Hell in 140 Characters or Less

Erick Erickson
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Posted: Jun 03, 2016 12:01 AM
Hell in 140 Characters or Less

In January of 2007, I joined a new web service that had all sorts of technical problems. It was called Twitter. In 140 characters or less, I could share thoughts and eventually pictures about my day, the news or whatever struck my fancy. I could, in 140 characters, show how awful I could be among other things. Twitter seems to draw out the worst in everyone, myself included, and it takes unusual restraint to walk back from the precipice.

I have amassed more than 157,000 followers on Twitter and have "tweeted" more than 119,000 times. Now, not a day goes by without me considering hitting the delete button on my account.

In the book of Mark, Jesus encountered a possessed man and called for the demon to come out. "Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' He replied, 'My name is Legion, for we are many.'" (Mark 5:9) Two thousand years later, every single one of those demons has a twitter account.

While Facebook has its problems, Twitter is increasingly a platform where an army of trolls can harass, shame, and shift news stories. Since August of 2015, my twitter account has been overflowing with white supremacists angry with me for uninviting Donald Trump to an event. Once I could interact with readers of this column, listeners to my radio show, and friends on Twitter. Now, my "mentions" column, which is the part of twitter that shows people mentioning me and replying to me, overflows with invective, profanity and even pornography.

Much of it is Russian. One of the little reported stories nationally is how Russian trolls funded by Moscow have taken to Twitter. When the American government flew Ebola-infected patients to the United States, Russian trolls set up accounts on Twitter that appeared to be Americans in suburbia. They diligently began reporting on Ebola outbreaks around Atlanta and elsewhere, striking fear in people and getting a paranoid rumor mill circulating.

After the San Bernardino terrorist attack, twitter accounts run by Russian trolls named the Turkish President as the terrorist. It got picked up in the mainstream American press before anyone realized what was happening. Many of these accounts now defend Donald Trump. Megyn Kelly, after daring to ask Donald Trump a question at a debate, found she could no longer use Twitter because of the angry legion of monsters attacking her, photoshopping her, and otherwise tweeting vile things.

The easy answer would be to allow people to only see mentions from those they themselves follow on Twitter. But Twitter is now a publicly traded company. Its stock is tanking. It has been through a number of CEO's and coups and shakeups and still has no idea what it is. The company cannot decide if it is a social network, an international office cooler conversation, a live news feed or anything else.

The internet is an amazing tool that has the ability to bring people together. Twitter itself has helped spark revolutions and allowed the repressed to have their voices heard. But that was several years ago. There were fewer of those episodes and more fear-mongering on the site.

While Facebook has taken the concerns of conservatives seriously about bias and censorship online, Twitter has celebrated its hostility to conservatives. When celebrity Azealia Banks declared that "the biggest burliest blackest n-words" should gang rape Sarah Palin, Twitter's management announced Banks's series of tweets did not violate its rules on threats and abusive content. Meanwhile, a number of prominent conservative voices have seen their accounts suspended on Twitter for rather inexplicable reasons.

Twitter has formed a "Trust and Safety Council" and filled it with censorious leftists who thought dissent was patriotic when George Bush was president and now think dissent is homophobic, transphobic and racist. They allege they can fix Twitter's problems. I doubt it.

There is an extraordinary amount of problems with the hate and invective both celebrities and regular souls encounter online. As long as Twitter keeps failing to deal fairly and swiftly with the trolls, its stock will continue to fall, and competitors like snapchat will continue to surpass it in user numbers.