When Twitter is Bad for the Heart and Toxic for a Nation
This week I began what I intend to be a month-long fast from Twitter. After a month, I’ll re-evaluate whether to continue using Twitter with some new personal guidelines, or whether to abandon it altogether.
This break is something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while, but my decision coincided with the latest big outrage cycle — the Covington Catholic boys in Washington, D.C.
It started over the weekend when a video of what appeared to be several teen boys in MAGA gear mocking and taunting an elderly Native American and war veteran went viral. Unsurprisingly, the disturbing footage caused many people — myself included — to become angry and indignant. Especially since those teens, being from a Catholic school and in D.C. for the annual March for Life, supposedly purported to represent Christian values.
But later, extended footage came out that showed the events in a much different light.
When “Stereotype is More Salient Than Persons”
Since then, some have written about the unreliability of viral videos, and of course there are plenty of political takes with one side trying to blame the other. But the take that resonates most with me, and my decision to (temporarily and maybe permanently) leave Twitter, is David Brooks’ in the New York Times.
“Stereotype is more salient than persons. … a main activity is proving to the world that your type is morally superior to the other type.” I don’t know of a better way to describe what I’ve seen on social media, especially Twitter, over and over, with the Covington fiasco being just the latest example (and one to which I fell prey).
As I’ve written before, Twitter makes it so easy to ignore another person’s humanity. It’s so easy to stoop to behavior we would never condone face-to-face. Behavior like openly mocking someone, name-calling, insinuating the worst about their character. The fact that a person appears to be nothing more than a username on a screen makes it easier. We forget that they’re like us, made in the image of God. They have a complex history, just like we do. They have loved ones and strongly-held beliefs, just like we do.
What Am I Missing?
The reason I delayed this Twitter fast for so long was because I feared I’d miss something. But then I realized that what I’d miss on Twitter — the occasional viral story actually worth knowing or piece of breaking news — was nothing compared to what social media often makes me miss in real life. Namely, face-to-face time with people, and the love and charity that kind of time fosters, rather than the cynicism and tribalism fostered on the internet.
Of course this doesn’t mean I want to ignore current events. But social media isn’t the best way to get news anyway. I don’t want to participate in the stereotyping, the gotcha moments, the outrage cycles anymore. Such behavior is no more good for my heart than it is for our nation.