Twitter is Not a Real Place

Most of what you see on Twitter is manipulated, fake, and unconnected to real life.

“When Sticks and Stones came out…a lot of people in the trans community were furious with me and apparently they dragged me on Twitter. I don’t give a f***, ’cause Twitter is not a real place.” – Dave Chappelle

My personal Twitter account was created back in 2008, although I didn’t use it very much back then. Honestly, I still don’t tweet a lot for three reasons.

First of all, when you build a Twitter account, you’re building up someone else’s platform, not your own, and they can take it away from you any time they want, for any reason they want. Most famously, Donald Trump could tell you all about that, but I could also tell you about it. Soon after I did a successful GoFundMe for Brett Kavanaugh, Facebook banned my page, the New York Times did a hit piece on me, and Twitter banned a number of accounts tied to pages I ran because of… who knows exactly? Twitter refused to point out any violations, some of those accounts had been inactive for months and none of them violated their rules.

Additionally, unless you’re famous, building a big Twitter account is inordinately time-consuming, is helped along by being deliberately controversial or a huge ahole to draw attention, and often involves posting vomit-inducing cringe like this on a regular basis:

Even if you succeed and build a huge Twitter account, it typically isn’t great for driving traffic or doing much of anything other than getting more likes and shares on Twitter. At a certain level, it can be treated as evidence of a sort of de facto popularity that does help a teeny-tiny, subset of Twitter users get media attention that they otherwise wouldn’t get. So, for a few dozen people, it does genuinely have that benefit at least.

All that being said, I’ve been on Twitter a long time, I’ve done social media for Duncan Hunter’s presidential campaign, I have a lot of friends on Twitter with enormous followings (more than one at a million-plus) and I’ve been targeted by of some of those Twitter swarms that featured hundreds and even thousands of people making negative comments. So, I know what I’m talking about when I say that Dave Chappelle was on to something when he said that Twitter isn’t a real place.

For one thing, the demographics on Twitter are EXTREMELY LIBERAL.

Do you want to know how many people I’ve met in the real world over the last twenty-five years that have talked about their gender pronouns or that have been rabid about trans issues? Not a single one. You regularly see anti-white hashtags on Twitter. Do you how many black Americans I’ve met in the last two decades who want to make a point of letting everyone know they don’t like white people? Again, none.

That doesn’t mean that those people don’t exist, because they certainly do, but there’s an expanse as wide as the sky between what you hear on Twitter and what you hear in the real world outside of the more socialistic corners of Seattle, Portland, Berkeley.

That gulf between the real world and Twitter is exacerbated by a couple of factors. One of them is that so many people are anonymous. It’s easy to say, “F*** you! I would kick your ass, murder you, and slaughter your whole family!” when you have a fake name, fake avatar, and you think no one can trace it back to you. An awful lot of people on Twitter would be singing different tunes if they had to confront the people they taunted. Here’s a fun example of what I mean:

Former footballer-turned-boxer Curtis Woodhouse...lost his English light-welterweight title on points to Shane Singleton on Friday night and he was branded a 'disgrace' on the social networking site by 'Jimmyob88', who has reportedly been abusing Woodhouse on Twitter for months.

The 32-year-old former tough-tackling midfield midfielder - who switched sports to boxing aged 26 - was so enraged with the abuse that he offered £1,000 to anyone who could help him find the culprit.

Woodhouse kept his swiftly-increasing number of followers updated on his progress as he honed in on 'Jimbob'.

He tweeted a picture of a street sign on the road which Jimbob lives with the words, 'Right Jimbob im here', adding: 'Someone tell me what number he lives at or do I have to knock on every door #itsshowtime.'

Quickly backtracking, Jimmyob88 tweeted: 'I am sorry it's getting a bit out of hand,' he tweeted. 'I am in the wrong. I accept that.'

Woodhouse eventually went home, and later jokingly tweeted: 'Just found out you can block people. Could have let me know earlier, I could have saved 20 quid in petrol.'

Getting beyond that, an awful lot of the accounts on Twitter are fake. Nobody actually knows what percentage of Twitter’s 199 million active daily users are duplicate accounts, bots, are paid to tweet or are parts of foreign intelligence networks, but it has to be a large percentage of their user base.

As an example, this seems significant:

"We found that 47% of local trends in Turkey and 20% of global trends are fake, created from scratch by bots. Between June 2015 and September 2019, we uncovered 108,000 bot accounts involved, the biggest bot dataset reported in a single paper. Our research is the first to uncover the manipulation of Twitter Trends at this scale," Elmas continued.

Now, consider this

Twitter disclosed this morning that it has found over 180,000 accounts that were creating and amplifying propaganda for China, Russia, and Turkey today. Just over 32,000 of the accounts were core propaganda creators, Twitter says. All content they shared and amplified has been deleted. In addition, China employed another 150,000 accounts to amplify content that its core accounts created.

What about this?

Nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages on the social media platform about the coronavirus pandemic are likely bots, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said Wednesday.

Researchers culled through more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January and found that about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.

It is too early to say conclusively which individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts, but researchers said the tweets appeared aimed at sowing division in America.

"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that," said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who is conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter that has yet to be published.

Now, take a moment to think about the implications of this:

…The median average percentage of fake Twitter followers appears to be 41 percent for political figures of all stripes and ideologies. For example, 43.8% of Hillary Clinton’s Twitter followers are fake, 40.9% of Barack Obama’s Twitter followers are fake, 41% of Al Gore’s Twitter followers are fake and 41.5% of Mike Pence’s Twitter followers are fake. From this perspective, the percentage of President Trump’s Twitter followers stands out as being especially high, but it’s really just a matter of degree. Across the board, SparkToro is basically saying that 40% of the political Twitterverse is fake. And this was back in 2018! Now that political discourse is getting much strident and discordant than ever before, it’s not out of the range of possibility that we’re getting close to the 50% tipping point. Imagine that – half of what you see on Twitter is probably fake.

In other words, much of what you see on Twitter isn’t even remotely connected to real life. It’s a wildly non-representative sample of America teeming with people saying deliberately obnoxious or controversial things to get attention that are then amplified by bots, duplicate accounts, and foreign intelligence agencies for their own purposes.

Unfortunately, all that fake information produces real-world consequences. We see stories all the time about “controversies” on Twitter. How many of them came to the media’s attention because a botnet got the topic trending and gave people the impression it was much more of a topic of discussion than it really was? How many stories about “Twitter controversies” have we seen that are mostly based on comments from a few anonymous accounts? Abusive, hate-filled Twitter mobs that try to destroy people for a joke or a comment are now a regular feature of American life. How much of that bad behavior is driven not just by bots and duplicate accounts, but by human beings who would have never behaved so horribly except for the fact that they were anonymous?

At the end of the day, Twitter isn’t a real place. It’s not even a good place and if we’re being perfectly honest, the world would probably be a better place if it didn’t exist at all.

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