Axios is reporting that Jack is looking at new ways to promote “healthy conversations”. I still have no idea what that even means, but apparently, the platform is considering moving the focus from following specific people to specific topics. Generally, Twitter seems motivated by the experience of the blue check brigade of journalists and other public figures largely on the left who seem incapable of managing their experience on the platform.
I am not in that brigade, because Twitter still seems incapable of determining that I am who I say I am, but I have some thoughts on this new direction. Most of these thoughts are because I am an adult who has mastered my experience on the platform using the tools Twitter already provides.
I also understand if you are going to put your ideas and opinions into the ether, you need to be prepared for feedback. Not all of that feedback will be pleasant. However, sometimes even the less than polite pushback makes me think. In the marketplace of ideas, isn’t that the goal? The ability to get more information, form an opinion, get feedback on it, and reflect?
I will concur that Twitter can get really ugly sometimes. It can also gin up a mob that endeavors to seek and destroy. The latest one was aimed at former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. However, in these cases, the problem is not the platform. The problem is people thinking unpersoning someone is the correct response to political disagreement.
There are a myriad of digital and other pathways to mob someone. It is not exclusive to Twitter and won’t stop if Twitter changes its focus. That speaks to a cultural sickness where some believe that if you hold a different perspective than they do you are morally defective, evil and worthy of scorn. Jack can’t fix that and I am not sure it should be pushed underground. It is a problem society absolutely must deal with and sunlight is the best disinfectant.
I also think that Twitter can be a wonderful place. I have met wonderful people on the platform who are now part of my real life circle of friends. I never would have met them were it not for the platform. My podcast partner, my business partner and dozens of other numbers in my phone came from relationships developed on Twitter. Because I get to follow interesting individuals. Not topics.
In these various groups of users, we have communities that form a kind of social fabric. When someone is sick or going through a crisis, we pool money and send meals, cash, and other items to ease the burden of a friend. When a loved one dies we send flowers and make donations to charities in their names. When someone is having a bad day, we reach out by phone to lend an ear.
These are not “Twitter friends”. They are deep meaningful relationships with people I genuinely care about. They are the people I meet up with at conferences and when I travel. The ones I plan girls weekends and beer festival attendance with. I have seen user communities prevent someone from harming themselves, joined in Twitter communities that literally talk people off a ledge and get them the help and support they need. Maybe Jack doesn’t hear stories like this enough. Maybe he needs to.
Twitter is messy. And like real life you are going to run across jerks and genuinely awful, angry people. Sometimes you can dialogue it out, sometimes you can’t. I have blocked over 6,000 accounts in the last five years and muted a few thousand more. As in real life, I am not obligated to speak with anyone or allow them into my space. Anyone on the platform can control their experience this way, and it is really quite sufficient.
So perhaps Jack could tell the blue check brigade to buck up. Or maybe on account creation, users could have an option. Safe Space Twitter could be sanitized and arranged to follow topics of interest. A highly managed and pristine experience where no one ever says something that a user doesn’t want to hear.
Alternately, a user could choose Real Life Twitter. Where it’s messy, occasionally ugly and often wonderful, funny and informative. “Healthy conversation” means different things to different people. For many of us, this means things getting messy is part of the deal. We are the ones that don’t need to be managed, Jack. So please stop trying.