The Corner

Science & Tech

Twitter Doesn’t Kill Our Civic Life . . .

I broadly agree with Farhad Majoo’s New York Times column arguing that journalists should disengage from Twitter:

I’ve been a Twitter addict since Twitter was founded. For years, I tweeted every ingenious and idiotic thought that came into my head, whenever, wherever; I tweeted from my wedding and during my kids’ births, and there was little more pleasing in life than hanging out on Twitter poring over hot news as it broke.

But Twitter is not that carefree clubhouse for journalism anymore. Instead it is the epicenter of a nonstop information war, an almost comically undermanaged gladiatorial arena where activists and disinformation artists and politicians and marketers gather to target and influence the wider media world.

(I very much like Heather Wilhelm’s proposal for a Twitter strike, too.)

What Manjoo does not address is the bigger question that I try to get into in my column today: Twitter is not the driving force that has disfigured our hysterically dysfunctional political discourse. Twitter is only a technological instrument that helps people to act in accordance with their worst and lowest motives, quickly, frictionless, and, often, anonymously. Twitter isn’t the problem with the media and our political culture any more than firearms are the problem in St. Louis, where the murder rate is about twenty times what it is in Laredo or El Paso.

Where Manjoo is most correct is that the mitigatory efforts most likely to have some positive effect will necessarily come from institutions, especially powerful media institutions such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, which have the power to decline to participate in this nonsense and to keep themselves from being made weapons of the mob. The challenge there is that many of the cheap and shallow partisans employed by these organizations are only too happy to be thus used.  If A. G. Sulzberger were doing his job, it would matter less to our civic culture whether Jack Dorsey were capable of doing his.

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