Some of your friends agree, some disagree, others say “sure, but they’re not as bad as Oasis.” In any case, your conversation stays within your group of friends who know you and hopefully like you. Maybe they think your view on their favorite band is reprehensible, but they know enough about you not to judge you solely by that one statement.

TWITTER MAKES US THINK AN OPINION IS MORE WIDESPREAD THAN IT ACTUALLY IS

Now let’s imagine your bar is actually Twitter. The DJ just came on and asked if anyone has a strong opinion about U2, and about 10% of patrons nodded their heads enthusiastically. Of that 10%, a handful come forward and engage you, perhaps dragging along some friends with them who could go either way, but love watching a good fight. Soon you are surrounded by sweaty people who either love or hate U2, and they are dominating your conversation which then escalates to a full-on brawl. It's so loud and violent that you can’t hear the many other conversations going on at the bar that have nothing to do with the drama.


You conclude that this is in fact the most pressing issue in the world right now, and think to yourself (falsely) – wow, a lot of people sure do care about U2.

TWITTER MAKES US HATE EVERYONE WITH A DIFFERENT OPINION, BECAUSE PEOPLE WITH THAT OPINION SURELY HATE US

One of those pro-U2 people (who is kind of an asshole to begin with) leaves to go to another bar, one that is beloved by U2 fans. He walks in and says, “Hey, can you believe what this idiot at the other bar said?” and just like that, a small yet angry faction of the U2 fan club runs over to your bar to give you a piece of their mind. Soon enough, the only people you can hear are those accusing you of everything from advocating for the murder of Bono to being a Taylor Swift fan. One of them goes as far as to say that you hate the Irish, which you most certainly do not. You back out of that dumpster fire vowing never to listen to another U2 song again. If you disliked U2 before, now you absolutely despise them and everyone who likes their music. To be safe, you decide to hate Coldplay too.


You now think to yourself (falsely) – wow, U2 fans are all dicks.

TWITTER MAKES US THINK PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE

You can’t help but notice that a few people at the bar have cool wristbands with blue checkmarks on them. These people seem to have more friends than you do, and others tend to crowd around them.  Some local celebrities are at this party, and they all have the wristbands, so you conclude that this is some VIP club. And it is, or at least it was. The bar gave these out a long time ago to these A-listers, but then they started handing them out to random people, at random times, based solely on a subjective assessment. At some point the bar realized that they'd lost control, so they just stopped giving them out all together. Now you have a random assortment of people, some important and some not, walking around with these wristbands, looking all cool and getting attention from others.

You think to yourself (falsely) -  these people must all be important and the bar really cares about what they think.

TWITTER CAUSES US TO MAKE GENERALIZATIONS

You hit the bar and share your sad story with the bartender, who admits that while she doesn’t love U2, she did quite enjoy their latest album. The guy behind you overhears your conversation and shares this story with a few friends.  However, he missed the beginning of the conversation, so the story he shares doesn’t have full context - he just says that he thinks the bartender likes U2. His friend concludes that the bartender is a huge U2 fan, and another friend gets on a chair and yells that the entire establishment is incredibly pro-U2. The crowd erupts in cheers.

Wow, you think to yourself. What a weird bar. It is undoubtedly the official position of this establishment that U2 is a great band. You probably shouldn’t return, since you as a non-U2 fan will not be welcome.

TWITTER MAKES US SHUT UP

You leave. And why wouldn’t you? Everyone at the bar is yelling at you, even some of the important VIP types. The whole bar is fighting over a stupid band, and the bartenders will now only serve Irish people, or so you’ve heard. 

The saddest thing you now think to yourself is that you should probably never say anything about U2, or any band, ever again.

You vow to never go to the bar again. As you are riding home, you share the story with the Uber driver who used to work in tech, and he kindly gives you some context. He reminds you that you only interacted with a small portion of people in town, and even a smaller portion of people at this bar. In fact at this bar about 10% of the people account for 80% of the conversation.


At the end of the day, Twitter only give us a sliver of information. It’s amplified in a way that is sure to reach people who feel strongly about the subject, who will then assume the worst about the person sharing the information and anyone they ever met. It also for some reason causes otherwise nice people to access their mean and condescending side and use it to attack others, but honestly I’ve run out of metaphors to explain that one. 

When you think about it, the vast majority of people didn’t really say much, because they didn’t hear or didn’t care to chime in (not to mention the people that didn’t come to the bar to begin with, and those who left the bar because they didn’t like the drama.) Some of them may agree with you about U2. And some - and this is my favorite scenario of all - love U2, but don’t think there’s anything wrong with hating them if one chooses to do so.

We call these people lurkers, and they are a bit like God. We don’t really have concrete proof that they exist, but we have to believe they are surrounding us at all times, so we can have some faith in mankind.

So next time you’re worried about saying what you think, or going to the bar – remember that it is set up in such a way that encourages negative and strong reactions, but that it doesn’t represent what the majority of people think. And to paraphrase the great philosopher Rob Schneider (yes, that one) – if you get off your phone and just start talking to people around you, you’ll realize that the world is a better place than you think.

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Cover image: Photo illustration by Andrew B. Myers. Prop stylist: Sonia Rentsch, NY Times.

Yael@yaelbartur.com

New York, NY, 10023

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