Dumping Twitter Will Make You Smarter

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Overview

About three years ago, the following phrase popped into my head:

"Social media is making you have stupid opinions."

Now that's obviously not directed at you, and when I had the thought it wasn't about anyone in particular. It was more of a general observation that social media is antithetical to critical thought and careful, rational reasoning. It is, however, very conducive to emotionally driven snap judgments, many of which contradict each other.

I want to be very clear: if you regularly use Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, dumping them today will improve your career and your life overall. And if you can bring yourself to get rid of only one, let it be Twitter.

Twitter won't help your career

Especially in the IT world, people fear that not having a social media presence will hurt their brand or make them essentially undiscoverable. Friends, I promise you, the kind of employers you want to work for are not scouring Twitter looking for their next hire. 78% of Twitter users are not in the United States. That means if you're looking for an IT/dev job with a U.S. company, you'll have better chances standing on the street corner with a "geek for hire" LED display.

Quick: within the past year, how many people have you ever heard of getting a job via Twitter? I'd be willing to bet the number is very close to zero. Offhand, I can't name a single person. That's because hiring managers and recruiters aren't looking there.

Now you might find a company advertising a job opening on Twitter. (This is much less common than it used to be because marketers figured out that Twitter ads have poor engagement and aren't worth it.) But in the unlikely event you stumble across a job ad on Twitter, chances are it's a job that was posted on a job board a month earlier. And nobody is going to ask you to apply via Twitter. If you delete your Twitter account today, it's unlikely you'll miss out on anything.

But what if you use Twitter to keep up with tech trends? There's actually a better way: real simple syndication (RSS) feeds. Almost every blog and website has an RSS feed you can tap into using an RSS reader (like QuiteRSS). You can aggregate everything in one place and check it at your leisure. (The RSS feed for this site is https://benpiper.com/index.xml)

There's another hook that draws people to Twitter: interacting with famous or pseudo-famous people. Let's call it what it is: vanity. Yeah, it's cool when a celebrity hearts your comment (that they'll forget about 5 seconds later). But is it worth all the negativity, lies, arrogant self-promotion, nutty conspiracy theories, death threats, violence, and toxic people you have to put up with by virtue of being on Twitter?

You won't get accurate news

Twitter has an endemic problem of verified accounts—many of whom are news media outlets or journalists—making false statements. Not only are they false, they're so obviously false that a quick search can debunk them within seconds.

I'll give you an example that I just happened to stumble across it weeks ago. Keep in mind this isn't an isolated example, and I didn't even have to go looking for it. Here it is: News anchor Lawrence O'Donnell tweeted from his verified account:

How many times will Trump’s doctor [Dr. Scott Conley], who is actually not an MD, have to change his statements?

My quick search revealed the following: one of Dr. Conley's credentials is "FACEP", an acronym for "Fellow of the College of Emergency Physicians." In other words, Dr Conley is an MD. O'Donnell didn't even bother to look up what "FACEP" stood for. Yet I was able to find this out in seconds. Some people identifying as MDs chimed in and called out his error. Despite this, he didn't correct himself or delete the tweet, and Twitter didn't label it as false information. This is a common pattern.

Here's the scary part: a lot of intelligent people are routinely deceived by such false information. People can be trusting, especially if the source appears authoritative, as in the case of a "blue check" tweeting something. Almost everything on Twitter—especially from "fact-checked," "verified," or anonymous sources—should be regarded as highly suspect. You don't want to end up making a fool of yourself liking, retweeting, or quoting some bogus story.

Here's another example of false information making the rounds. Sheryl Stolberg, a New York Times reporter, posted this:

NEW: A 32-year-old close to Dr. Fauci -- the brother of his daughter's boyfriend -- has died of Covid-19, he just told me:

"He's a perfectly healthy 32-year old guy who got COVID, got the cardiac complications and died within like a week."

The problem? It's not true. The man in question, Christopher Washington, did not have the virus. He tested negative. He had an enlarged heart and infection in his lungs, but did not have any other symptoms.

This example is especially egregious because here we have a politician fabricating information, sharing it with a reporter who repeats the information as fact without verifying it, and then Twitter allows it all to go by unchecked.

It would be one thing if Twitter just ignored false information. But they actively and passively promote it. The blue checkmark verification badge on accounts is a tacit endorsement of the content they post, whether Twitter likes it or not. Twitter is fine with being the conduit for false information if it keeps you on the platform.

In some cases, Twitter selectively suspends accounts that tweet things Twitter management doesn't like. In other cases, they slap negative labels on such tweets. Twitter claims these labels are to protect people from false information, when in reality they're designed to promote one side of a controversial topic. For instance, after Dr. Scott Atlas' cited evidence that masks don't work against coronaviruses, Twitter suspended his account, extorting him into deleting the tweet before they would let him back in. Their absurd rationale was that he was posting false information. Dr. Atlas is one of the top MDs in the country, and he offered plenty of evidence to support his claim. It's an obvious lie for Twitter to claim that he was posting false information.

Fake accounts

As of November 2020, Twitter has 187 million monetizable daily active users (mDAUs). Many of these are bots and just fake accounts. Twitter knows these fake accounts exist and does not remove them. I think if they did, their mDAU would drop significantly and it would hurt their revenue.

Fake accounts have real people operating them. Automated bot accounts are easy to detect algorithmically, and human intervention is required to get around captchas that Twitter inevitably throws at them. A sort of mythology has grown up around "Russian bots" just autonomously tweeting. This isn't happening. Even semi-automated bot accounts have real people operating them.

Fake accounts are extremely common. You can actually buy Twitter accounts, even verified accounts, from places like PlayerUp. Here's a snippet from a sample listing:

-Accounts have random amount of tweets and followers (0-50), registered in at least 5 years.

-These accounts are pefect for your first experiments with automation

Hear that? Perfect for creating your very first Twitter bot. The price? $70 for 25 accounts. And they take Bitcoin. You can't make this stuff up.

Tell-tale signs of fake accounts

If you want to get an idea of just how many fake accounts are out there, there are some tell-tale signs that make them easy to spot.

The Name

The name will be either:

  • Generic and vanilla, usually given as first and last name ("Becky Smith", "Daisy Walker")

  • Completely made up, but referencing a current topic or event ("Socially Distant Introvert", "Solidarity Protest Warrior")

A big clue is the excessive use of symbols like emojis and other nonalphanumeric characters in the nick. Most people aren't going to bother with a highly stylized nickname like "🎀𝒩𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉_𝒮𝒽𝒶𝒹𝑒_𝐵𝒶𝒷𝓎𝑔𝓊𝓇𝓁🎀".

The bio will have a link, typically to either a defunct site (like an unused blog) or a purported employer. If the link is to a blog or personal site, the defunct status is an important clue because a real person who is actively tweeting isn't going to link to a blog that they haven't written in for 10 years. What's more likely is that the person who actually owns the blog started it 10 years ago and forgot about it is never going to find that someone is linking to it, claiming it as their own.

For accounts without a "real" name, the link may be to the person's supposed employer. In this case, the person will not reveal their real name so as to make it impossible to disprove their claim of employment.

The tweets

Fake accounts typically have lots of retweets with few or no original tweets. "Original" tweets will sometimes appear almost verbatim on numerous other fake accounts. One pattern I've seen recently on numerous accounts begins with something like "That's it, I'm leaving the US and moving to Hawaii." We can forgive Twitter's bot-detecting algorithm for missing the hilarious oversight of a person clearly unversed in U.S. geography. What we can't excuse is Twitter ignoring these obviously fake accounts.

The Bio

The fake account bio tries too hard to look real. It tends to follow two general formats:

  • An occupation combined with a political slogan or edgy statement

    • "Graphic artist and unabashed liberal and feminist"
    • "Boxing (yes girls like boxing get over it)"
    • "I believe in free speech, but if you're a bigot don't follow me"
  • Brief but mechanical, such as a list of generic interests. For example, a bunch of nouns with corresponding emojis.

    • "Dog lover 🐕, food lover 🍔, patriot 🇺🇸"
    • A real person will gravitate towards either words or emojis, not both. They'll either have a list of nouns without a bunch of emojis, or they'll have lots of emojis with maybe one noun.

The pictures

I've found pictures to be one of the most accurate indicators of a fake account.

  • The profile picture may be old/blurry or doctored (recolored with added effects). It doesn't show up in an image search, so is probably ripped off from a private Facebook account. The profile pic rarely changes, if ever. Contrast this with a real person who would periodically change it.
  • Other than the profile pic (which isn't really them anyway), fake accounts never post pictures of themselves. Instead, they post memes and animated GIFs pulled from various reaches of the interwebs.

Parler is what you wish Twitter was

If you want a great alternative to Twitter, I recommend Parler. One of the biggest benefits of Parler is the ability to control how public or private your content is. For example, you can keep your accout private while still being able to comment publicly on other people's posts.

Parler has a clever approach to mitigating bots and fake accounts from ruining the platform. Parler offers verification to all users. All you have to do is prove you're a real person, and you get a verified badge. Bots and fake accounts can't get a badge, so it's much easier to identify and mute or block them.