Stephen Fry quits Twitter. What took him so long?
Stephen Fry is best known as an actor, writer, comedian and obsessive user of Twitter. But as of today we can apparently strike that last one from the list.
Fry has announced that he is quitting the ailing social platform, explaining that "too many people have peed in the pool." Specifically, Fry is upset after he was bombarded with abusive messages after he joked about a female friend's appearence during the hosting of the BAFTA awards.
Oh goodness, what fun twitter was in the early days, a secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest. It was glorious ‘to turn as swimmers into cleanness leaping.’ We frolicked and water-bombed and sometimes, in the moonlight, skinny-dipped. We chattered and laughed and put the world to rights and shared thoughts sacred, silly and profane. But now the pool is stagnant. It is frothy with scum, clogged with weeds and littered with broken glass, sharp rocks and slimy rubbish. If you don’t watch yourself, with every move you’ll end up being gashed, broken, bruised or contused. Even if you negotiate the sharp rocks you’ll soon feel that too many people have peed in the pool for you to want to swim there any more. The fun is over.
Fry has quit Twitter before -- twice in fact, and both times he's returned. This time, though, he likens his decision to suspend his account to "leaving a room"...
Think of it as not much more than leaving a room. I like to believe I haven’t slammed the door, much less stalked off in a huff throwing my toys out of the pram as I go or however one should phrase it. It’s quite simple really: the room had started to smell. Really quite bad.
If that sounds familiar to Pando readers it might be cause I used the exact same analogy in reference to my own decision to quit Twitter last August:
Social media -- Twitter in particular -- can be a very noisy room. Imagine a sports bar on game night, but where instead of yelling at the TV screens, everyone is yelling at you. Now imagine, rather than yelling back, you simply walk towards the exit, and step out of the room. As you step out into the night and the door swings shut behind you, the din instantly falls silent.
The funny thing about Twitter fights, or social media storms in general, is that they almost never follow you out of the room. They rarely make the leap from your Twitter steam to your email inbox and, if you choose your friends correctly, they never cross over into real life.
My advice... Just step out of the room. Appreciate the silence and realise how unimportant a bunch of angry tweets really are. What seems like the worst thing imaginable from inside the room will go silent the moment you step outside.
What took you so long, Stephen?
Wait, trolls! Don't Tweet that! Sadly, in a post-Twitter universe, I'm compelled to clarify that I'm not really suggesting that I inspired Stephen Fry to quit Twitter, or that he's a Pando reader, or that I was the first person to quit social media, or that the chicken didn't really cross the road.
Twitter has conditioned us to expect a backlash to even the most innocuous public utterances, the most unremarkable shared opinion. As Fry points out, the trolls are just as likely -- perhaps more likely -- to come from the Left as the right.
But here's the irony: At the same time Twitter that has become a minefield for jokes and ill-advised (but largely innocuous) observations, it has also become a playground for the worst type of bigot, racist, and other unapologetic scumbag. The key word there being "unapologetic." If you take delight in riling people up, and have an endless appetite and tolerence for abuse, Twitter is more fun than ever.
Exhibit A: Donald Trump. Consider how much worse Twitter's engagement and growth would be were it not for Trump's presidential run and his daily attacks on women, immigrants, Muslims, and just about everyone else. The pee-ier the pool, the more he's in his element. Meanwhile, the rest of us rush to clamber out, dry off, and... I dunno... play tennis or something instead.
This is the situation Jack Dorsey, and Dick Costolo before him, created by talking a great game on free speech while failing to clamp down on the abusers who spend their days trying to silence others. Booting a minor troll or two is all well and good, but there's no way in hell Twitter intends to get rid of those super trolls -- the ones who set the toxic tone of the whole platform.
As happened with Secret and other anonymous apps before it, the trolls have chased away so many Twitter users, made the room so foul, that if Twitter really did ban the biggest, loudest abusers, there'd be almost no one left. Far better to keep launching half-assed new features like Moments and billion character tweet limits and pray for a miracle.
Trouble is, we know how that game ends. Look at Gawker vs Buzzfeed, Secret vs Whisper, Twitter vs Facebook: Whenever a fundamentally negative platform competes with one that optimises for positivity (no matter how cynically or restrictively), the latter wins.