I’m seriously thinking about ending my relationship with Twitter.
It was fun when I joined in 2009, tweeting about good books, photos of good times. Things changed, with the racism and misogyny and general grumpiness. Beyond being a frequent downer, it has become a serious time and attention-span suck.
I realized I was addicted to Twitter when I forgot my password and got locked out of my account for a few days. I suddenly became aware of how ridiculously often I was checking it. Managed to write an entire paragraph of a story? I’ll check Twitter. Woke up in the middle of the night? Check Twitter. Grocery store lineup, watching TV with my kid, waiting at a red light to cross the street – launch the blue bird.
What was I looking for? Breaking news, sure. But also, entertainment. Twitter has been an important tool for my job – to find stories and sources, observe the discourse, and amplify things I have written. But it could also be fun. And I began to feel a sense of community there. Election nights, awards shows, big sporting events – watching a live broadcast with Twitter open on my phone felt like being in a room with friends. (I follow more than 7,200 people and have more than 14,600 followers.) And when something horrible happened in the world, Twitter offered close to real-time updates, but also a place to express shock and grief.
So now what?
Elon Musk bought Twitter and I feel a little sick. Impulsive, egotistical, cruel on occasion, Mr. Musk is not the kind of person I want in charge of anything – but certainly not the primary platform for public discussion. Maybe he’ll be hands-off, I told my worried self.
Then, late last week, he blustered into Twitter HQ carrying an actual kitchen sink. (”Let that sink in!” the man-child tweeted of his arrival.) A silly stunt and not very good joke as top executives were fired and workers worried about reports of mass layoffs.
Mr. Musk told advertisers that he bought Twitter “because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner.”
He added that “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!”
Well, in the 12 hours after the self-described “free speech absolutist” took over, there was a 500-per-cent increase in the use of the N-word, according to a social-media analysis firm. The use of additional racist, antisemitic and homophobic language also increased.
I saw it for myself, noting one account that called on users to tweet out their “Jew jokes.”
When Hillary Clinton tweeted about the violent attack on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband this past weekend, Mr. Musk himself responded: “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story,” he wrote while sharing an article offering a baseless victim-blaming conspiracy theory from a website that once claimed Ms. Clinton had died and a body-double had replaced her in a debate with Donald Trump.
Mr. Musk’s tweet was eventually deleted, but this is the example the new owner of the platform is setting. The clown has taken over the classroom. Or the hellscape.
And now there’s word Mr. Musk wants to charge people for those blue check marks indicating a verified user. The blue-check account owners aren’t having it though. To quote Stephen King: “They should pay me.”
Even before Mr. Musk, Twitter was an amplifier of misinformation, racism, misogyny, and hatred. It was frequently juvenile, but also disturbing, even scary.
During the trucker convoys last winter, I was hit hard after sending out a couple of anti-convoy tweets – I was called the C-word, had antisemitic insults hurled my way, often from anonymous accounts. Is this really how I want to spend one more minute of my time?
The platform is not without its charms, which is what makes leaving so hard. I’ll miss the funny memes and author Susan Orlean drunk-tweeting and people reacting to stuff like Will Smith at the Oscars, or that time Succession referenced The Globe and Mail. There are accounts that post interesting art. And cute animal videos.
But that is all overshadowed by the racism, the abuse, and the public shaming. And the fighting! Tweet that you are loving the apples this fall and your innocuous, happy observation might be mobbed with: Oh, do you have something against oranges? And what about the people who can’t eat apples because of an allergy? Or tooth sensitivity? Do better!
So, yeah, it’s probably time to end things. It’s going to leave a hole in my life, I know. I’ll try to fill it – read a book, maybe get to the gym. I could sign up for dance lessons or a cooking class. Meet some people IRL.
But I’m going to hang on a little bit longer. There’s a tiny possibility that there’s more to this story.