Every few days I read some banal interview with someone about how their media diet has changed and how they’ve had to be “thoughtful about how they consume content.” The most common one is that people now say “oh, I’ve quit Twitter, it was affecting my mental health,” in the same breath that they say they’re heavily curating their media consumption, thus leaving it up to…I don’t know, going to Google News and typing in “news.”
It reminds me of about five years ago when the cool thing du jour was saying “ah, ahh, I don’t have a Facebook account,” as if that was some grand gesture about how you were keeping it real, except the bizarre flex/elitism here is that Twitter is some inferior form of media consumption compared to going to whatever websites you remember or reading a bunch of newsletters. The suggestion is that Twitter is a hub of negativity - that you can only go on there if you want to hear about depressing things, and that there is no way to escape how vile and terrible human beings are, as they are there, and they are aware of you, and they will dog you until you finally perish from this Shit Earth.
I should add that very rarely do I see people describe this negativity as a result of harassment. I totally get anyone who quits Twitter because of how every conversation involving an opinion turns into this:
But in most cases - friends, acquaintances, media personalities - they seem to quit out of complaints that Twitter “isn’t good for their mental health” because they “read too much negativity on their feed.” Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal had a great piece about this a few days ago where she talks about how social media’s algorithmic pull has turned our feeds into a mess of out-of-order statements, sponsored posts, people’s retweets and ads, and how we need to fight back against that.
Modern day politics (partly through Twitter) has created this miasma that the only good citizens are the ones that are constantly thinking about and talking about politics. People think that if they’re not actively discussing this shit with their friends and family, that if they don’t post they’re not “resisting” and thus they’re inactive, when posting about how you think The Second Gentleman Is Important To Society doesn’t matter.
Twitter has the same problem - people think that if they don’t follow everyone they know and every possible source of information, that if they don’t respond to (and read!) every single reply that they’ve failed some great social code. That’s not remotely the case - you can follow or unfollow anyone you want on Twitter, and if you can’t unfollow them due to them getting upset, you can mute them. If you don’t want random people replying to your posts, you can go to the little three dots on the left of the Twitter icons, hit notifications, filters, and then “mute notifications from people…”
This important curation means that if someone is clearly just starting accounts and spamming, I don’t hear from them. They don’t follow me? I don’t hear from them. And if I really don’t wanna hear from someone who does follow me, I block them and unblock them immediately, which means they’re now someone who doesn’t follow me, and I won’t hear from them again.
Tired of reading about politics all day? Maybe don’t follow a bunch of people who talk about politics all day. I see a lot of people who talk about being terribly depressed reading about all the bad news on Twitter. The answer is to follow people who don’t talk about that stuff all the time, and if they do, close Twitter. People say “oh I can’t help myself,” to which I say you absolutely can you big baby. Get a grip. You don’t need to delete it, you don’t need to “take a break from Twitter,” and if you do, you don’t need to tell anyone. That’s your fuckin’ business.
People have fundamentally broken their brains by giving up any responsibility for the content they consume. I saw someone a few years ago saying that they had basically defaulted on their duty to put their kid to bed every night “because they couldn’t stop reading the news,” and it’s like…there is not that much new news. And both sides have ghoulish celebrities who have made small fortunes constantly tweeting hashtags about all the bad things going on in a consistent flow of useless, unproductive information that changes absolutely nothing, which continues to swirl in people’s brains an immediacy that doesn’t exist and a power over the future that, sadly, also doesn’t exist. Nancy Pelosi is not going to give a shit that #DiaperDonald or #MoscowMitch happened. Nobody in the real world knows what any of that means.
You need to be ruthless! If there’s someone on your feed that pisses you off, unfollow them, and mute them, or even block them. If you find seeing retweets of certain people annoying, block them too. If you are following someone who shares stuff on your feed that makes you sad, or angry, maybe unfollow them too. Unless it is literally your job to read this stuff for a living - and that is not true of 99% of people - you do not have to know about or consume anything you do not need to.
I understand if you’ve curated it that you may want to keep up with the joneses of, say, Silicon Valley, and that’s fine. You can also be just fine not reading their posts. You’ll be okay. It’s fine. You can not follow them. Or you can follow them and mute certain words and phrases using Twitter’s “mute tweets with this word,” say, “cancel culture” or “Miami.” I love my Twitter feed because I’ve got so good at neutralizing things I don’t need to read. If someone makes me feel bad when I read their posts, I can not see their posts really easily. And if I somehow had someone on my feed that affected my mental health (????) I’d kick them off too. I don’t care! It’s my feed, why should I see that?
I think people have given up a layer of responsibility when it comes to their own consumption. By all means quit something if your immediate reaction is “ah man, this sucks.” But if you’re on Twitter for hours and hours a day and then decide to quit because everyone’s depressing, maybe the issue is that you’re following the wrong people and willingly dipping your head in a septic tank.
At this point my feed is great - it brings me news, some commentary, and when something funny happens everyone gets their dunks in. When something bad happens, everyone says man this sucks. I don’t see a lot of people who are constantly talking about politics, and those I do aren’t really giving their opinions. When I find about a political column it’s usually through someone else having chewed it up and spat it out, with everyone joining in to kick the dead horse. If I see someone retweeting a bunch of hashtags or trite Trump jokes I just mute them or soft-block (block/unblock) them, or respond with “what are you talking about lol.”
I do not think I am some sort of god of self control - I think people just assume that social media is something that happens to them or around them versus something that they can meter and control and, ultimately, choose to participate or not participate in. Sure, it takes work, and if you join and say it’s too much work then that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but it’s not hard to tweak Twitter to make it fun!
And, yes, I would argue that part of the issue of the platform is that it requires this level of curation to make it usable. That’s crazy. But here we are, using Twitter anyway.