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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Feeding the wrong dog will kill off Twitter



In an insightful piece in the Mumbai Mirror, @PritishNandy has highlighted the reasons why he feels Twitter is dying. Commercialisation, politicisation, and the emergence of the much maligned supra nationalist troll – all these have led to a sharp decline in the quality of discourse. This, he feels, is directly reflected in the fall in the evaluation of Twitter’s price in the eyes of prospective buyers. He laments the end of open, intelligent debate and discussion, the banter and two-way conversation that attracted many like him to Twitter in the first place.

There is undoubtedly a lot of truth in what he says. The ‘democratisation’ of Twitter, or it’s de-elitisation, driven by falling prices of devices and data, seems to have lowered any debate to the lowest common denominator. Proliferation of ‘egg face’ twitterati with double digit followers and a gutter tongue has left everyone, from the Prime Minister to media moguls, open to question, derision and abuse. But to my mind, these are not really the primary reasons that would cause the end of healthy debate on Twitter. Twitter provides an effective mechanism for dealing with abusive trolls – they can be blocked i.e. they would not be able to see your tweets and you would not receive any notifications from them. You can even go a step further and report them to Twitter for specified transgressions, which could lead to their account being suspended.

What could actually kill the essence of Twitter is the reluctance of a large section of the ‘intelligentsia’ to be questioned on their views. Possibly due to their inability to defend their point of view when questioned logically, or maybe out of sheer arrogance. Whatever the reason, this is a noticeable trend, example of which can be seen below.

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My takeaway from these multiple exchanges was that when these supposed crusaders for free speech and liberalism – be they journalists, activists or jurists – are faced with uncomfortable questions themselves, they press the block button. What is even more surprising is that I have seen the very same people (before being blocked of course) gleefully engaging in slanging matches with outright offensive trolls. Possibly those exchanges help them project themselves as intellectual victims of abuse, whereas the inability to answer straightforward questions shows them up in pretty bad light. Hence they respond by blocking those asking inconvenient though polite questions instead of those abusing.

So the future of healthy debate on Twitter depends on “which dog you feed” as per this old parable –

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Since it suits most people to encourage the abusive trolls, they are the ones that will ultimately grow and kill Twitter.

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