For a variety of reasons, I'm going to start moving away from Twitter in earnest over the next little bit. I don't quite know where I'll wind up next (other than on Dreamwidth, of course), but I'll leave a forwarding address before I go.

I've felt for a while that that Twitter is not structured to promote healthy discourse. Twitter management has made decision after decision after decision after decision focused only on maximizing revenue^Wuser engagement, to the detriment of those of us who prefer to see content that is high-quality, thoughtful and insightful (not inciteful).

I can deal with the noise—I've turned off Retweets entirely, and I use a third-party client, so I'm insulated from most of their poor UI decisions. But in recent months, I’ve heard one too many stories of inaction in the face of bigotry and hate, and as a result, I've lost confidence in Twitter's ability to manage the community effectively. That, for me, was the final straw.

As part of a larger thread, @Jack said [emphasis added]:

Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.

I agree Twitter needs to get better at explaining their decisions, and I agree it's important to be consistent in how you apply the rules. But the rules themselves need to reflect the reality that accounts with a larger audience and more influence have a correspondingly larger impact when they misbehave. Words and actions need to be judged not only by their intentions, but by the type, breadth and depth of their impact. Higher-profile accounts need to be held to a higher standard, and Twitter has consistently failed to do that.

When Twitter allows public-figure bigots like Alex Jones and Donald Trump—both of whom regularly engage in hateful and/or violent speech—to remain active on the platform while suspending relatively obscure accounts for comparatively minor infractions, it sends the message that Twitter supports racism and bigotry. When Twitter bans Richard Spencer—a man who publicly advocates for genocide—and then unbans him a month later (supposedly because he was "creating []multiple accounts with overlapping use"), while at the same time suspending anyone who tweets, "punch a Nazi" for advocating violence, bigots and hate-mongers know they will look the other way.

The end result: Twitter has created lots of opportunity for the followers of neo-Nazis and alt-right leaders to follow their example, and in doing so, has sent the implicit message that what they are saying and doing is okay.

It's not okay. In fact, it's not acceptable. And while I understand that Twitter needs to abide by their policies as written, they should have done a lot more, a lot quicker, to ensure their policies actually have the outcomes they claim to desire.

They've had months, if not years, to get this right. Based on what I've seen this week from Twitter HQ, I have no confidence they'll figure it out anytime soon, and I'm not willing to wait any longer.

— Des

deskitty: Angry pouncy siamese cat head (Default)

280 Characters

Nov. 11th, 2017 03:39 pm

I'm glad Twitter doubled their character limit.

I think it's a small improvement on a site that has a long way to go to arrive at anything resembling civil discourse. Moreover, I see no downside—to the extent that it "makes Twitter less Twitter", I think it's a good thing. It probably won't encourage me to stick around on Twitter much more than I already do, nor will it really change how I use the service, or (I expect) how anyone else uses it.

It doesn't solve any of the problems with violent extremism flourishing on the site, nor does it solve any of the other problems with misinformation spreading like wildfire (looking at you, Retweet button), or biased verification and moderation practices. It doesn't solve the problem that Twitter, as an organization, is too cowardly to kick off someone who makes violent threats (and has the capacity to carry them out). Nor does it come anywhere close to solving the tweetstorm problem.

But it does leave just a little more room for nuance. It gives people the opportunity to say more, and get closer to saying what they actually mean. And that can't be a bad thing.

— Des

A while back, I took a close look at how I was interacting with Twitter, and set some ground rules to see if I could make Twitter work better for me. It's been a little over a month, and the rules haven't been super helpful—I still found myself getting frustrated or annoyed at my timeline most of the time.

The blanket rule of "don't retweet or engage with politics" has helped lower my frustration level a bit, and kept me out of potentially fraught conversations, so I'd count that as a small improvement. But it hasn't been enough; I've still seen a ton of things in my timeline which made me angry.

That's partially because I haven't been able to unfollow anyone that is primarily political. This hasn't worked out because most of the people I follow post a mix of politics and other stuff I care about (what's going on in their lives, etc.). I would be missing out on a ton of that stuff if I just unfollowed everyone that posted something political.

So I took a different approach: a couple days ago, I turned off retweets entirely. I no longer see anything that anyone retweets. The Twitter FAQ says it's not possible, but you can do it if you're willing to go through and turn retweets off for each and every account you follow.

The result, while not anywhere close to perfect, has been a much more pleasant experience overall. Since I only see original content, I now miss most of the viral outrage that's been going around, but I still get to hear what's going on in my friends' lives.

Moreover, I'm more likely to pay attention to those purely social tweets, since I'm not searching for them amidst the noise of retweets. And, if someone has an earnest, original political thought they want to share, I still get to hear that too (which is way more relevant to me than "U SHOULD BE MAD AT THIS ONE COP IN LOUISIANA").

I also feel generally more informed, because I've been getting most of my news from reliable RSS sources instead of Twitter. That means more fact-checking, and more in-depth analysis. Sometimes there is a delay (often of a day or more), but I think accuracy and depth are more important than timeliness—timely information is actually harmful if it isn't accurate, or is incomplete.

Yes, I miss out on cat pictures and some of, "I thought this thing was cool so I wanted to share it", but I think it's a reasonable tradeoff. I care more about keeping my timeline free of non-actionable outrage that will make me angry to no good end, than I do about missing out on cat pictures or dog ratings.

It's still only been a couple of days, but the results are encouraging—I've been finding Twitter to be a more friendly, engaging place. All of my earlier guidelines are still in effect, though slightly modified:

  • Don't make retweets. Make signal, not noise—if retweets are mostly noise, I shouldn't be making them.
  • Don't read retweets. Turn them off, by default, for everyone.
  • Start or move deeper conversations elsewhere. This rule has been working well so far; nothing to change here.
  • Continue consuming news mostly through RSS. Accuracy and depth are more important than timeliness, which means Twitter is not the place for news.

Let's see how this goes; I'm optimistic these changes will help.

— Des

I've never been particularly thrilled with Twitter, but I've been getting progressively less happy with it over time, and I think it's time to take a step back and re-evaluate whether it's really working for me.

Twitter as a Social Tool

I'm mainly interested in Twitter as a way to keep up with the goings-on in my friends' lives. In this case, it largely fills the role that LiveJournal, IRC, and AIM used to fill when I was in college; I would check in periodically to see what was happening, get caught up on discussion, and contribute my own responses as appropriate. For IRC and AIM, those might be one-off/casual bits of conversation; for LiveJournal, they would be more thought-out, detailed, (sometimes not-so-)nuanced discussions of whatever was on my mind at the time.

For both types of interaction, however, Twitter is worse than what it replaced.

For casual interactions, there's no sense of space or privacy like there is with an IRC channel or AIM conversation. That means there's much less shared context, and no opportunity for localized social norms to develop. A vague or otherwise intellectually-lazy statement intended for consumption only amongst friends might get picked up, re-interpreted, taken out of context, etc. Because Twitter is a public forum, one has to be thoughtful and precise in any statement, even something hidden in an @-reply.

Sure, you can sh!tpost, or retweet funny pictures of cats, but express an opinion on something, even in passing? You're opening the door for a more thoughtful, nuanced conversation, and those (literally) just don't fit on Twitter.

Why? The 140-character limit actively discourages any form of nuance. There's no space for prevarication, or qualifying/limiting statements, or further explanation of any kind. Yet those details can provide important context, clarifications, or factual support. They can take a black-and-white statement and turn it into one of those all-important shades of grey.

In my experience, trying to squeeze more deliberate discussion into the 140-character limit can be dangerous, in the sense that it's easy to miscommunicate and misinterpret. For example, Twitter has become something of a political hotbed lately; politics is already a fraught topic about which it's difficult to communicate, and the limit really doesn't help matters.

There are only three ways around the 140-character limit that I know of, all of which are horrible hacks: (1) write something in a text editor, take a screenshot, and post the screenshot; (2) write a really long chain of self-replies (and flood everyone's timeline); or (3) post on another site (like Dreamwidth ;) ) and link to it. There are also DMs, but the point here is to interact with a group of people.

In short: Twitter is designed around the public sound bite. Falling into a deeper conversation, even by accident, carries with it an increased risk of miscommunication compared to other platforms. I've gotten into trouble frequently enough that I now think very carefully before engaging, even with people I know well.

Twitter as a Broadcast Medium

Twitter works much better as a broadcast medium (or at least, a headline dissemination medium), but even there it falls short of what I'm looking for. Most of the "broadcast" type material (news, calls to action, and so forth) that ends up in my timeline is some combination of alarmist, poorly-sourced, or not especially relevant.

It's not hard to figure out why: The easiest way to interact with something on Twitter (short of scrolling past it) is to push the "Retweet" or "Like" button. "Like" is pretty harmless, but because "Retweet" is so easy, the gap between "I saw the thing," and "I retweeted the thing," is exceedingly small—small enough that there isn't much room for conscious thought.

Moreover, it's been my observation that people tend to engage more with things that provoke strong emotional reactions, especially negative reactions. My own posts are a good example of this; in the last week, I've retweeted more political anger than I've written in original content (including replies).

Combine the bias toward strong/negative content with the ease of retweeting, and it's little wonder my timeline is filled with things that make me angry (and may or may not be true).

So what now?

Twitter is failing pretty hard at what I want from it. But there's one criterion I haven't mentioned: all my friends are there. So, I'll probably keep using it for the foreseeable future, even though I'd really like to replace it with something better.

But I do think how I engage with the platform needs to change. I'm going to try out a few guidelines for myself, as follows:

  • No opinionated or political retweets. It's too easy to pass on things that are alarmist or don't reflect my actual thoughts on the subject at hand. Retweets are also a great way to spread unsubstantiated rumor. I may strengthen this to "no retweets at all", if it turns out that I'm still reflexively hitting the "Retweet" button too much.

  • Start or move most deeper conversations in/to another venue. That could be a DM, Telegram, Dreamwidth, or in person, but it can't be in a context with a 140-character limit. I have a hard enough time communicating without cutting down my responses to fit into a tweet, and spreading replies across a series of tweets is generally difficult to write and to read.

  • Move my news consumption entirely to RSS. I've been following political and high-profile figures from my public/semi-professional account for extra color on various news stories, with somewhat mixed results. I think it's more trouble than it's worth to try to parse meaning on complex topics from individual tweets.

  • Unfollow anyone that is primarily political, and find other venues to interact with them. It's fine if my friends want to be political on Twitter. But I know that I won't get a lot of value out of interacting with them in that venue, and chances are high that we'll end up in the communication quagmire discussed above.

Let's see how this goes over the next little bit.

— Des

deskitty: Angry pouncy siamese cat head (Default)


Apr. 27th, 2017 08:40 am

I need to come up with some better rules of engagement for Twitter, I think. I've noticed there's a huge variety of situations where it's extremely easy to fail to communicate, and there are some classes of communication the platform just doesn't work for.

Do you have any rules/guidelines for yourself, and if so, can you share them in the comments?



deskitty: Angry pouncy siamese cat head (Default)

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