I Have Deleted My Twitter App. It's An Impossible Platform for Political Discourse (at Least For Me)

Those who have read this blog for a while know that I have an up and down history with Twitter.  I think it is a perfectly valid platform for sharing breaking news, following celebrities, posting cute animal pictures, and notifying folks that blog posts or longer articles are available.  I have always used Twitter for the latter function, and for those who follow me there, I will still use it to automatically publicize my blog posts.

From time to time, though, I have dived deeper into Twitter and tried to use it to actually have conversations and discussions about certain topics.  The first time I tried this I had to get off after a month.  I reported here that Twitter was making me both unhappy and a worse person, the latter because I fell quickly into the Twitter trap of going for zingers and gotchas rather than treating people's arguments civilly and with nuance.  A few days ago I gave it one more try, perhaps unfortunately the day after Trump's state of the union.  In the process I came to a final conclusion that Twitter is an impossible platform for political discourse, at least for me.  I am open to considering that the failure is in part my own, that I am simply incapable of making the kind of arguments I want to make within the Twitter character limit.   Never-the-less, I have deleted my twitter app from my phone so I will not be tempted to dive back in when I am stuck in the doctor's waiting room.  I will still scan it to see what is going on, but if I want to respond to something, I will do it here.

Just for fun, I thought I would dig through the detritus of my last 48 hours on Twitter and see if I could pull up a few examples of just what drove me crazy.  I want to make it clear that I am not leaving because people *gasp* disagreed with me, but because that disagreement was embodied in really poor discourse, the poverty of which I think is necesarily related to the nature of the platform.  After considering several, here is a good example of why I left.

It started with my seeing this post in my feed from a guy named Nick Searcy.  I don't really know who that is, but he is not just some rando with 8 followers, he has almost two orders of magnitude more followers than I.  He wrote:

While there are some solid arguments for why truly open borders might not work in today's USA, I have always considered this analogy of a country's borders to private property boundaries to be a really weak argument.  Not only weak, but one that dangerously undermines the meaning of private property and makes it harder to defend the property rights that Conservatives say they support.   I actually wrote hundreds of words on this argument here, so you can probably guess I struggled to respond to this in one tweet.  I tweeted:

(lol, the unmentioned problem I also have with Twitter is the inability to edit after the fact.  In a socialist ... what?  Dammit Coyote, learn to self-edit)

So I will confess the property rights argument is a subtle one for most people, and a difficult one to make in part because even strong defenders of property rights often don't have a very clear understanding of them.  The picture I think many property rights defenders have in their head is the old coot sitting on his front porch with a shotgun across his lap yelling "get off my land."  But for property rights to be meaningful, one needs to not only be able to protect the borders of that property but also hire whom they like to work on their property, sell to whom they like, rent to whom they like, entertain whom they like, etc.  Its not just about one's ability to exclude people, but also one's ability to associate with people of one's choice.

Now, I can imagine a number of reasonable rebuttals.  Someone might argue that this is all fine and good when 100 people want to come and seek a job from folks like me, but what if the number is a billion?   Anyway, we could have an interesting discussion along those lines.  But instead I got this:

Uh, what?  This makes about zero sense in context.  He was criticizing a open border policy, which would represent a change in current law.  I offered a partial defense of open borders and why I thought his property rights analogy for border restrictions was a bad analogy.  And so he answers "because laws".  Honestly, this may be my failing, but I really did not understand how laws were the reason we could not change immigration laws (he may have an implicit assumption that immigrants are dangerous and laws are thus necessary to protect us from them, but if this is his core assumption driving this comment it goes entirely unstated).   So I assumed I had not explained myself well, and made the mistake of trying to clarify my point (instead of just walking away as I should have).  I will confess that the 40+ likes he got for a tweet which was true on its face but made zero sense in context influenced my decisions to try again.  Perhaps if I clarified, so would he, so I tweeted:


And here you go, the payoff for reading so far into this post, the true WTF moment of the thread

and here, because repetition using slightly different insults just reinforces the point

I am not even sure how to parse this.  More than even the statement itself, the 60 likes and 4 retweets just sort of floored me.  "Yeah, Nick, you showed that guy!"  Anyway, I assume what is going on here is that rather than understand my actual argument, he assigned to me the same package of both real and straw man arguments Conservatives assign to all immigration supporters and then started arguing some of those, rather than the actual issue we were arguing.   Anyway, just to make sure I had the full Twitter experience in this thread we had an appearance by the super Internet sleuth who has figured it all out:

lol, nice job.  The few folks who were reading my blog at the beginning -- which had its first post in 2004 a full 18 months before the first tweet on Twitter -- will know the blog is named after the Warner Brothers animation character, who in my mind should be one of the patron saints of small business owners -- he works his *ss off to achieve a goal and something unexpected screws his quest up every time.

Anyway, I guess I should make clear that my position on Twitter is roughly the same as it is on incentives.  In the case of incentives, bad organizations don't have bad people, they have ordinary average people with bad incentives.   As far as Twitter goes, I am more than willing to believe that, despite what he thinks of me, that Nick Searcy is not a dolt or a loser.  He is likely a reasonably smart guy on a platform that turns everyone on it into morons and *ssholes.

So I will use twitter to publish so people can find my articles in their feed there, and I will look at it from time to time if I need a blogging topic, but otherwise I am going to limit my discourse to places I can write in long form.

Postscript: OK, I figured out who this guy is.  I have not seen him in a lot of things but he played Deke Slayton in the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and that entire series, including his contribution, was excellent.  I give him kudos as an (apparently) vocal Conservative in the entertainment world, as I think the constant drumbeat of unthinking Leftism in that industry tends to cause most of the Conservatives to just go into turtle mode to protect their careers and sanity.   Still don't agree with him on immigration.


  1. Mark Sundstrom:

    Yeah... I saw this "discussion" a few days ago and it really made me scratch my head in disbelief. I get a fair bit of info from my twitter feed, mostly I think because I treat it as "read only". Best...

  2. Craig:

    Searcy was excellent as Chief Deputy Marshall Art Mullen in one of the best series of the last decade, Justified.

  3. USAalltheway12:

    This tendency for people to us ad hominem attacks really quickly has always annoyed me as well and I think your incentives argument is correct. I have always thought that this is due to the fact that Twitter is a platform where a really sharply worded, piercing, and funny Tweet can be used to great effect in pointing out idiocy in the world. The problem of course is that everyone wants to make that very clever and piercing tweet, but that requires a lot of intelligence and comedic skill. So people just go straight to name calling in an attempt to mimic that type of "piercing" tweet. It is so lazy and stupid, but makes them feel like they spoke some sort of basic truth to an ignorant person before dropping the mic. It made me quit trying to debate things on social media as well.

  4. Heresiarch:

    I do agree that Twitter isn't a good place for debate, and I'm sorry you had that bad experience. I use it chiefly for following people in the public eye, and rarely comment or tweet myself.

    I don't agree with your freedom-of-association argument about property rights. The bundle of property rights doesn't include freedom of association; we have freedom of association separately, which is why people with no property rights in the place where they are have that freedom too. What your argument seems to amount to is that excluding people from the U.S. using borders restricts your freedom to associate with them. Not at all; it restricts their freedom to travel to where you are. Freedom of association doesn't mean anyone has to facilitate your desires to associate. The argument from this Searcy guy should have been simply that the right to exclude in property rights is analogous to the right to exclude by a nation. Analogous to-- not part of. The nation's right to exclude isn't dependent upon property rights it itself establishes and maintains, so saying "no one entity owns the whole country" is not relevant.

  5. marque2:

    Seems like you lost the argument and got mad. Probably good to get rid of Twitter anyway. I found Facebook was just making me angry, so I deleted that account. Facebook is hard to delete. Twitter, I generally have it, just so I can get Trump's, and Sean Spicier's tweets.

  6. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    The Open Borders==Open House analogy reminds me of the following:

    "Do you believe in free speech?"
    "May I use your telephone?"

  7. me:

    This kind of "looks like a debate at first glance but is really just following speech bullet points" has puzzled me about American politics for a while. I've mostly seen it used by self-declared conservatives, but both flavors of political coke engage in these "deadbeat arguments" every so often.

    My theory is that this is what happens for folks who reason based on social proof or argument from authority. Because they do not seek to understand the other parties position, they feel like hitting a speech point is sufficient for a rebuttal.

    Personally, I've given up arguing with people who simply have no idea how to argue and cast the world in the light of us-vs-them, it's a waste of time and resources.

    I will add that your giving up on twitter is another point in my "reasons to have Warren run for president" tally. Can you please just get started?

  8. Magua1952:

    This Twitter user could have been more polite. It is however a weak argument to suggest you should have the right to hire illegal immigrants, or there should be no national borders. In a libertarian world all would pay their way and there would be no humanitarian interference, or borders. There are no libertarian communities on planet earth. Your low paid employee will inevitably seek government assistance and health care. Many of us can't stomach the vision of people dying on the side of a road, or emaciated children. Your employees might have voluntarily applied for the minimum wage job because it is better than Guatemalan wages. We have higher minimum standards in this country and that includes no child labor, no indentured servitude, a floor on wages paid, children should go to school, etc. Somebody has to pay for that if wages are not self-supporting.

    Under open borders ideology we could soon have a hundred million desperate immigrants. Everything will decline. A better libertarian idea is that all should carry their own water, including employers, unless they are helpless, and we should limit the numbers of desperate immigrants to a number we can actually afford. 20 trillion in debt could become 40 trillion if everyone can walk in. If this nation goes under there will be a large increase in the number impoverished.

  9. MSO:

    We would be negligent if we were to allow murderers, rapists, thieves and other felons and miscreants to cross our borders. It would be only slightly less negligent to allow those who will be no more than a burden upon our society to come and go as they please. Better would be immigrants who bring highly prized skills and knowledge with them to share with our society. Too often we find employers hiring cheap imported labor by shifting medical and other expenses upon others.

  10. William Woody:

    The problem with Twitter is a reasoned argument takes many paragraphs to develop, but a "fuck you" fits in 140 characters.

  11. bigmaq1980:

    All these Social Media platforms, including Disqus and other commentary platforms / mechanisms, don't lend themselves well to a detailed and nuanced debate / response.

    The incentives are largely towards attention seeking and one-upmanship, with short pithy comments (devolving to lazy ad hominem usage). When it comes to anything political, appears more a team sport, as well.

    It all seems more of identity signalling rather than any honest attempt at debate.

  12. Q46:

    'From time to time, though, I have dived deeper into Twitter and tried to use it to actually have conversations and discussions about certain topics.'

    And would you go into a lunatic asylum with the same expectation?

  13. Quincy:

    Social media is designed to make people seek approval from others. That's how companies drive engagement. To the extent that any service online embraces this model, it becomes less useful for reasoned argument.

    The worst of the worst here is Facebook. The more political debates I see there, the more I'm convinced that it was doing just fine polarizing the country without the aid of the Russians. Mixing their "slot machine" social approval model with political discourse is a recipe for nothing but echo chambers among people who agree and screaming matches between people who don't. Any nuance or reason is lost.