July 19, 2019

Twitter Is a Construct

“What if Twitter isn’t real?

By that, I don’t just mean Russian bots talking to other Russian bots, liberal satirists fooling gullible conservatives, and cynical opinion-mongers conjuring panics out of nothing. There’s clearly a lot of literally fake news on Twitter, and it’s a problem.

Notwithstanding these flaws — or perhaps because of them — Twitter is still taken seriously as a medium. It’s supposed to be extraordinarily powerful and influential, able to make and break reputations at unprecedented speed.

But what if it isn’t? What if Twitter is mostly a closed ecosystem, relevant only to and within itself? What if its ability to shape the real world is, as they say, greatly exaggerated?

Consider the most potent Twitter user in the world: President Donald Trump. Trump’s tweets are scrutinized by hordes of journalists, both for a view into the president’s mood and views, and because they can easily be repackaged into a story that attracts additional attention (including attention on Twitter). But announcements Trump makes via Twitter are as often as not contradicted by his own staff or by the president himself in a subsequent tweet (as was the case — repeatedly — with regard to the purported truce in our trade war with China). There’s precious little evidence that they are a reliable guide to anything — certainly not more reliable than either old-fashioned gumshoe reporting and source greasing.”

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