inessential by Brent Simmons

August 2018

The Public Square

Last night I deleted all my tweets going back to the beginning of Twitter time. (Except for a mysterious 49 tweets that apparently can’t be accessed?)

And I tried to make my profile info very clear about me not being there any more. Removed avatar and background image. Changed bio to “Finished with Twitter.” Changed display name to the name of this blog.

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My problem with Twitter remains the same: centralized social networking concentrates way too much power in one place.

Twitter is awful in other ways, sure, not just for that reason. (The issues with Nazis and harassment and abuse. The way it treats third-party Twitter developers.)

And Facebook, too, is awful in its own ways.

But, even if it were well-run, centralized social networking is still a deeply bad and unhealthy idea. Josh Marshall writes that we should be concerned about

…ceding so much of the public square to private platforms which really aren’t about free speech in any way and don’t have free speech in any way. They’re all ordered by algorithms designed to maintain time on site and service ad sales. In no sense are they open or free.

Twitter is not the public square. It just wants you to think it is. The web itself is the public square.

* * *

It’s not like I’m short on ways to read and write and connect: email, RSS, text messages, podcasts, Slack, the chat app my company uses, GitHub, my blog, my microblog. Plus real life!

* * *

I get it, though, when people think they need Twitter for exposure and marketing. In fact, I help with social media at my job — and I’m a professional, and I try to do the best job I can and get even better at it.

But I don’t need Twitter for me. For a long time there’s been just one thing I’d like to convince Twitter users of: that centralized social networking is harmful to society and to individuals.

I can make that point on Twitter — but it’s hollow there, since the medium really is the message. Better to make that point by not using Twitter at all.

PS Matt Haughey has left the building.

Nikhil Sonnad, in Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason:

…the imperative to “connect people” lacks the one ingredient essential for being a good citizen: Treating individual human beings as sacrosanct. To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them. The billions of Facebook accounts belong not to “people” but to “users,” collections of data points connected to other collections of data points on a vast Social Network, to be targeted and monetized by computer programs.

There are certain things you do not in good conscience do to humans. To data, you can do whatever you like.