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In the land of outrage and snark

Twitter brings out the worst in people. If your worst is not that bad then power to you, madam, but most of us need to spend an extraordinary amount of energy not to look like sociopaths, or should just stay away. More often than not I choose the latter.

There are good arguments for why you should be on Twitter from both doctors and civilians. On the opposite end there is a whole book dedicated to why you shouldn’t (full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, but did read two accompanying NYT Opinion pieces back before I realized NYT Opinion pieces weren’t worth my time). So clearly there are two opposing points of view, and while I’m sympathetic to the Twitter cheerleaders and their cause, my own experience makes me take pause. Here’s why:

1. No nuance

Note the “madam” reference in the opening paragraph. Here, I have space to explain what I meant: that a well-behaved user on Twitter was more likely to be a woman. An outrage-primed stranger on Twitter just glancing at the post could instead interpret it as an attempt to emasculate the well-behaved male readers. And I forget, is it still kosher to use madam to refer to women? Or is “females” the appropriate term now, never mind that it’s an adjective? At least using “kosher” is not considered cultural appropriation yet. Right?

I don’t like this lack of nuance for two reasons: because I recognize it in myself when I overreact to a tweet and have to stop myself from writing a snarky reply and because writing down short thoughts that are still coherent is much more time-consuming than writing run-on sentences like this one.

2. Ill will

Recall Justine Sacco and the delight with which a Twitter mob tracked her WiFi-less flight across the Atlantic. Twitter mobs are pure minority rule, wherein the minority has a high follower count with an incentive to mobilize them. It is vexing to see someone with 10,000+ followers retweeting — with a snarky comment, of course — a poorly worded tweet that had thus far garnered three likes and no other retweets. No matter the content of the original tweet, and often they’re deranged rantings of an anti-vaccer, doing it to a person with a hundred-fold lower followe count and a thousand-fold lower reach is unethical at best, and dare I say immoral too when the intent of the retweet is nothing more than virtue signaling.

Again, this kills my enthusiasm for Twitter in two ways: the time I spend self-censoring my Eastern European spent-a-decade-under-US-sanctions tendency towards sarcasm, and the time I spend reading, digesting, and ultimately dismissing these worthless posts.

3. Poisoned stream

But isn’t the great benefit of Twitter over mainstream media the ability to choose whom you follow? Yes, but: Twitter the company is doing its best to ruin that by showing you not only retweets, but also those tweets that people you are following liked, and a random tweet here or there that’s been getting attention (as in: a lot of replies, as in: this is probably controversial) which it thinks may cause you to engage (as in: join the conversation, as in: enter the fray). I am not making this up.

So even if you try to keep your time line completely professional and only follow other MDs who post only their high thoughts on the latest randomized trials in the area you’re interested in… Well, you can’t stop them from liking political posts, and you can’t stop Twitter from foisting its algorithm on you.

4. No country for slow thinkers

So what? Just ignore the noise. Cull your follow list to manage input, write quickly and don’t look back to speed up your output. I suspect that’s what many people who are good at Twitter do, and if you can do it too then power to you. What kills it for me is 1) the opportunity cost (as in: I’d rather spend time with my family, and 2) (and this is the main one) I. cannot. write. like. that. This was supposed to be a two-paragraph post written in the subway. Well clearly it’s not.

As I finish writing this, a scientist I’m following has retweeted the FCC chairman’s gripe about the latest Twitter redesign. An MD is retweeting pointless videos. Random biotech factoids fly by my screen, unwanted and uncared for.

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