Digital Apostate — Part VIII: Twitter – A Zero Accountability Public Square

Twitter is by far one of the most widely accepted information channels. That statement by itself is innocuous, perhaps even positive, but also misleading. Were Twitter to be simply an information channel, users would be subscribers and not contributors in the way that those who subscribe to HBO only receive content but never submit their own. However, Twitter is an omnidirectional information exchange. For fuck’s sake, that too is misleading. Twitter is barely an exchange, it’s more of a circle jerk where everyone is simultaneously at the degrading center and also among the participants. 

Twitter, in a way, simulates the freedom we have in any public area. We are absolutely free to say anything we want, anywhere at all. You could enter a crowded ice-cream parlor on the hottest day of the year and list your every prejudice and proclivity, the only consequence of course being the effect your words had. Were your ravings to be especially inflammatory, insensitive, or ignorant (unintentional alliteration) the crowd around you would rightfully challenge your idiotic verbal excrement. You as the speaker have no option but to receive the consequences of your actions in a physical space. Were your words to incite another person to violence, you must accept those consequences. And this is precisely where Twitter and the physical world diverge.

Twitter is unique in that the contributing user experience amounts to little more than shouting into the void, a message in a bottle – your words end when you press “send,” their reception none of your concern. Unlike the physical world, Twitter’s conversations have an added layer of anonymity. A tweet is essentially a banner pulled by a seaplane; the recipients just have to accept that it’s entered their viewing space. To put it simply, the tweeter tweets, the reader reads, and nobody can do a fucking thing. This, the very concept of Twitter, is the most troubling part.

The idea of an individual being able to broadcast a message to a vast network of people the very moment it arises in their mind is a horrible one. Humans have never, not once, proven that they are worthy of being allowed to impulsively declare their thoughts to small groups of people, let alone masses. Human beings were not meant to be able to release their every thought the moment it occurs, it’s far too dangerous. Twitter has become so commonplace that the gravity of the concept is lost on us. When you’re tweeting, you’re not writing in your diary, you’re talking to everyone in your network. Perhaps this seems obvious, but it’s taken too lightly. Social responsibility must apply on the internet. Twitter and Facebook cannot be considered casual and consequence-free. Words still affect people regardless of how they’re taken in. And so, the fact that users are so quick to vitriol is all the more disturbing.

It’s as though the electronic nature of Twitter leads millions to believe they can speak as barbarically as they please without consequence. Twitter must be thought of as any public square where rules of common decency apply. Users must not be allowed to hide behind an avatar, their words everyone else’s problem. For any accountability at all, Twitter might need to require a true identification of some sort. Users must be represented as their real selves,so they’re actually responsible for the things they say. The fact that a person could create a Twitter account using an email address they started only seconds before is terrifying. Identities should not be that easy to manufacture. I do believe that were a user’s words directly connected to their real names and subject to the basic norms and laws of the physical world, a good chunk of Twitter’s bile would dissipate. Essentially, words online should be treated as words in public – threats, hatred, harassment, and all forms of verbal cruelty would have the same exact consequences both socially and legally. This is not censorship, this is equalization across all forms of communication. 

Words must have consequences, it’s as simple as that. Twitter is far too widely used to be considered a simple internet forum, it must be treated as a public square no different than a shopping mall, plaza, or park. There are actions and there are consequences, there must never be a place where this rule does not apply, lest we descend into utter madness.

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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