Someone Explain Twitter to Me


#1

I feel like an old man writing this out but I just do not understand the value in Twitter and why people use it. I’ve been using it on and off since late 2009 and to this day the platform perplexes me.

It feels like an unorganized forum with no moderators with threads quickly devolving into people just screaming at each other and trying to one up. Thread navigation is a nightmare seemingly envisioned by someone who was a really big fan of git branching and thought that was needed in a social media site where all you can ever see at once is one branch because everyone clearly likes spending an hour reading the branching comments of comments so that you don’t miss any important information.

On top of this, the platform seems like it’s geared towards wanting low follower count users to start fights. By this I mean starting out on Twitter unless you have an established following or if your goal is just to tweet between you and your friends (at which point why are you not using another social media platform) your posts have no visibility. The easiest way to build up followers as far as I can tell is to find a popular account on Twitter, wait for them to post, then rush to put in a jab or defend them before someone else does so people viewing the original message see yours. The majority of people viewing comments are going to either be those who disagree and want to get in an insult and support others doing the same or you are coming into the comments to defend the OP and what they said. So with a balance between having a witty reply and being fast your comment is going to be more visible than anything you would have just tweeted to your timeline grabbing you more followers and RT’s.

In other words, Twitter really excels at encouraging people to have poorly thought out hot takes and making them clash with others. And this isn’t some grand revelation, people have been saying this for years yet we continue to use it.

So please could someone explain to me why they use Twitter and how they are getting value out of it that they couldn’t anywhere else?


#2

Twitter’s done, don’t worry about it


#3

i basically only use twitter to keep up with content creators i like and some of my friends, i only actually post on it once in a blue moon. if those people moved to different sites i would no longer have any reason to use twitter whatsoever


#4

If your friends are on Twitter then that’s where you chat. The eternal group DM you’re chatting on for example is there because that happened to be where everyone already had an account and some people didn’t even know each other at all outside of the service before.

It’s a microblogging platform. So… you blog and follow people whose blog posts you want to read. Sometimes you comment but it’s not exactly ideally designed for that (as you’ve noted) outside of established friendships.

It is possibly the largest filter network created as each person retweeting content from the feeds they read can be thought of as a selective filter, on top of which they feed in some new content (their tweets) and every person who follows them is potentially reading that feed and also filtering it for their followers. There’s something interesting about the way that system operates as a whole, how it creates different user types based on how much someone retweets or tweets new content or what sort of content they retweet. If you find value in the feeds some curate then you follow them and if you don’t then the platform looks to be useless.

But considering the timeline of popularisation, this was one of those services that took off from places like Digg as where you could find content being linked to and follow microblogs discussing it as long as you followed people sharing the stuff you were interested in. The alternative was stuff like Reddit and that’s not exactly a place that has gone above and beyond to ensure it’s not also full of extreme online toxicity. Or considering Kiwi Farms/chan boards as how the more traditional forum rather than a microblogging filter network is one of the major spaces for organised harassment (and doxing). Twitter is just a different type of connected small-post and sharing platform than a traditional forum. Twitter is also run by neo-Nazi apologists who have no idea how to effectively moderate or guide usage so it’s not exactly got the best chance of getting better.


#5

I started using it to follow devs and journalists to keep up to date on what they were doing but it’s gradually just become a place I go to have the feeling of being around my friends that doesn’t always involve direct conversation, sorta like Tumblr. Also there’s funny stuff on there. If I actually want to talk to people its on Discord.

EDIT: People bemoan it but lots of people use it effectively as an awareness-spreading platform. I follow leftist organizers from all over on there to keep abreast of things that aren’t in my direct purview.

EDIT 2: Another thing is I like seeing people talking in languages other than English and posting from all over the world. It’s cool to just be able to “hang out” with people from Korea or Poland.


#6

Frankly it’s a pile of dogshit. But I like to fool myself if I have a few more followers that will make me seem more employable and maybe more people will read me.

It never works out like that. Ever.


#7

TLDR: Twitter can be a garbage fire but if you follow good people it’s also very good at elevating marginalized voices

I’ve been an active Twitter user since 2009ish. I started off following a lot of people in my industry (web development) and the networking I did by just asking/answering questions and starting conversations eventually led me to be able to start a career as a freelancer right out of college. If you keep a closely curated list of people within an industry you can still find that sense of community although it’s a lot harder these days.

Twitter changed for me after the election. There was obviously the typical performative outrage, but were also all these widely retweeted tweets/threads from people making really sharp, smart criticisms and observations. Following those people led me to more people which led me to more people, many of whom were totally outside my largely white largely male tech bro bubble. It really opened my eyes to a lot of perspectives I hadn’t considered before and people who were really good at explaining if you were willing to listen. It’s been hugely influential in my relatively new extremely leftist perspective on the world and I don’t think I would have been exposed to those ideas if it weren’t for Twitter.


#8

Mostly I use Twitter to become more informed and to discover articles from sites I otherwise wouldn’t go out of my way to read. I try not to get sucked into The Discourse, but there’s often insightful commentary to be found if you follow the right people.

I’m not sure if I could easily get those things elsewhere, because a large part of Twitter’s value is just the critical mass of people that use it. There’s a fairly strong queer and left-leaning presence there. It’s used by individuals to share their work, to do networking and to find employment in addition to being able to use it as a social media site, and the fact all those people are there for other purposes is what allows it to be useful for lower-rung users like me to find content and be exposed to other perspectives.

And - it allows me to have the illusion of being part of a community by watching the interactions of social groups I’m not part of.

Oh, and it’s more cathartic, and can provide a sense of validation, to be able to vent somewhere that can hypothetically be seen by other people over just writing the same stuff in a text document on my hard drive.


#9

The single biggest improvement in my mood this year has been from deleting the stupid bird app off my phone. Turns out I’m not any less informed than before, just that memes take a bit longer to reach me. I’ll happily take that trade-off.


#10

I finally figured out how to properly use twitter this year (great timing right?)
Mostly its benefit is the amount of people it has and also just how easy it is to consume a ton of things in a short period of time. I use it to keep with peoples art and follow news and to just hear the opinions of people I am interested in. Also despite how trash the general website is, its incredibly easy to curate so that you never have to come across the bad parts. Everyone I follow (i think, i follow a lot of people) are progressive and a considerable amount are transwomen and lesbians.
Weirdly for me its where I go to escape toxicity and its really helped in the last few months. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to follow too many people and end up with too much negativity, thats what happened with tumblr for me that i no longer use it.


#11

Over the past year or so, I’ve used it to follow queer/PoC creators that I love especially in comics, gaming, and movie stuff. It has turned my feed into a bunch of people who support each other, have fun conversations about things they love, and post about things they’re making or selling.


#12

As an active and daily user, I agree completely that Twitter is awful and is probably more trouble than it’s worth.

If it wasn’t awful it would probably die a lot quicker than how it’s dying now.

But what I like about it is that it’s about as close to a public stream of consciousnous as you can get. And that fascinates me.

Also working daily to get blocked by Piers Morgan.


#13

The best use for Twitter is to follow authors, journalists, and other content creators that you like. You get frequent updates about what they’re working on and see what they’re reading and thinking about. Plus you get occasional fun personal stuff like Roxanne Gay showing off the Snorlax she caught in PokemonGo and pictures of John Scalzi’s cat


#14

It really depends on what twitter you follow. A primary use of twitter for me is to talk with other lawyers about their work, bounce ideas off them, discuss recent cases and controversies. I think capital ‘T’ Twitter is pretty bad, but there are sub twitters that I think are really great.


#15

Twitter is a big filthy dumpster everyone climbed into and a lot of people refuse to get out of. Then Nazis climbed into the dumpster and now it’s rolling down hill and on fire and luckily I got out while I still could but it’s too late for the rest of you I’m so sorry


#16

It’s destroyed my attention span and given me a cursed sense of humour but I think it’s a very illuminating platform that has informed my politics in a positive direction. I think it’s very interesting for a number of reasons. It’s shown me that random depressed anime avi communists are much, much wittier and funnier than professional comedians. It’s also shown me that those anime commies have much better informed politics and a greater grasp of current events than paid commentators. Finally it’s shown me via the stream of consciousness tweets from figures like Donald Trump, Elon Musk and JK Rowling that even billionaires are addicted to posting and are literally trollable by randos.


#17

Twitter is the worst and I’m about to spend a long time telling y’all why, but tl;dr is that it is, again, the worst.

Every algorithm Twitter pumps out exists to keep you there, arguing and angry. It’s a hot-take generator, a place where people dunk on each other back and forth to get points. It’s useless. Its timeline doesn’t work. I can’t remember the last time I saw tweets in a row. I only follow 72 followers, and I don’t think Twitter is able to handle that little of an amount, filling my timeline instead with literally everything the people i’m following have liked and “tweets i’ve missed.”

I don’t know if there’s any other social network as performative as Twitter. At least with Facebook there’s the assumption that you’re there for your friends. Who are you there for on Twitter? Your friends? There are better places to interact (like discord, but don’t worry i’m gonna get to that). It honestly feels like you’re just screaming into a void, hoping someone will listen, or that your followers will spin you into virality.

I guess I should split off into talking about my experience with twitter personally. It involved the above, obviously, but as @Navster mentioned, it was a definite drain on my mental health. It was probably the single biggest exacerbation of my anxiety. I’d obsess over who was unfollowing me, why people weren’t liking/replying to my tweets, and how I was going to build an audience for my book, oblivious to the fact that unless I got extremely lucky, I wasn’t going to build any sort of “Brand” that’d lead to people being interested in reading it in the first place.

It got to a point where I was getting mad at being subtweeted/submessaged, to the extent that I left my own discord - one that I built from the ground up for at least 2 years now.

Sure, a big part of that is definitely my own fault, and how I engaged with the platform in unhealthy ways, but it’s sort of similar to microtransactions in that way, in that it essentially encourages people to be trapped by all these aspects. Plus, you know, it has a bunch of nazis and shit.

Luckily I get to speak about this all in the past-tense because I got rid of the stupid app and I haven’t been mad about videogames in like, a week. In that time I’ve been more creative, less stressed, and still completely informed on not only political going-ons, but the creative projects that people I supported were making.

So screw that app.

I’d also recommend Gita Jackson’s extremely good article about all this:

edit: also as a marganilized person it didn’t do much to help let my voice be heard, because that aspect doesn’t matter if you don’t have a high follower count, and there aren’t many ways to get that higher follower count without adhering to twitter’s established norms - of which they are all bad.


#18

No joke this is almost word for word what I had in part of my original post before doing some editing.

Also, that article is incredibly good and hits a lot of points dead on about how I feel about the internet. Infosec is one of my favorite things in tech to read about and mess with in my free time so things like sock puppets have never really surprised me because it’s just an incredibly easy and cheap way to manipulate information because no one ever takes a minute to go properly verify if the information is right (which sadly often these days includes people in positions that really should). A Google f1-micro VM is ~$3.88 a month and comes with its own unique IP, so for less than a meal at McDonald’s you can create a fake person.

I can see why some people like Twitter for following specific people to stay up to date but at the same time I’m already using RSS feeds for that and RSS feeds don’t contain neo-nazis trying to get a “clever” gotcha comment in. Which if anyone else is interested in doing but doesn’t want to lose the people they are following on Twitter TwitRSS.me is a really cool site that I came across yesterday while writing up the OP that changes a Twitter timeline into an RSS feed so you can still get the stuff people are posting and RTing without the extra garbage comments attached. It’s kind of like having Twitter Lite.


#19

I can see why some people like Twitter for following specific people to stay up to date but at the same time I’m already using RSS feeds for that and RSS feeds don’t contain neo-nazis trying to get a “clever” gotcha comment in.

What sort of RSS reader do the cool kids use these days? I used to follow blogs and news outlets that way back when I did most of my reading of online stuff on a PC, but I stopped when most of my online time shifted to mobile devices. Social media filled that void for a while, but given how much the usefulness of those platforms has degraded over the years, I think I’m about ready to go back to the old way of doing things.


#20

Feedly here. I went for a lifetime pro subscription (not available anymore afaik) when google reader was shut down which seemed a risky proposition at the time, but my thinking was if I wanted something that wasn’t going to shut down, I’d better put my money where my mouth is, and it’s turned out to be well worth it.