Experiences and Observations on Twitter

A thread to post thoughts about twitter, the medium, and also one’s experiences using the medium. I’ll start with something that bugs me. I’ve complained about the snark before, but I just wanted to mention one specific person, the progressive writer/journalist, Matthew Igleias. Here’s a sample:

I agree with his point, but I feel like 3/4 of his tweets contain this sort of sarcasm. It’s so annoying. (I actually chose to follow him early on, and put him on one of my politics lists, but I’ve dropped him from the latter, and have been waffling on unfollowing him.) I just don’t like the snark on twitter in general, but when it’s so excessive it’s also hard to know when the person isn’t being ironic. It’s a shame because he seems like a smart guy, who has interesting points to make.

By the way, bringing this up makes me think about why I don’t like snark. Would I not like this outside of twitter? I’m not sure. I think the equivalent of snark offline would sneering with an air of superiority and even condescension. Put that way, no I wouldn’t like that offline or in other media. Perhaps not all expressions of snark is like that, or at least the difference between snark and more good-natured irony can be fuzzy, the latter being something I’d have less problems with and might even enjoy.

42 thoughts on “Experiences and Observations on Twitter

  1. Quick Way to Make Money as a Pundit

    This article from TheWeek discusses the way, more conspiratorial-minded anti-Trumpers are fooling people and personally profiting from this. What I wanted to point out is that most of the people I follow on twitter are actively using twitter to promote themselves and their ideas, elevating their status and authority, in the hopes that this will translate into TV appearances and/or book sales. I don’t know this for sure, but it seems very obvious to me.

    Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted to make this point in response to the article: If the author is going use the word “grift,” he should use that for non-liberals as well. To be fair, he’s focusing on people that don’t deserve attention and financial profit because of their shoddy thinking. That’s fair–people with shoddy views shouldn’t receive a lot of attention, status, or authority.

    In addition to shoddy thinking, including conspiracy thinking, I’m concerned about the way smart people use things other than their expertise or unique insights to gain a wider audience. For example, the use of snarky zingers and cat pictures to endear one’s self to others. One pattern I’ve noticed: People will pick and choose dumb, often insulting tweets to respond to with a witty comeback. It can be fun to read those, but I also notice that the estimation of the person can grow because of this, and I don’t think that’s really a good thing. It’s like the cool kids in high school that become popular because of how they put down others. Additionally, I think good questions and critiques can easily be ignored or muted/blocked. That’s probably not a good thing for the pundits.

    Overall, I don’t think I have a big problem with all of this. I do feel a little uncomfortable by some of the dynamics, though.

  2. I Don’t Think Most Pundits Want Serious Feedback

    …Unless it is the positive, reaffirming type. The situation reminds me a workplace situation where management says they welcome critical feedback, as long as employees offer solutions. In my experience, management may genuinely believe this when they say this, but when employees offer solutions that address criticisms they raise, management resents this, at least on some level. This is especially true if the solutions actually have merit. I have a sense this is the same for pundits/experts on twitter. Like the workplace, I suspect there are exceptions, but those exceptions prove tend to prove the rule.

  3. Do most pundits even ask for serious feedbacki? I can’t think of a time anyone I read or watch asked for critique from his or her audience.

  4. I can’t recall them specifically asking for feedback, but I get the sense that they would welcome some (thoughtful) feedback on specific articles. This is supported by the sneering comments they get from asinine responses. Also, if I recall correctly, some of them have explicitly said that they wouldn’t mind criticism if it were thoughtful, etc.

  5. Wait, so is your disappointment more related to them not wanting feedback, or to some of them asking for it and not receiving it well?

  6. It’s more of the latter. Like some managers, they may believe they want constructive criticisms, with good solutions, but most people don’t. I suspect that the better the solution, the more management will resent the person offering it.

  7. Are you speaking about something specific here? Like, did you send George Will a DM and get something nasty back from him?

  8. No, nothing like that happened to me personally. Another reason I’ve said what I’ve said. The responses (often snarky) to dumb tweets seems to far outnumber the responses to thoughtful tweets. And it seems even rarer for a response to a really good tweet that rebuts the pundit’s position. I find that those tweets are often ignored–and that’s disappointing. That’s precisely the tweets I wish the pundits would prioritize–even if the response is a concession. (Indeed, my respect would grow for the pundit who responded in that way.) I’m interested in reading good discussion, far more than good rejoinders. (The latter can be entertaining, but there’s too much of that relative to the type of response I’d like to see.) To be clear, I’m thinking of tweets in general, not specifically my own.

  9. I think about a guy like Chris Cillizza, whose CNN analysis I find smart and insightful, not to mention well-explained, and I don’t imagine he’s actually looking for constructive feedback. He was hired at CNN (presumably) because they like the work he did at WaPo’s The Fix. His Twitter presence and persona are already well known; I’m sure it’s one reason CNN went after him.

    His employer is CNN, and he knows what they hired him to do, and it seems to be working. Maybe feedback to his employer would be a better tack, you know?

    You could tell Mike Trout what you think of his approach in the batter’s box, but I’m not sure why he would care what you or I think.

  10. There are pundits on twitter that aren’t interested in engaging and discussion, but others are. I don’t follow Cillizza, so I can’t comment on him, but I do follow others who actively engage with people who follow them. Some of them also write articles and they will respond to people who comment about the articles. (There are some journalists who do not respond, however.)

  11. The Movie Tastes of Political Pundits and Academics

    I must say that of the people I follow, who give their opinions about movies–I’m a little disappointed. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t call them cinephiles.

  12. Question: I’ve noticed people will tweet passages from books or articles. Some of the time, this comes from a smartphone photo, but other times, it doesn’t seem that way. Instead, it seems like they have some software to cut out a passage? Do you know what I’m talking about? If so, how do I do that?

  13. Phones will copy and paste selected text the way a computer will. Is that what you’re talking about? Embed a tweet with an example and I’ll have a better idea.

  14. That’s just a screen shot of something he read on his smartphone or a screenshot of something he read on his computer. You know how to take a screen shot, yes?

  15. On a smartphone, no. So he’s probably reading off a news app and then just taking a screen shot of that? If so, that means I won’t be able to do that.

    The next step would be taking a picture of a passage from an actual book or newspaper. (Then again, my phone can’t really do this–or at least the image wouldn’t be very good–so I guess I’m out of luck.)

  16. Yeah but you don’t read the news on your phone. Don’t you read it on a computer? And don’t you also use Twitter from a computer?

  17. If you’re on a Windows machine, hit the start button and type “snipping.” The Snipping Tool app will show up. Click that. I keep mine in my taskbar since I use it all the time.

    When the program opens, you can click and drag around the area you want to capture. You’ll be presented with a new window. One of the options is to save the image. Give it a name. Now you have a screen shot of whatever you were reading.

  18. Cool! I will try this! (Is there a website with books–for cutting passages? I assume not every book will be available, but I’d still like to check. I actually wanted to tweet passages from books, more than newspapers.)

  19. If it’s in the public domain, it’s probably available at http://www.bartleby.com. There’s lots of free stuff at https://www.smashwords.com but I have a feeling that’s not what you’re talking about. If your wife has anything good on her Kindle, you can access for reading on the web at http://read.amazon.com but you’ll need her login. And if it’s popular enough you can do a Google search for the title of the book coupled with “PDF” and see if someone has posted an illegal pirated copy of it.

  20. Failing any of that, you can just shoot a photo with your phone or digital camera, then move it to your computer. Don’t worry about quality. If it’s readable it’s all g.

  21. Forms of snark I really dislike

    “If only someone had done “x”…Oh wait”–and then they post a link with “x.”

  22. First of all, to be clear, I’m not saying this is the absolute worst or even far worse than other forms of snark. Second, I’m not sure how to explain why the expression is snarky. Maybe the difference is in how one reads it. For me, I read the the first part with a faux sincere tone. The “oh wait” is a gotcha moment. In general, I find these kind of things tiresome, and often cheap shots. It’s the same thing with zingers in debates.

  23. No, it’s absolutely snarky. I mean, the straightforward approach would just be, “Hey, someone pointed out some time ago that ________.” I just wondered what it was about this one that rubbed you the wrong way, but I can see now that it’s snark in general that does it to you.

  24. I think the issue is the frequency that people use snark, the way it’s used to score points–which fits with sports rivalry approach to politics which I think is so unfruitful to political discourse–and how it can make understanding where a person is coming from difficult. With regard to the latter, I’ve stopped following people because I can never tell when they’re being genuine or sarcastic. It’s annoying.

  25. In this case, though, you can tell when they’re being genuine, right? The writer is basically saying “I told you so” (or more often, “someone told you so”) without using those words. There’s a legit reason to say “I told you so” sometimes, and I think that’s what’s going on here. However, I’m not trying to tell you not to be annoyed. If it annoys you it annoys you.

  26. I don’t think they’re being genuine–not when they say, “If only someone…” They already know that someone pointed out something or whatever. Generally, I think the intention is to point out that the person, or someone else, gave a warning or made a prediction about something–and they’re now gloating and mocking.

    On a related note, I find the more benign forms of “I told you so” situations to be unseemly, in that it sounds childish, and kind of weakens the person’s credibility in my view. In another context–say in a public forum, public speech, a magazine article or book–would really knowledgeable people do this? I tend to think not. Maybe I’m wrong about this, though.

  27. I think what I mean is that there’s really no mistaking this person’s intention, so your not knowing whether to take the person seriously or not doesn’t really apply here, right? It’s a straightforward use of sarcasm. And while I agree that it’s often mocking or gloating, it really doesn’t have to be, and my experience is that it’s not. I think this snarky construction is as much about “we should really pay attention to X” as X’s actual point, wouldn’t you agree? If the person cited is a person of expertise who’s never been wrong about this subject, for example, the tweeter would seem to be saying, “Why aren’t we listening to people who have expertise?”

    Anyway, I don’t think this is really worth hashing out. It annoys you and I respect that. I just don’t find it as annoying as you do.

    “I told you so” is a tricky message. When parents say it, they’re reminding kids that they know something more than the kids know, so that in the future the kids will be more likely (ha!) to heed their parents’ warnings. You may disagree — you’ve said that you want obedience from your kids more than you want them to consider reasons — so maybe it’s consistent that you’d bristle against “I told you so.” I bristle against it because someone’s telling me to do something is often the reason I didn’t do it, not because I merely disregarded advice. 🙂

  28. I think what I mean is that there’s really no mistaking this person’s intention, so your not knowing whether to take the person seriously or not doesn’t really apply here, right? It’s a straightforward use of sarcasm.

    Oh, yeah–I see what you’re saying, and I agree.

    And while I agree that it’s often mocking or gloating, it really doesn’t have to be, and my experience is that it’s not.

    I guess it doesn’t have to be mocking or gloating, but I think the form would be different.

    “I told you so” is a tricky message. When parents say it, they’re reminding kids that they know something more than the kids know,…

    I’m not sure why you’re saying it’s tricky. Pointing out that you know something more than someone else is annoying, right? “I told you so” messages–and here, I’m talking about the tone and attitude as much as the specific words themselves–are almost never helpful. You don’t have to use that approach if you genuinely want to help someone. Indeed, if I genuinely want to help someone, I’ll avoid that approach.

    In the context of twitter, my sense is that people use this to gain credit for themselves–a way to show the world how smart they are. Again, I’m talking specifically about expressions that essentially are “See, I told you so.”

  29. This a good point. It gives me pause and makes me wonder if I should get off twitter. I should say that my use of twitter has provided me with a granular detail, as well as candor from journalists, that I don’t think I would get if I just read newspapers. On the other hand, I’m not sure that would really all that much more to my understanding.

  30. It’s interesting that the post above was my last one–because I just came in here to write about how (political) twitter can be exhausting, precisely because the posts are stress inducing. Specifically, I wanted to mention the way some users will say, “Important thread,” or something to that effect. When I see this from people I follow, I tend to take the message to heart and read the thread because of this. For the most part, the thread vindicates the person drawing attention to it.

    On the other hand, there is something weird about having many different individuals decide what’s important and urge others to read this–versus having WaPo or NBC news do this. What’s weird (if that’s the right word) is the definition of “important.” Specifically, on twitter, many individuals define what is important, and I think this expands what constitutes “important.” I feel like this can be overwhelming. I should mention that what is important is usually something that one should be worried or concerned about.

    At the same time, the insights, nuance, or new information given really doesn’t seem worth the additional stress–not to me anyway.

  31. I check Twitter to see what my acquaintances are up to, which I mentioned the first time I posted about it (15 years ago!). It’s the opposite of stressful and it doesn’t make me wonder about what’s important. It’s all important.

  32. I wanted to comment on two things–Elon Musk’s recent purchasing on twitter, and, a smaller matter, the idea of adding an edit button. First, the Musk story. My impression of the situation is based on comments others have made about Musk. Most of the comments revolve around free speech–namely, Musk thinks twitter has been too restrictive and heavy-handed–to the degree that they’ve violating the principle of free speech….Actually, in writing this, I realize I just want to comment on the principle of free speech. To get straight to the point: free speech does not equal one can say whatever they want. That the freedom is not absolute doesn’t constitute a violation of the principle in my view. If Musk is thinking this is the case–i.e., he, as the owner of twitter, and his administrators can take a laissez-faire approach–or he feels he can easily identify the boundaries and enforcing them without much complaints, I think he’s badly mistaken. In a way, this reminds me of people who sports officiating–thinking that they could eliminate controversial calls or mitigate them in a way that would eliminate complaints and criticisms. It’s a pipe dream to think this (at least with the given technology–i.e., I leave open the possibility that some new technology could solve the matter; but right now I’m highly skeptical.).

    By the way, this is not an original position. I’ve seen others mention this. I happen to agree with them.

    The second point. I see smart people I respect bemoan the lack of an editing feature. This leaves me scratching my head, as this seems like a really bad idea. I understand the desire for it, but my kneejerk reaction is that this will even create more confusion in an already confusing information environment. Specifically, it can be difficult to know what is real; people already make claims about what someone else has said or done. I feel like an editing feature would only exacerbate this problem. What am I missing?

    1. An edit button could cause a lot of confusion, yes. But if it’s implemented thoughtfully, it could work.

      The problem would be when someone tweets something controversial or provocative, then after getting a ton of responses or attention, editing the tweet so it no longer says what it said — perhaps saying exactly the opposite.

      There are a few ways to handle this. When you edit something on FB, the word “edited” appears beneath the text, and I think you can click the word to see the original message. This way, you can see if the person altered the message in a meaningful way or simply corrected a typo.

      Another approach is to do what some blogging software does: give you up to five minutes (or whatever) to edit your text, after which the message is permanent unless it’s deleted. This could work if they built into Twitter a kind of freeze on likes and responses until the editing period is over. In this case five minutes would be far too long, but one minute could work. One minute is a fair amount of time to notice that you’ve misspoken or misspelled something.

      For those of us who care, it can be maddening not to have an edit feature. Most of the time it’s fine: you misspell something, so you delete the tweet and post it again correctly.

      But the speed of Twitter means sometimes something gets retweeted or responded to before you notice an embarrassing typo. At this point, deleting the post deletes the discourse. And of COURSE it always seems that the stuff people retweet quickly happens to be the stuff you made embarrasing typos on. Perhaps this doesn’t matter to most people, but if you’re a professional communicator (and if your persona as a writer is in your actual handle, for crying out loud!) it matters a great deal.

      So an edit feature could be very useful, but I kind of think Twitter works fine without it. I realize I’ve become much more forbearing about typos from others, and they’ve been tolerant about them from me. This is not a bad thing, treating conversation on Twitter more like casual conversation than formal writing.

    2. There are a few ways to handle this. When you edit something on FB, the word “edited” appears beneath the text, and I think you can click the word to see the original message. This way, you can see if the person altered the message in a meaningful way or simply corrected a typo.

      In theory this sounds like a decent solution. In practice, I think there will be many instances when people won’t bother to investigate the tweet–which then would leave uncertainty, which then can lead to frustration and people giving up (a situation some/many may already be experiencing). Think of the way people don’t go beyond headlines. The article is there for them to verify if the headlines are accurate. But often they don’t do this.

      Another thing: There may be uncertainty about the meaning of the edit. A simple correction of a typo has a benign meaning. But a more significant edit could imply other things that may not be true–e.g., capitulation. Or maybe the initial mistake was genuine, but the editing can make it seem like the original tweet is more representative of the person.

      Another approach is to do what some blogging software does: give you up to five minutes (or whatever) to edit your text, after which the message is permanent unless it’s deleted. This could work if they built into Twitter a kind of freeze on likes and responses until the editing period is over. In this case five minutes would be far too long, but one minute could work. One minute is a fair amount of time to notice that you’ve misspoken or misspelled something.

      I think I like this idea best. Instead of posting the tweet, giving the user an editing period, maybe tweet wouldn’t post for a minute or two–and that would be the editing period. At the end of this period, twitter could even ask, “Do you want to post this?” I think this would create the “freezing” effect that you mentioned.

      Another variation of this is to have a drafting feature–where posts would be saved as a draft, unless you decided to post it.

      I realize I’ve become much more forbearing about typos from others, and they’ve been tolerant about them from me. This is not a bad thing, treating conversation on Twitter more like casual conversation than formal writing.

      Yep–I totally agree.

    3. As for the other thing, freedom of speech is irrelevant in this case. Twitter isn’t the government.

      That last sentence kinda a threw me for a loop…I’m not exactly sure about the implications of it. I’m guessing you mean, since twitter is a private entity, the principle of free speech is irrelevant.
      Whether this is true or not, the issue seems to be that Musk believes the principle of free speech should apply on twitter. Again, I’m not clear on how he defines this, but he seems to want to create a virtual space that applies free speech in an absolute way–or as close to absolute as possible (that doesn’t break any laws?).

    4. This comment doesn’t inspire confidence in Musk’s understanding or his eventual takeover of twitter. This is close to a “both-sides” approach to journalism–something that I think has hindered the press from protecting democracy. If one side threatens liberal democracy and the other side doesn’t, a “both-sides” approach will fail the public and won’t deserve the public’s trust.

      4/29/2022

      Progressives must have really annoyed and pissed off Musk (which is not hard to believe). I say this because his anger seems to be getting in the way of his analysis and perception. If the Conservatives never changed, Trump would haven’t been impeached and removed; he never would have been elected, actually.

      Musk claims to want twitter to be politically neutral, which is how he will win the public’s trust. How’s he going to do that after tweets like that?

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