A SPECTER HAUNTS the Discourse, and it’s the sense that Twitter is bad for you. There’s certainly been some chin-wagging about this—on Twitter itself (in one of its usual ironies) and in spaces like this one, where I’ve argued that the platform’s very design promotes toxic use. But claiming to quit Twitter only to come slinking back is a time-honoured tradition; numerous users embarrassed themselves by proclaiming Elon Musk’s inevitably abortive takeover to be the last straw, only to find the site’s allure impossible to resist.
More alarmingly, powerful and influential people—call them “epistemic elites”—seem to be among the most terminally online, and it’s having an effect on the rest of the world.
As a scholar who’s spent much of the past decade arguing that Twitter is “real life” and that harassment on the platform is a major social problem worth paying attention to, I fear a monkey’s-paw finger has curled in the wake of such advocacy. Taking online discourse seriously is important; letting it become your only window on reality is dangerous, and when powerful people do so it threatens democracy itself.
As is so often the case, however, this is more a structural problem than a question of individual virtue or willpower. “Mindfulness” won’t fix what Twitter broke. Mitigating Twitter’s harms is less about badgering people to use the platform less (though that would reduce the collective psychic burden of mass doomscrolling) and more about ensuring that influential individuals—namely academics, journalists, and politicians—stop using the platform in particular ways. Abstinence-only policies don’t work for anything else, and they won’t work for Twitter, but harm reduction is worth seriously considering.
So, getting some of them to step away is advisable. But how might one do this?