Yeah, social media is toxic. So quit.
Specifically, according to his latest New York Times column, he’s sick and tired of how, fuelled by ISIS and Trump and others, “the Internet now seems to be on constant boil.”
He’s right. Social media has become unbearable. I say that with some authority, as someone of whom the Guardian once wrote “his Twitter spats are legendary.”
But I also say it as someone who, having recognized the increasing toxicity of the medium, deleted his Twitter account and has spent many happy months free of public status updates.
For all the bullshit about how social media is the first draft of journalism, since quitting Twitter I don’t think I’ve missed a single relevant utterance from Trump, a single development in the fight against ISIS or, to the best of my knowledge, any new challenger entering the Greatest Hoodie arena. Things like that have a habit of making their way on to more traditional news sites, and even -- gasp -- into newspapers like the New York Times.
All I miss by not being on social media is, as Manjoo puts it, an “escalating, infinite loop of 140-character, knee-jerk insta-reaction.”
Which raises an obvious question: Why, if Manjoo finds social media so unbearable, does he continue trying to bear it? Reading his column, you’d think he has no choice:
The news brims with instantly produced “hot takes” and a raft of fact-free assertions. Everyone — yours truly included — is always on guard for the next opportunity to meme-ify outrage: What crazy thing did Trump/Obama/The New York Times/The New York Post/Rush Limbaugh/etc. say now, and what clever quip can you fit into a tweet to quickly begin collecting likes?”
But in writing the above, Manjoo has fallen into three traps:
The first: Assuming that journalists are in any way representative of the wider public. If they were, Twitter as a business wouldn’t be fucked. In fact, not even all journalists use Twitter in the way Manjoo describes.
Second, Manjoo assumes that the outrage he’s describing -- angry mobs, people shooting holes in newspapers, that kind of thing -- is something new or unique to the social media age. Anyone with a basic knowledge of history tells us that isn’t true. In fact, the specific example Manjoo offers….
Erick Erickson, the right-wing commentator, saw that The New York Times had published a rare front-page editorial arguing for gun control last week, he didn’t bother to write a point-by-point rebuttal. He just got a paper, shot a bunch of holes in it, and posted the photo on Twitter.
Of the technologies involved – newspaper, a gun and Twitter – two thirds have been around for the better part of a millennium.
All social media has done is lower the bar for what constitutes a “mob” or “outrage,” by reducing the stakes for both participants and targets. It’s easier than ever to spark widespread outrage, but the outrage is quicker to dissipate and has fewer lasting consequences. In most cases.
Third, and most critically, Manjoo's entire column hangs on the idea that there is absolutely no way to silence the Twitter mob. No escape from his personal hell of hot takes and meme-ified outrage.
That’s not true. As I wrote months ago, removing oneself from the noise of social media is as simple as deleting one’s account: Of walking out of the room.
The fact that Manjoo feels unable or unwilling to do that would seem to say more about his own addiction to social media, or perhaps the expectations of his bosses at the New York Times, than it does about reality. If Manjoo is choosing not to quit, then that’s his choice or his addiction to beat. If his bosses are demanding that he put himself through daily hell, against his wishes and to his clear discomfort, then perhaps it’s time he look for another job.
“It’s become so common to figuratively walk through garbage and violent imagery online that people have accepted it in a way. And it’s become so noisy that you have to shout more loudly, and more shockingly, to be heard.”
Or you could just take a different, quieter route.