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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Internet Tweeting Disorder

Twitter is devolving into Twit-ler, nyah nyah nyah! ... I mean ... the symptoms and treatment of ITD

O ne of the most disturbing trends in American society is our increasing tendency to argue in highly charged emotional terms. Our news media contribute to this by making fact-challenged emotional arguments of their own. Information sites like Wikipedia have serious issues with bias and inaccuracy. But the worst culprit is social media, and the worst social medium is Twitter, the rear bumper of the Internet.

The worst case of Internet Tweeting Disorder (ITD) so far was described in a case history on Pjmedia (warning: may hang Opera). It started when Piers Morgan, a commen­tator famous for getting socked in the mouth by Merc aficionado Jeremy Clarkson, said something about Donald Trump's so-called Muslim ban. George Takei (famous for being a gay person), J.K. Rowling (a writer of children's stories), Chelsea Clinton (famous for being related to Hillary) and several other leftie celebs, piled on, proving the validity of Godwin's law.

I'm not going to repeat the exchange here. There was not a shred of intelligent comment in the entire exchange, and coming as it was from celebrities widely held up as role models, it was very disturbing to read. (Disclaimer: I have never been on Twitler, Facebook, or Myspace, nor have I ever posted on social media).

Even the comments on the hatefest turned into a hatefest. This stuff is as poisonous as it is contagious. The unrestrained use of invective and emotionally charged rhetoric needs to stop before people start comparing each other to Adolf Hitler ... wait, what?

Although some people have tried to defend Twitter's 140-character format, many others have criticized its tendency to turn intelligent adults into stupid rock-throwing children. Even Twitter appears to have recognized this. What the Twitler experiment has told us was (a) the simplicity and brevity of Tweeting discourage people from making rational arguments, and (b) its popularity gives them the idea that it's not necessary to do so.

Whether because it's so easy or because tweets are judged by popularity or ‘trendiness’, or some other factor, it is turning people into rock-throwers. It now seems clear that encouraging people to fill their tweets with vituperation and hateful invective is not going to turn us into Socratic philosophers anytime soon.

In a children's playground, when the children start fighting, the adults stop it. Teachers are (or used to be) trained not to take sides, not to get involved in the argument, but to punish all the students for choosing a destructive means of resolving their disputes.

That is not to say that words are a form of violence, as certain left-wingers claim. But if Twitter, Facebook, and Google choose to be the vice-principal instead of the playground, they take on a certain responsibility. Censoring one side will not stop people from fighting; the little brats will just take it out in the streets, and sooner or later they'll use real rocks instead of just calling each other Nazis.

Even President Donald Trump has ITD, testifying to its transmissibility. I doubt that even Twitter would dare ban President Trump, but for the rest of us Twitter has always been part kinderspiel and part vile hatred; if it is remembered, it will be for the latter. Its social model amplifies emotional reasoning and encourages bumper-sticker politics. As a way of bringing people together, it has failed.

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