By purest happenstance, today was dominated by the ethics issues raised by tweets about the Charlotte riots from two commentators who couldn’t be more different, conservative pundit-professor Glenn Reynolds and Seattle Mariners catcher Steve Clevenger. Both issued excessively undiplomatic tweets to express their dismay at the state of U.S. race relations as demonstrated by the events unfolding in North Carolina. Both encountered the race-baiting, intimidation and attempts to chill free expression that are increasingly emerging as the standard weapons of the political left. Both saw the response to their words raise issues of double standards and the dangers of criticizing even the most indefensible conduct, like rioting and looting, when the rioters and looters have the sympathy of the news media, the politically powerful (and cynical) and sufficient numbers of social activists.
Both episodes also highlighted the dangers of using the deceptive simplicity of Twitter to express opinions and ideas that require more nuance and care.
Putting the cap on spontaneously generated “Controversial Tweet Friday” is this Comment of the Day by Jeff H, one of Ethics Alarms’ longest tenured commenters:
This is one of the reasons I try my very hardest never to use my Twitter to make someone’s day worse. It’s not that I haven’t had arguments on there every now and again, but as far as I know, I have very seldom been blocked for it. That’s because I try to keep it all elevated to a certain level or respect that we should all have when talking to strangers. (I did once get blocked for a Rickroll…)
I agree that him saying that is basically acceptable hyperbole and did nothing to further endanger the protesters (that they weren’t already facing by being on the highway. I say, if you block the highway for a protest, you’re a total jerk. I’d rather you make it home safely after doing something so stupid, but if you don’t, it will be entirely your own fault.)
Twitter as a format leads to snap thinking and quick condemnations like this, on both sides. It’s honestly a terrible format to try to say anything constructive. Even the “delete your account” tweets from Hillary that some people praise strike me as just saying “shut up” in a different way. How unproductive. The sublime tweets are vastly outweighed by the bad ones, to the point where I call Twitter The False Equivalency Machine.
If Twitter wants to make itself a place where nobody says things like this, I don’t think it is possible. Even if they drummed every conservative voice off the format, I do not believe the atmosphere would change significantly. The nastiness about other stuff would just become more apparent.
The shortness of the format, when responses will be at their hottest and tweeted out at the peak of emotional response, will always mean that it will be a hot bed of cruel behavior. Nothing will change that, until we as individuals take a moment’s pause, let things go, and be the best versions of ourselves we can be on the Internet.
See, you can’t fit this in a tweet. But you can fit, “fuck you, go die, hope your children are sold into slavery.”
But so can “have a wonderful day, here’s an apple pie.”