On the 15th of January 2009 Janis Krums of New York was food porning her toasted cheese sandwich for Twitter when she spotted US Airways Flight 1549 parked up on the Hudson River so she snapped a picture of that instead. At the time she nor anyone else could have possibly envisaged that this was the inevitable beginning of the end of the world.
Janis Krums had unwittingly become Zuul the Gatekeeper by scooping every news outlet in New York by simply just being there with her mobile phone and Twitter account. This should have been a heads up for media executives of things to come but at least the journalists took note. Soon an estimated 73% from around the world had subscribed to the mobile social media platform as it was recognised as being akin to having a Bat-signal in their back pocket potentially alerting them to any public newsworthy event.
This in itself wasn’t a bad thing but as time passed and the general public increasingly turned to the Internet for their news, traditional media outlets began to struggle. The resulting reduction in revenue, staffing and resources had journalists turning to Twitter not just for potential news tips but now recklessly for the news itself and dangerously as a social barometer.
The problem with this is that Twitter users have never been representative of a cross-section of society. Even at its best it was just an inane novelty platform for geeks and hipsters. But today it has degenerated into the social media equivalent of a 19th century opium den. Normal people typically don’t go there and of the few who do most flee in disgust. Even hardcore users sometimes “need to take a break from Twitter” or even permanently closing their accounts.
When Twitter was first launched as “Twttr” in 2006 it was simply an SMS service that enabled users to send a single message to several friends. It looked more like “Whatsapp” than its current format which now posts to the world. It became more about self promotion than personal interaction which naturally attracted those with an agenda. Politicians, celebrities, businesses, activists, narcissists, radicals, wannabes, and trolls. Add the limited format, blocking and individual appeasing algorithms then a generous scoop of labelling, pile-ons, doxing and cancel culture and you have a recipe for disaster. Random fringe ideologies rise to the forefront because logical debate is quelled from the outset. All this in turn creates realities so false it makes ‘The Matrix’ look more like a documentary than an overrated B grade movie that pushed Keanu Reeves’ repertoire beyond, “Excellent” and “Dude”.
The online reality of Twitter was no better displayed when in 2016 Microsoft released the artificial intelligence chatter bot “Tay”. The AI account was designed to learn to interact with “normal” account holders by absorbing and analysing their tweets to create its own. In what should have been a warning to the world “Tay” had to be shut down in just 16 hours because it had inadvertently become an abusive and offensive online arsehole in less than a day.
Somehow none of these red flags have been heeded as whenever you hear of a public outcry about whatever on the news what the reporters are actually referencing are the reactions of these motivated radicals on Twitter. The psychopathic 10% of subscribers which research reveals creates 80% of Tweets on a social media platform that’s ranked 17th in popularity. Unfortunately this is where it snowballs. When twitter fringe dwelling fantasy is reported as reality in the mainstream media then politicians take note, businesses take note, people take note and whatever bandwagon cyber delusion of the time gains a foothold in the real world. A prime example is identity politics which shouldn’t have been more than lively on campus debate but it has permeated the planet creating a divide that makes the Grand Canyon look like the creek out back. It would be a fascinating study of accidental social engineering if we could stay focused long enough but, as it does, it creates bullshit distraction after bullshit distraction. We’ve now lost the attention span to recognise let alone solve actual problems of any complexity or even relevance. We’re doomed I tell ya, we’re all doomed…