Listen, and understand. Twitter is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead—or fired for a bad joke you made 10 years ago, anyway.
The upcoming release of Terminator: Dark Fate, the seven hundredth movie in the Arnold Schwarzenegger robot franchise (and maybe the third good one) gave me an idea, which I’ll keep under 140 written characters because my brain can no longer compose long sentences and yours can no longer comprehend them: We need to go back in time and prevent Twitter from ever happening.
Would it be possible to destroy Twitter today with an unstoppable, ridiculously jacked stalker cybernetic organism? Sure, I guess, but I would never advocate for harming anyone in the present. Repeat after me, crazy internet people:
And besides, the damage is already done. We’re in the darkest imaginable timeline; it’s too late to salvage our future, thanks to CEO Jack Dorsey’s godforsaken app, so we must rewrite our past. It won’t be easy. It won’t be cheap. (It won’t be, uh, within the laws of physics?) But let’s commit all of Earth’s economic and scientific resources to inventing a Time Field Generator and stopping Twitter before Dorsey creates it.
Here’s why history should say “hasta la vista, baby” to the worst cesspool on the internet:
Political Sanity Will Be Back
Twitter went live in 2006, back when you might debate politics with friends and family for a couple minutes, at which point you’d change topics to Borat quotes.
Folks had their differences back then, sure, but not everybody was a pundit. If you had claimed to know the single infallible solution for all social ills—and refused to speak with anyone who disagreed—it would’ve marked you as suffering from delusions of grandeur; now it just makes you a person with a phone.
As of early 2019 Twitter had 68 million active users in the U.S., a massive increase from 10 million a decade prior. And what’s happened to our civic discourse during that timespan?
Average political differences between Republicans and Democrats have more than doubled. Fifteen percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats believe that “we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.” Eighty-five percent of Americans agree that our discourse is “more negative and less respectful.” Eight in 10 Americans feel that we are “mainly” or “totally” divided, and three-fourths of people overseas feel the same way about their own countries. Correlation isn’t necessarily causation, of course, but we’re discussing Twitter, so yes, it is.
In the Terminator franchise, Judgment Day is a onetime occasion. On Twitter, every day is full of judgment.
Psychologists have a word, “splitting,” for when a person considers all others to be either completely good or completely evil, as opposed to the mix of positive and negative qualities that actually define most of us. This is Twitter’s defining tonal characteristic, and it’s why our national conversation feels like a surreal and increasingly violent apocalyptic showdown. (Many Americans have come to fear that we’re on the brink of another civil war, but I doubt it’ll happen as long as we have Netflix and the Taco Bell Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Taco Supreme. Ours is a remarkably lazy and easily winded nation.)
But here’s the thing: TWITTER. ISN’T. REAL. A 2018 study of 8,000 Americans found that two-thirds of the country form an “exhausted majority” who “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.” (One sign of a healthy nation by no means whatsoever on the brink of collapse is that a vast majority of citizens are scared out of their fucking minds to publicly identify as moderates, the most anodyne stance of all.)
Social media is a fun way to reconnect with old friends and share adorable cat photos, but it’s also a horrifying experiment in how long civilization can survive when the biggest idiots have the loudest voices. Twitter has empowered the most xenophobic, sociopathic bullies on the Right—guess who wouldn’t be president if Twitter had never existed?—and the most joyless, purity-testing control freaks on the Left. If you suggest evidence-based pragmatism or basic Enlightenment values, you’re shamed for giving comfort to the enemy; there’s no meeting Hitler or Stalin in the middle, after all, and everybody is now either Hitler or Stalin.
You know who else you can’t meet in the middle? Skynet. Let’s create it.
Good Journalism Will Be Back
In The Terminator, 2029 is a hopeless wasteland. The few survivors live in squalid hovels, fighting for scraps of rodent flesh, fully aware that inevitable doom is coming for them sooner or later.
The bleak future that writer/director James Cameron predicted for humanity came a decade early for the media industry.
A quarter of newsroom jobs have disappeared over the past decade. This year alone has seen 3,200 eliminated. Journalists were once among the most respected members of our society, and now we envy burger flippers and baristas ‘cause at least McDonald’s and Starbucks won’t go out of business at any second.
Yes, Silicon Valley exploited and disrupted our business model. Yes, a worrisome chunk of the public believes conspiracy theories and pseudoscience over verifiable facts. But perhaps, just perhaps, we need to accept responsibility for getting carried away with Twitter?
Fewer than half of Americans now trust the media (including Democrats and Republicans alike), according to Gallup and the Columbia Journalism Review, down from 70 percent in the late twentieth century. Nearly 40 percent of Americans “often or sometimes avoid the news,” according to a 2019 Reuters Institute poll. Most of them blame the relentlessly negative tone, “clickbait” headlines, and reporting “based on opinions or emotions.”
In other words, content optimized for outrage tweets.
Our headlines are clickbait. We aren’t “shook.” We aren’t “heartbroken AF.” We don’t feel “all the feels.” We can’t feel anything and we don’t want to feel anything, which is why journalists drink so goddamn much. (BTW, the angle “Here’s What People On Twitter Are Saying About __________” is lazier than plagiarism.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is extremely rare for a mainstream reporter to fabricate stories on purpose—we’re trying our best with evermore limited resources and unlimited productivity demands—and no leader of a free country should attack the press as “enemies of the people.” And yet, we must admit that Twitter has encouraged our worst hyperbolic tendencies; we are too often sacrificing accuracy in the rush to be first on social media.
The sad irony is that Twitter drives almost zero clicks: 1.5 percent of traffic, to be exact. Why, then, do we journalists waste our entire lives on this worthless app?
We used to say “never read the comments,” but now it’s the only thing we do. We used to pride ourselves on our unique counterintuitive perspectives, but now we spew dogmatism because we’re scared of getting dragged for any minor heresy. We spent half a decade shaming our audience because their favorite movies, shows, comedians, video games, and books were “problematic” (which is how you say “blasphemous” if you’re too smart for religion but too stupid to realize that you’re still a fundamentalist), and now we wonder why they’ve stopped reading us? Yeah, it’s a real mystery.
“What is going on with journalists lately?” asked a friend of mine who doesn’t work in media. “It’s like you’re all depressed and want everybody else to feel depressed too.”
We have only ourselves to blame, but it’s easier to pin it on Jack Dorsey, so let’s send a Terminator back in time to give his great-great-grandfather a vasectomy or something. Trump supporters love to tell broke reporters “learn to code” (which Twitter considers bannable harassment), but maybe we should…
Specifically, we should learn to code a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 with an inexplicable Austrian accent, living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.
Yes, Arnold, I just said that.
The Fun Internet (And True Art) Will Be Back
The Terminator warned us that a network of linked computers would ruin the world, but we refused to believe it because the internet was so great. Remember the Dancing Baby? Remember Scumbag Steve, College Freshman, and Overly Attached Girlfriend? Remember “Gotta get down on Friday”? Remember Grumpy Cat?
Well, Grumpy Cat is dead now, and so is our digital innocence.
The internet was supposed to be a vibrant utopia of empathy, truth, optimism, community, and individuality; it’s become a hellish panopticon of cruelty, grift, despair, narcissism, and conformity. Maybe we should have never abandoned MySpace?
“Each day on twitter there is one main character,” wrote user @maplecocaine in a famous tweet from January 2019. “The goal is to never be it.”
Twitter encourages and then punishes spontaneous expression, reducing complex human beings to a single, out-of-context brain fart. It is a game that you can only win by not playing. It is the subterranean river of evil pink slime from Ghostbusters II that turns decent people into vicious jerks. It is 1690s Salem, except that everyone is both a witch and a hunter.
The result: Nobody actually believes what they’re saying anymore; they’re just trying to guess what everybody wants to hear. Social media has turned all of us into politicians obsessed with approval numbers, pandering to the crowd lest a gaffe sink us in the polls.
Actual politicians now roast one another like juvenile insult comics while real comedians are pressured to sound like society’s moral pillars. (When you demand that vulgar clowns emulate Lincoln, the backlash is President Andrew Dice Clay.) Every newspaper column, every published novel, every Hollywood script, every song lyric, and every standup routine is now written from a place of utter, petrified terror: Will Twitter get mad about this?
In a previous era, artists had to ask that question about clergymen, which was a better dynamic because a wrathful and all-powerful God might not exist but a wrathful and all-powerful Twitter certainly does. The problem with our modern society is that we value emotion over logic, that we’d rather join a mob than speak unpopular truth, that we hold others to rigid moral standards while conveniently exempting ourselves. (I mean, this is the problem with every society in history, but ours too.)
Twitter is killing culture and conversation, not facilitating them. Is it any coincidence that support for freedom of expression cratered just as everybody could broadcast whatever garbage pops into their heads on a second-by-second basis? The volume got too loud for anyone to endure it, too loud for anyone to hear.
You know why I signed up for Twitter? In 2009 my literary agent said that publishers would no longer print an author’s books unless he or she had a presence on the platform (even though, just as Twitter drives almost no clicks to news sites, it sells almost no copies either). So I directed all of my creative energy toward it. Tens of thousands of ephemeral tweets later, none of which I even remember, I could have instead written so many lasting stories, created so much beauty. Or, I dunno, maybe without Twitter I would’ve mostly spent those countless hours watching TV and jacking off?
We’ll Be Back
You’re sick. I’m sick. This whole society is sick from years of algorithmic acrimony, programmatic propaganda, and monetized malice.
Just as we need a miracle to save our civilization from global warming, we need a miracle to save it from Twitter. That miracle? Time travel. It’s not enough to “delete your account.” We must delete all of the accounts. We must terminate Twitter from history.
Honestly, I think Jack Dorsey is racked with guilt over his wretched creation—Twitter’s other cofounders have apologized for their “very bad thing”—and would fund the mission’s R&D. He might even personally carry it out, arriving in the past crouched naked in a dark alley as blue portal lightning crackles around him, to stop his former, clean-shaven, non-vegan self. (I need to write this as a screenplay, don’t I?)
We’ve all died inside over the past decade, so come with me if you want to live. Twitter is the source of our modern pain. And in the words of bestubbled future human resistance soldier Kyle Reese, “Pain can be controlled. You just disconnect it.”