There was a big ole Twitter freakout over this wonky-wonk-wonk—ooh, look at the chart!—take on "what Twitter is for." There was much discussion, and much mockery, all doled out 140 characters at a time on the social media site. (I even partook in a bit of it myself.)
But because this is a serious blog filled with serious topics, allow me to cast aside such frivolity to write a bit about what Twitter is actually for, at least for a subset of its users: positioning oneself as a morally acceptable, super serial person.
For instance, the Free Beacon recently published what I described as the greatest thing we've ever done: a mashup of Game of Thrones and Mike Allen's Playbook by CJ Ciaramella. If you like Game of Thrones and read Playbook—which approximately 80 percent of D.C.'s political caste do, apparently—you liked this piece. It's science.
However, a certain subset of Twitter users decided that they couldn't forthrightly appreciate and publicize something done by the Washington Free Beacon. We are the untouchables; to acknowledge and praise a piece published by us without approbation risks signaling to others that you are a deeply unserious person who dabbles in rabblerousing and hatred. So these people would use a not-insignificant portion of their 140 characters to distance themselves from the Free Beacon while also sharing the humorous piece with their followers. For example:
— Matt Fay (@MattFay1) March 29, 2013
— Peter Sterne (@petersterne) March 29, 2013
— Gennady Kolker (@GENN4DY) March 29, 2013
Now I’ve seen everything—the Free Beacon did something actually clever and funny: freebeacon.com/westeros-playb…
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) March 29, 2013
You get the idea.
I find it interesting that these people couldn't just say "Ha, great piece!" and move on. Instead, they had to first distance themselves from the source before praising the work. I feel as if this is largely a center-left-to-left-left phenomenon, one that Freddie DeBoer has touched on quite a bit (though from a far-left, you're-not-doing-enough perspective).
Sarcastically dubbing those who use Twitter to angrily and vociferously denounce the violators of leftwing decency as the "Twitter Feeds of Justice," Freddie believes this is a cheap and easy way for those on the left to show that they believe the right things without actually having to do anything to make the world a safer place for liberalism:
Again, the reality is that for many of its loudest proponents, this kind of liberalism is essentially a social affectation. And one of a particular kind: social liberalism, for many, is a class marker. Over time I've come to see most of the cultural attachments of the cash-poor but social-capital-rich white artistic striver types as ways to assure the world that their financial similarity to lower class white people is purely coincidental. In that context, social liberalism becomes a particularly outsized way to demonstrate that you are better than the people with whom you share an income quintile.
Twitter (like Facebook) is just another manifestation of the social affectation that Freddie decries. Showing your "righteousness" on Twitter is pretty much the lowest-cost way of demonstrating said righteousness: Even if you're too lazy to come up with a 140-character missive on the daily outrage or the latest focus of a two minute hate, with the click of a mouse you can retweet someone else's outrage to identify yourself with said outrage.
It's all a little sad. And, frankly, part and parcel of living a politicized life. If you cannot wholeheartedly state your appreciation for something without first decrying the unclean company that created it, I feel at least a little sorry for you.