The Death of Twitter? — how Emergent Behavior Weeds out the Non-empathetic


Chianti, or probably more accurately, Sangiovese, in Chianti, outside Florence, Italy

I occasionally read Medium, an interesting website that serves as some kind of pass-through for good writing, but at the same time, doesn’t seem to pay anyone for the writing that they do.  Which means that it typically serves as a platform for either the very famous, who don’t have to get paid to write, or those starting out and hoping for ‘exposure’.

This morning’s feed contained an interesting article from Umair Haque, who seems to fall in the former category.  He is unusual in that he actually gives out his e-mail address (good on him, though at some level I’m sure it’s burdensome!) so I’ll e-mail him a link to this post.  Umair makes the point in this piece that Twitter is dying, less and less people are doing it, and his reason is that it is because abuse is rampant on Twitter.  You Tweet something, and then nasty people attack you.

Fair enough.  I’m sure he’s right.  I don’t have a Twitter account, though, because I’ve always thought that it was a great way to get into trouble.  Twitter’s format of 140 characters, along with the various hashtags, constrain thought to what devoted readers of this blog, few though those are :-), would recognize are knowledge fragments, identifiable with Authoritarian v-Meme agents and social systems.  Not surprisingly, lots of these Tweets are going to pop out of people’s impulsive, limbic mind, and are at best going to correspond to some modest level of emotional empathy.  At worst, they’re going to be the tool of Relational Disrupters, and other various icks of the empathy disordered.

Umair also makes the point that over time, people are going to drift away from Twitter, or things like it, because, well, it’s unpleasant.  No one wants to voice a thought and be attacked by strangers.  But we can also see the emergent behavior of our social/relational journey at work.  The Internet is nothing if not a tool of connectivity, and carries with it the potential for generation of larger empathy.  Through information sharing, we have far more awareness of far more great things, as well as abuses, throughout the world.  Twenty years ago, who would have even known, or cared about Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped and married off 200 young girls in Nigeria?  A cultural anthropologist of the time might even have characterized it as culturally appropriate, considering the tribal structure of the area.  Now, everyone knows, and has an opinion of their own.  And through the Internet, over time, there is going to be more of a global consensus on this kind of thing — in the case of Boko Haram, that it is a tragedy, and we should care.

What’s interesting is that less connected knowledge structures are going to behave in the fashion of their fundamental information-theoretic dynamics — not the wishes, no matter how noble, of their founders.  Those that live by the knowledge structure they adapt, die by the knowledge structure.  And there’s little way to establish a larger dialog in 140 character bites.  No matter how profound the individuals are, or accessible the medium is.  It turns into a low-probability situation.  It’s not that it couldn’t happen — and I’m sure there are Twitter proponents who would argue that it has.  It’s just that the odds are against it.

Umair also makes the point that the various parties responsible for creating the resource don’t seem much to care and fix the problem of abuse on Twitter.  Once again, not surprising and predicted from the writings on this blog.  People who refine code are, for lots of righteous reasons, likely to occupy the Legalistic v-Meme, unless there are larger cultural sidebars that would force different behavior.  ‘Faster, less computational time, etc.’ are not characteristics that immediately cause an increase in empathetic interaction.  Or rather, it is a constrained interaction.  Content and its effects do not come into play.

Evolving communications environments that structurally create emergent empathetic evolution of the actors engaged in them is something I’ve been thinking about.  Twitter, at some level, shows the way not to do this.

Takeaways: When you create communication pathways that only use given knowledge structures, you shouldn’t be surprised that they create the behavior, good or bad, associated with the corresponding v-Meme.  Those that live by the Authoritarian Tweet, die by the Authoritarian Tweet!  It’s very difficult to have multi-solution thinking in a 140 character SMS string.

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