Illustration by Lauren Hansen | Images courtesy iStock
June 2, 2017
When historians of the future try to make sense of the precipitous collapse in American's liberal democratic norms and institutions during our era, they are bound to highlight the rise of Twitter.
I don't just mean because it's hard to imagine the demagogue-charlatan Donald Trump catching on in the way he did without him having access to an instant audience of millions with his Twitter feed. That's important, but not decisive. The same can be said of the army of "propaganda bots" that Farhad Manjoo claims are turning Twitter into a "terrifying scourge on democracy." That's significant, too, but only a part of the story.
Far more fundamental is the way Twitter intensifies and amplifies pathological social tendencies among those who act within, report on, and write about the political world. It turns politicians, political staffers, reporters, editors, pundits, and analysts into petty, vain, childish, showoffy, hostile, vindictive, dogmatic, impulsive, careless versions of their best and most professional selves. This makes Twitter horrible for our politics and equally bad for journalism. The single best thing for both politics and journalism would be for Twitter to go out of business tomorrow.