Saturday, 2 January 2021

Three Resolutions for the Twitter Left

1. Kindness. It is a truth often acknowledged that Twitter is full of dickheads and trolls. As such, its 280 character compositions can bring out the worst, including those of us who walk with angels, politically speaking. To get the most out of it, striving to be kind to others, and above all, ourselves is a useful ethic. By kindness to others I mean thinking instead of shooting from the hip. If someone new to your mentions asks a daft question but they're not obviously mendacious, give a measured reply and avoid a snarky responses. Any comeback following the first interaction will usually reveal the character of who you're dealing with. Genuine types, while not always worth engaging with, aren't worth alienating either. If you're dealing with mendacity or trolling, this is where you should show yourself some kindness and not respond. Block and mute are your friends. You risk doing yourself a disservice by allowing flames to gutter back and forth. No one cares about who has the last say, and usually the only audience is yourself and the troll. Save your energy and don't get wound up - politics is exhausting and frustrating enough as it is.

2. Comradeship. We like to think of ourselves as comrades fighting the good fight, but we need to act more as if we are. In addition to the kindness rule, comrades whould always try and be patient with comrades, and this also applies to different tendencies found among the Twitter left. Before Christmas we saw bile and precious little good cheer as another bout of infighting broke out between the "optics left", the "cranks", the shitposters, and those populating no fixed categorical abode. The occasion then was the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's new project and the fall out following the interview he gave The Canary. Allowing this divide to fester online will impact organising efforts offline, and so perhaps following through with comradeship means thinking about how to address and mitigate the consequences of division. I might suggest avoiding snarks and affecting a period of studied silence about the behaviour of well-known websites or leading figures is one way, albeit acknowledging how informal non-aggression does nothing to address the roots of disputes and splits. The other, more useful way, is developing a culture of comradely debate. Political differences, because this is what fractures on the left are always about, should be treated as opportunities for learning as opposed to, as they are now, point scoring. In other words, if we make the effort to see ourselves more as a collective instead of individuals who happen to have broadly similar politics, we might become more broadly tolerant of one another in which differences are an occasion for debate, not throwing insults. A forlorn hope perhaps, but a resolution well worth pursuing.

3. Sharing. Unfortunately, the principle of sharing is not adhered to anywhere near enough as it should be, and again the problem is rooted in approaching Twitter as an individual instead as part of a movement. While it is regarded as an echo chamber, there are in fact 16 million Twitter users in the UK, some 360 million users worldwide, and 150 million who are active users. The potential for larger audiences, and therefore participants exists. How to reach them? Simple. Hammer the retweet button, not the like button. For example, consider this tweet from Michael Rosen. At the time of writing, it has 1.7k retweets but 10.5k likes. Michael is notified that 10-and-a-half thousand people like what he's written, which might be gratifying, but more important is the amplification by the retweeters, which has allowed his comments to appear on tens of thousands of feeds. Good, but it could have been higher. I know this is restating the Twitter basics, but comrades who like something should show their appreciation by retweeting it instead. This is more useful and social, gets other people seeing the sound takes you're seeing, and it might reach people outside the existing left. Liking is proprietary, privatised, and an act of individual taste with no broader utility. Retweeting, sharing, is socialist.

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Anonymous said...

A succinct list, Phil, yet with so much to commend it. May I add an over-arching concept that needs tackling to assist your readers? This is the Third-Person Effect (TPE). Not so much a logical fallacy as a perceptual one.

Broadly speaking, the TPE means that we all think we are immune to being influenced, but that everyone else is highly suggestible. Trying to explain the TPE's application to Twitter can be prescriptive and therefore counter-productive. But when you know what it is, it becomes immediately recognisable when you experience it or encounter it. And it is absolutely fucking everywhere!

Dipper said...

Kindness? That'll be organising pile-ons to people deemed not sufficiently kind. 'Be kinder you bigoted racist piece of dog vomit' etc etc.

The problem is that left politics is now entirely about finding bad people and publicly hounding them. Arguments are proposed not because the proponents actually believe them, but because the response will allow sinners to be identified and pilloried.

So good luck improving lefty twitter.

DFTM said...

It is interesting to note that wokism has been fully embraced by the right. The pro woke legislation is most enthusiastically enacted by the political right.

As a supporter of the Palestinians I can say with confidence that hounding people and attempting to shut them down is something the political right are all too keen on too. History is full of right wing repression.

So good luck with improving right wing twitter.

Having said that certain people went all woke when Karen Carney made ignorant, ill informed, crass and provocative things about Leeds Utd and in my opinion she fully deserves all the abuse she was getting. Though there comes a point to let things rest and move on.

The trolls on twitter are the only truly subversive and critical element, better them than those who add a like to a Stephen Fry tweet.

Even better, avoid twitter altogether!

Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

Subversive and critical Trolls as the only positive element on Twitter? Possibly a difference of definition which as a kind and sharing person I will attempt to debate. Trolls are people who post to provoke, generally because they like attention and think that irritating people is the best way to get it. Like that annoying git in the fourth year who always had to have the last word, looked for whatever would most upset, antagonise or humiliate and picked away at it - invariably punching down as any such efforts against someone who could actually hit back would result in that literally happening. Trolls are sociopaths and bullies or bully hangers-on who have no interest in persuasion or informed and informing debate. They do not seek truth, or knowledge, they seek gratification of their misunderstood need for approval and they only way they know to do it is to get under the skin of those they disagree with. Some Trolls will even argue and provoke those who they are in broad agreement with, should the opportunity arise, because their nature is to seek approbation from some subconscious and unrecognised stern, cold father figure, and the only weapons they possess is petty point scoring or insults and abuse. So, subversive in the sense of undermining and destructive, but not true rebels with a cause. Critical, yes, but everyone's a critic and only those who leaven this with a creative offering can be said to genuinely contribute to society. But that's just my view and you're all welcome to disagree.