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Bret Stephens doesn’t like Twitter, so he decided that you shouldn’t either.
His reasoning is lax, but the New York Times columnist blames the social media platform for “pornifying” politics. “Twitter is the political pornography of our time,” Stephens claims, “revealing but distorting, exciting but dulling, debasing to its users, and, well, ejaculatory. It’s bad for the soul and, as Donald Trump proves daily, bad for the country.”
As someone who spends too much time on Twitter, I couldn’t disagree more. Twitter — as with books, television, podcasts, or any other medium — is what you make of it. You can visit the library to check out Dostoyevsky or Danielle Steele. Go on YouTube for the BBC’s “Civilisation” documentaries or to see skateboarders getting popped in their yam bags. Download podcasts from Ricochet, or from some horrible, lesser audio network.
Short-form writing can be informative, aphoristic and funny. Twitter is terrific when tailored as a personalized wire service and can be a useful way to communicate with readers. And where would our literary culture be without @WtfRenaissance or @LosFelizDaycare?
But Twitter’s degrading uses tend to overwhelm its elevating one. If pornography is about the naked, grunting body, Twitter is about the naked, grunting brain. It’s whatever pops out. And what pops out is altogether too revealing.
Bigotry flourishes on Twitter, since it offers the bigot the benefits of anonymity along with instantaneous, uncensored self-publication. It’s the place where their political minds can be as foul as they want to be — without the expense or reputational risk of showing their face at a Richard Spencer rally.
Stephens admits that there is good on Twitter, so it’s odd that he condemns it all. I too use the social media site for breaking news, entertainment, and sharing quick thoughts. And yes, there’s a dark side, but you can find bigotry and “grunting” anywhere in a free society. That’s no reason to avoid the public square.
More oddly, Stephens says he’s forswearing Twitter but “I’ll keep my Twitter handle, and hopefully my followers… I’ll intercede only to say nice things about the writing I admire, the people I like and the music I love.” Which is precisely what the service is for.
You control your Twitter experience by following the accounts you enjoy, muting the annoyances, and blocking the abusers. And if the back and forth gets too angry or tedious, you can step away and do something else.
If Stephens doesn’t find value in Twitter, that’s fine. But to insist that no one else should is silly.