What is Twitter even for

Two lofty but surprisingly insightful Twitter think-pieces caught my attention this week. The first is Jennifer Senior’s description of it as The High School We Can’t Log Off From:

A few years back, the sociologist Robert Faris described high school to me as “a large box of strangers.” The kids don’t necessarily share much in common, after all; they just happen to be the same age and live in the same place. So what do they do in this giant box to give it order, structure? They divide into tribes and resort to aggression to determine status.

The same can be said of Twitter. It’s the ultimate large box of strangers. As in high school, Twitter denizens divide into tribes and bully to gain status; as in high school, too-confessional musings and dumb mistakes turn up in the wrong hands and end in humiliation.

The second is Ezra Klein’s pretty profound Twitter is not your friend. Here’s the crux of it:

We write for an audience we think we know, in a vernacular they’ll understand, using reference points they’re familiar with. Six years later, our tweets are weaponized to an audience we don’t know, thick with terms they understand differently, with the reference points completely absent. […]

Twitter is not your friend. It is built to reward us for snarky in-group communication and designed to encourage unintended out-group readership. It fosters both tribalism and tribal collision. It seduces you into thinking you’re writing for one community but it gives everyone the ability to search your words and project them forward in time and space and outward into another community at the point when it’ll do you maximum damage. It leaves you explaining jokes that can’t be explained to employers that don’t like jokes anyway.

And it’s not just what we write. It’s what we see. Our feeds are filled with reasonable, funny, thoughtful comments from our groups and the most unreasonable, offensive tweets sent by our out-groups.


My own experience has been similar recently. For years I used Twitter as a way to share things about product management and design, and in return, learn and get feedback from that community. Also the occasional joke. It was fun, and it played a really big role in my career development.

It’s not fun any more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad about it. There are more important problems to solve right now than how I should approach a specific feature I’m struggling with. I’m not mad about how political Twitter has become. It kind of needs to be that, because that’s what’s important right now.

But I do feel like I’m not sure where to go to share ideas with my product tribe any more. And I’m also too scared to tweet anything personal, for all the reasons Jennifer and Era point out in the essays above.

2018 is so weird.