Thursday, October 27, 2016

You are not above the fray

Twitter is a site where, routinely, people criticize each other, own each other, screencap each other, subtweet each other, and so on. Sometimes they even publish links to posts and entire articles doing this at length. Quite often when this happens, a lot of people will step in to voice their approval - often it's the same crowd responding to the same person. This is because of an extremely simple selection effect: people tend to see tweets from the people they follow, and they tend to follow people whose tweets they approve of. As I've previously written about at length, Twitter's architecture does all kinds of other things to facilitate this sort of interaction; it's more or less the point of the site.

I think that everyone gets that they do this. But oddly enough, there seems to be a persisting genre of folks who do this, but think that they are somehow standing above the fray:

Just reading the text, you might think that Singal simply thought this, or perhaps wrote it down in his journal. But look closer, and you'll notice that he actually logged on to the social media platform Twitter and pushed this out to the 11,000 people who follow his account. And you'll be shocked by what happened next:

Immediately, an entirely predictable assortment of NYC-based columnists and bloggers for elite liberal media, along with longstanding critics of the people who he screen-capped, piled in to boost his comment and voice their approval.

Now, while these communities aren't comparable, there clearly is some overlap between GG and media liberals who tweet out dumb comments to be met with the resounding approval of a distinct set of followers. GG also shares this in common with lefty Twitter, fashion Twitter, sports Twitter, Worldstar Hip Hop Twitter, grandpa Twitter, social justice Twitter, Ron Paul Twitter, and probably even ISIS Twitter. It's trivially easy to demonstrate that literally everyone uses Twitter this way, for pretty obvious reasons.

In fact, there only seems to be one outlier among all of these groups: Discourse Twitter. Because while everyone else seems to know exactly what they're doing, Discourse Twitter genuinely seems to think that it stands above the fray - that its screencapping, subtweeting, scolding and incestuous back-patting somehow doesn't fall under the same broad critique that they level at the rest of the internet.

I'm legitimately baffled whenever I see this. The cognitive biases of tribal psychology are incredibly seductive, and can make even the best and brightest of us judge other groups by a different standard than we judge our own - but here, the double standard isn't even substantive. It's just procedural, mandating blatantly inconsistent and self-serving rules about who is allowed to own who and who is not. As I noted elsewhere, the only people who ever make me skeptical of trolling and criticism on Twitter are the people who don't actually do it. But once you're calling people out, you're in the fray, and the only question left is are you right and are you funny.