By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Coming to terms with the false promise of Twitter

Photo (cc) 2014 by =Nahemoth=

Roxane Gay brilliantly captures my own love/hate relationship with Twitter. In a New York Times essay published on Sunday, she writes:

After a while, the lines blur, and it’s not at all clear what friend or foe look like, or how we as humans should interact in this place. After being on the receiving end of enough aggression, everything starts to feel like an attack. Your skin thins until you have no defenses left. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish good-faith criticism from pettiness or cruelty. It becomes harder to disinvest from pointless arguments that have nothing at all to do with you. An experience that was once charming and fun becomes stressful and largely unpleasant. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. We have all become hammers in search of nails.

This is perfect. It’s not that people are terrible on Twitter, although they are. It’s that it’s nearly impossible to avoid becoming our own worst versions of ourselves.

Twitter may not be as harmful to the culture as Facebook, but for some reason I’ve found interactions on Facebook — as well as my own behavior — to be more congenial than on Twitter. Of course, on Facebook you have more control over whom you choose to interact with, and there’s a lot more sharing of family photos and other cheerful content. Twitter, by contrast, can feel like a never-ending exercise in hyper-aggression and performative defensiveness.

From time to time I’ve tried to cut back and use Twitter only for professional reasons — promoting my work and that of others, tweeting less and reading more of what others have to say. It works to an extent, but I always slide back. Twitter seems to reward snark, but what, really, is the reward? More likes and retweets? Who cares?

I can’t leave — Twitter is too important to my work. But Gay’s fine piece is a reminder that social media have fallen far short of what we were hoping for 12 to 15 years ago, and that we ourselves are largely to blame.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.


The Sun is setting in Lowell


Right-wing media whip up racist attacks on Nikole Hannah-Jones


  1. Deborah Nam-Krane

    Hammers in search of nails and performative defensiveness. I love it because it’s true. Let’s also not forget how easy it is to get wrapped up in drama that has nothing to do with you (except that it may be another opportunity to perform).

  2. Deisrée Vignola

    Exactly how I feel -and have felt- about Twitter all my life. I’m relieved to know that I was not that off about it. I do not comment or tweet if I can avoid it. I’ve tried to really engage many times but it just does not feel right to me. Who needs more drama after all?

  3. I left Twitter a couple of years ago. I still can see Tweet threads, but I don’t engage with them. I think I’m better off that way.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén