But Twitter is my jam.
I spend a lot of time on there. Read a lot of tweets. Have a lot of emotional reactions to those tweets: delight, anger, heartache.
Two billion people use it, but 99% of them don’t know how. I try to notice the memes, the patterns, the formulas.
I try to pay attention to how these work and what reactions they generate in me. And setting aside the obvious clickbait, here’s what I’ve noticed:
Twitter, like every social media platform, is optimized for feeling over thinking.
One of the strongest feelings it can generate is belonging: I am part of the in tribe.
Here are some of the ways we can provide this feeling of belonging for our readers:
1. We send tweets without context. Maybe I drop a tweet that just says, “Speechless.” Or “’Nuff said.” Maybe it’s an inside joke, or a line that already assumes you know who Jorts the Cat or Lil Nas X is. The intention is clear: I’m signalling that this message is intended only for those who, like me, are Extremely Online, and that all others are excluded.
2. We argue for people who already agree with us. Sometimes we do this to vent; sometimes we do it because we’re so certain of our own rightness we can’t fathom what it might be like to hold a different view. So we’ll say things like, “Here are 3 reasons the Republican plan won’t work,” or “The Democrats are at it again.” If I already think the way you think, I’ll love these tweets. If I don’t, I’m completely shut out.
3. We go heavy on the snark. A year ago, I wrote an article about my efforts to give up being snarky on Twitter:
“I can tell you, it is hard. It’s so tempting to write, ‘Hey [insert person or brand name here]. Do better.’ The giddy smugness! The intoxicating self-righteousness! Could anything be more sublime?”
Snarkiness creates a stronger sense of belonging in those who agree with me and a stronger sense of rejection of those who don’t. It’s not a good-faith form of communication. It doesn’t invite constructive dialogue.
Because of these observations, I’m making an effort to #dobetter and be less snarky. To explain my positions rather than assume you agree with me. To avoid sending “no context” tweets.
Let me be clear: I’m no kind of saint. I’m actually kind of shit at this. I get the same hit of dopamine off an in joke as anyone else. I laugh harder when I know I’m part of a small group of people who “get it.” I’m susceptible to nodding approvingly at a good clapback.
So I’m in no position to criticize anyone. What I can do is extend an invitation: an invitation to maybe notice these phenomena, and to notice when we ourselves are the perpetrators. To pause before hitting #sendtweet. To ask ourselves, “Who is this for? Does it need more context? What am I trying to achieve?”
And then to maybe reframe the content. To ask the question, “What would it look like if I genuinely wanted to engage on this topic?” To invite connection rather than exclusion.
Want to join me?