Twitter is Awful for Discussion

Like many people, with the rise of Covid-19, I have been spending more time online. Particularly, places like Twitter, Hacker News and yes, Facebook. As anyone who has tried to have a discussion online knows, there are challenges and limitations to online communication. For all their shortcomings though I feel I have gained better understanding and even learned some things from some online discussions. However, one of the worst places to have a discussion online is twitter.


I know this is not new for some folks who also have noted how terrible twitter attempts at discussion can be. A quick google search provides a ton of links on how terrible twitter is for discussion. I agree with many if not all of the points made in theses critiques. Twitter’s character limit lends itself to misinterpretation rather than keeping things concise. It also leads to chopped up discussions that can be hard if not impossible to follow.

Some have noted that people tend to be more critical or negative on twitter as compared to other online forums. Generally, I think this is more a function of who you follow than a problem with the platform itself. Again, I have learned a ton from some folks on twitter who post their work or share information. However, once someone misinterprets what someone else has summarized in less than 280 characters the brigade of responses begins and it can run on endlessly.

To be fair, sometimes it is not a misinterpretation. There are plenty of messed up people on twitter posting outrageous comments to provoke a response. They engage in trolling and straw-man arguments. They have learned how to exploit the platform using data taken out of context or even out right lies which they can easily fit into the character limit. However, I don’t think it is unique to twitter that people say things in a tweet they would not/might not say to a person’s face or even simply in real life public spaces.

Twitter like Facebook has adopted a mostly hands off policy when it comes to much of the misleading and hateful garbage that is posted. In particular they have refused to limit Trump’s account in any meaningful way despite his regular use of hate and lies in his posts. They have added in and refined features to report posts and even now append warnings to posts that contain untrue information. Unfortunately, it is not enough as they clearly do not hold Trump to the same standard as others, even before he became president.

One other major problem I have with twitter is the increasing amount of ads and promotions. I get that they need to make money for a service they are otherwise providing for free to it’s members. It’s just really disruptive when they force an ad in as you’re scrolling, and causing the timeline to update. It has occurred too many times just as I was intending to look at a thread I had just scrolled into view. I am also tired of seeing the same promotion 100s of times over a week.

In the end, I continue to use twitter as I find its positives out weigh the negatives ever so slightly. It has been great to connect with industry leaders in my field and engage in limited exchanges.

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