I'm Done Talking Down to People (My Rules for Twitter)

"Twitter Buttons at OSCON" by Garrett Heath is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I'm not the first to make the observation that the incentives of social platforms have trained a whole lot of people to be disagreeable. This manifests to different extents and different ways on the different social platforms. Twitter is full of dunks, smug superiority, and endless talking down to each other. Twitter has been making some moves to curb the toxic uses of it's platform but nevertheless the problems still remain.

Despite my best intentions I've succumbed myself from time to time in participating in this kind of toxic behavior. It feels satisfyingly good in the moment to righteously put someone in their place, in the same way that eating an entire greasy pizza feels great in the moment. And just like how eating that whole pizza every day is going to lead you to a bad place for your health, shouting down people online all day will mold you into a broken person.

In hopes of avoiding going anywhere near that dark and lonely path, I am laying out a personal set of "rules" for my usage of Twitter. These are personal to what I think will help me get what I want out of using Twitter. These rules are not something I think every person online needs to adopt wholesale. Hopefully to the extent they are useful, they will inspire you to think about how you can use Twitter better. With no further ado, here are my rules:

  1. No talking down
  2. No generalizing negative characteristics onto a large group
  3. No public shaming
  4. Only engage in good faith, mute/block those that aren't tweeting in good faith
  5. No day-to-day politics

None of this applies to Nazis or other groups founded on intolerance

No Talking Down

You will never productively communicate with anyone by spewing contempt at them. I am not going to participate in telling people what they are doing is "problematic" without articulating the problem or dismissedly telling people to "read the room" etc.

Talking in that tone implies that you so absolutely confident in your superior views that you do not even have to defend your contempt. If life has shown me anything, it's that even with the best intentions my views can be fundamentally wrong.

I am more interested in thoughtfully engaging with those that might disagree than winning social points by slamming someone that hasn't sufficiently adopted the dominant "truth" of the week. Talking down to others is going to warp who is attracted towards following and engaging with you on twitter. Which will trap you in a prison of people that will be happy to offer the same contempt to you.

No Generalizing Negative Characteristics Onto a Large Group

It is popular among some Twitter groups to tweet exasperation about "Why are [demographic] so...." or "Ugh [demographic]" when they see yet another example of a bad behavior or thought they see commonly expressed by these groups.

To be clear, it is usually not their intention to claim all members of said group do the thing they are criticizing, and will exasperatedly say as such when a member of the group inevitably shows up to challenge the generalization.

I've seen this show enough times that I just don't see this as an effective way to express yourself. Intentions do matter, but if your intentions are always being misunderstood it's worth thinking about if there is a better way to express yourself. Especially in a place where your tweet can reach a global audience, making fuzzy generalizations can easily go wrong.

No Public Shaming

This includes all genres of "I can't believe how dumb this person/thought is", quote tweet or screenshot dunking, or feuding in public.

Joining a Twitter mob isn't ever worth it. The Twitter mob is often wrong about how "evil" the person they've been set on is. Unless you have real knowledge of the situation and all of the context, don't pile on for a witch hunt.

I watched this happen in real time to Alexandria Neonakis who dared suggest that sometimes artists aren't having success because they just aren't good enough yet. This was in a very long and nuanced thread about who exactly that statement applied to. For her trouble she got a mob set on her. Accusations of only getting her artist job at Naughty Dog by sleeping with her boss, and the whole sexist nine yards.

Don't join a mob, or try to start one yourself.

Only Engage in Good Faith

I'm not going to waste my time riling people up on the internet. It can work as an engagement tactic "growth hack" but it's not worth it. Being a loud voice for the contrarians is a lucrative but soul crushing endeavor. If I'm not going to engage in good faith, don't engage at all.

This also applies the opposite direction, mute/block those that aren't tweeting in good faith. If people are deliberately twisting your words (which happens all the time on Twitter) you can defend yourself in a cool headed manner but really consider if it's not more worthwhile to just block and move on.

No Day-To-Day Politics

This is the rule I'm most likely to revisit in the future. Politics on social media is something I am still trying to figure out how to handle in a productive way. I am very interested in politics and would like to write about larger political topics on KyleUnboxed. But it is so easy to do politics wrong on Twitter. I think I'll abstain from the day-to-day political drama for now. Politics is pretty heavily claimed twitter territory so I think I'll stake out some less well trodden topic areas.