Twitter is Toxic

Five accounts, tens of thousands of tweets, hundreds of followers, and so much grey hair – I’ve come a long way with Twitter since my first “real” start in 2012. Back then, Twitter has not been the widely cited and well-known short message platform we all know today. Instead, it used to be a platform for a very delightful set of people willing to share and express their thoughts or happenings in miniature messages (140 characters were the limit back then!), quite often spiced up by more or less funny puns. Well, at least that hasn’t changed until now. To some extent, Twitter reminds me of the typical gadget lifecircle: first, only a minority is crazy enough to use the stuff, commonly known as geeks and nerds. After some time, the broad majority learns about the new tools and starts using them – the gadget (or service) becomes mainstream. In the end, when new stuff is on market, people eventually move on to some other place, leaving only the most resilient hardcore fans.

For me, Twitter is stuck somewhere in the majority phase right now. For such a long time, Twitter has tried to gain publicity, to attract people all over the world in order to make money of their simplistic concept. Guess what – it kind of worked! Twitter has become a major news platform, due to both its range and its simplicity. Politicians, artists, scientists, businessmen, all those important people of public interest are able to share their beliefs and thoughts with no effort at all. Some countries seem to be more or less ruled via Twitter. Then, journalists subscribe to those feeds to include the short messages as primary sources into their articles. Citing important people has never been easier. Just like any other social media website, Twitter allows direct communication without media involvement, but compressed to a maximum of 240 characters, seemingly the upper boundary of attention for most people these days.

Once upon a time, I believed that there was more to Twitter, though. I have been convinced that there were people like myself out there, writing about their daily lives, reacting to political changes, and maybe willing to react to other users as well. And for quite some time this has been a fun game. I got to know people, shared messages with them, had long reply-chats, discussed both serious and private stuff (sometimes combined into one topic). Laughed about funny stuff. Made fun about super serious stuff which wouldn’t have been bearable otherwise. I remember how we commented on specific political events. Our celebration of carnival. The regular birthday wishes. Pictures of Christmas food. Yes, it felt like having another family, right next to your real family, your work family, your friends family. Not everybody in the world wide web is a fake. And relationships with “digital people” are not less valuable than any other relationship (shoutout and greetings to my best friend whom I’ve met in the digital world!). Once you are able to recognise that, Twitter can be a wonderful “second life”.

Unfortunately, this “digital living room” provides the same dangers and problems as real life does. Once the fun period is over, all what’s left is anger, sadness, despair and even more anger. People you’ve been writing to for years start to ignore you. I wouldn’t assume they do it on purpose, no. They simply forget about you. Either they take you as a granted asset, part of their timelines, which would never vanish. Couldn’t vanish. Or they move on, change their interests and start ignoring you, because your content and thus your existance is not of any interest for them anymore. One of my followers once expressed it in an interesting way: the attention you can get on Twitter is like an obsession. You write stuff and people like it, comment on it, retweet it – you are being seen and heard. You feel successful, you push your boundaries, trying to get more followers, more interactions, more reception. Being seen and heard on Twitter is so much easier than in real life. And if they stop seeing you – you start to be louder, more extreme, more provocative. You climb up the mountain even if you are falling. Neither able nor willing to halt and pause.

At the same time, you are permanently confronted with negative feelings. With criticism and shouting all over the place. There is nothing left in this world which could happen without anybody on Twitter making negative comments about it. Just as an example, picture a regular politican: they could write about what would have to be done, people would tell them to shut up as their ideas were shit. They could write about their success, people would deny that and ask them to step down. They could wish a football team good luck, people would ask them to stop fishing for fans and start concentrating on doing politics. They could write about politics, people would ask them to stop and finally recognise that the World Cup is going on, as if there was nothing else in life more important than politics. Long story short, whatever you say, you will be wrong.

And it’s not just about people writing negative comments. The frequency of outrage for minor or no problems at all has increased drastically. Some people seem to be hooked on raging so much, there is not one single tweet left in their stream with positive feelings. Now, life is not a fairy tale and there is a lot of bad stuff going on out there – but if all people just share their worst thoughts with each other, what might eventually happen? You read all that stuff and get a feeling like “This world is crap.” All that negative stuff is escalating. Bad thoughts brought to your mind with every tweet, with every 240 characters another brick of a “this world has gone mad” building. It is like a toxic soup being fed to your brain.

I am pretty sure you know those fun little games when you type some words into Google’s search and wait for the autocompletion function to bring up the most relevant suggestions how to complete the query. I have done that with “Twitter is…”. I wouldn’t agree that Twitter is either dying or dead. But toxic? Or “cancer”? There is a little truth in there.

Therefore, starting June 24th, I shut down my accounts and administered myself a necessary pause. Life tends to be difficult on its own, even without additional negativity by social media. Besides, at some point you stop realising that you don’t have to express your personal opinion on everything. It is always good to have an opinion, or to at least have read some stuff. But the personal opinion of some guy in the Bavarian countryside might not be super relevant for the people involved in a military conflict. Or a trading crisis. Or a religious ceremony. Or any person out there. Tweeting your beliefs and statements sometimes feels like a substitute drug: instead of being politically active, you sit at your phone and write your opinion. And feel better, even though nobody reads it. And as it is so super easy to create your very own content bubble on Twitter, chances are high that your perception of the majorities and reactions is vastly wrong.

Anyway. It does good to not be part of the negativism machinery anymore. To concentrate on productive or constructive stuff. Which, obviously, doesn’t mean I will stop twittering at all. However, it’s always good to lay down your work, step back and try to reflect on your work, isn’t it? I am pretty excited for my personal evaluation.

What about you, my wonderful readers – have you ever experienced similar feelings? Have there been times when you were not able to attend to your social profiles because everything about them just seemed negative? Or do you think people who experience such anxiety are using their social media wrongly? How do you cope with messages capable of making you rage? Do you think digital contacts can actually be real friends?