Exorcising The Demon Bird
why I'm leaving social media, for good
Today is Independence Day, and my birthday is coming up in a few days. Here’s the gift I’m giving myself: moments ago, I ran tweet delete and emptied my twitter history. When I publish this, I will tweet a link to it and pin the tweet. Then I’ll be done. No more Twitter, period.
Based on the uncountable number of “what the hell are we all doing wasting our lives on this hell app” tweets I’ve read, almost everyone likely agrees with me that Twitter is bad, and with my thought that almost everyone should probably leave Twitter. (The only exception I can see are very large accounts that use Twitter as a way to broadcast links to their other, worthwhile projects, and don’t use it as a place to have interactions.)
Given we all already know Twitter is a demonic hellsite, I expect to sway exactly no one, but I’m going to make my case anyway.
A Synthesis of Five Reasons
Five things came together to help me decide to eliminate Twitter from my life. Here they are, in order from simplest to most complex.
1: The Medium Is the Message
Here is a passage from Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari, which is a book I cannot recommend highly enough.
“I thought first of Twitter. When you log in to that site—it doesn’t matter if you are Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Bubba the Love Sponge—you are absorbing a message through that medium and senidng it out to your followers. What is that message? First: you shouldn’t focus on any one thing for long. The world can and should be understood in short, simple statements of 280 characters. Second: the world should be interpreted and confidently understood very quickly. Third: what matters most is whether people immediately agree with and applaud your short, simple, speedy statements. A successful statement is one that lots of people immediately applaud; an unsuccessful statement is one that people immediately ignore or condemn. When you tweet, before you say anything else, you are saying that at some level you agree with these three premises. You are putting on those goggles and seeing the world through them.”
Most of us would deny believing these things, but on Twitter we act as if we believe they are true. How often have we simply accepted that someone’s inability to confidently shoot someone else down in a reply tweet or two was evidence that they had a weak argument, rather than evidence that Twitter is worth very little beyond a place for sharing links and just about the worst imaginable place for getting to the nuance, complexity, or depth of absolutely anything that matters?
2: Impossible to Control: the Worst of All Worlds
If one has a huge Twitter account, there are definite upsides. One can influence discourse at scale. One can post a crowdfunding link and raise a lot of money very quickly. One can publicize anything that one feels is important. One can ask a question in the morning and sometimes be discussing it with Glenn Beck or Tucker Carlson by evening, or in the next few days. The downsides are that it’s nearly impossible to have meaningful conversations amidst the noise, the constant flood of DMs and emails, and the knowledge that one can never be certain if one is being used for one’s platform.
If one has a tiny Twitter account, likewise there are good and bad points. Good: enormous opportunity for meaningful conversations and meeting people. Bad: no real opportunity to publicize or influence anything that matters to you.
My particular situation on Twitter is that I have a medium-sized personal account, one that gets extremely high levels of interaction.
This presents me with all the downsides of both huge and tiny accounts. Managing it requires me to be someone I never wanted to be—someone who has to mute/block liberally just to stay sane, and who has to ignore people a lot. I have learned that many people don’t like to have friends who disagree with them even a little, but I am not one of those people. However, Twitter is set up to be the worst possible way to have difficult or challenging conversations, especially ones that require nuance.
Additionally, my Twitter account caused me to have parasocial relationships with many people who didn’t understand that they were in a parasocial relationship with me. I would sometimes get long emails of contrition about a twitter spat, and felt I couldn’t answer. The only honest answer would be cruel: Hi, thanks for your seven paragraphs of heartfelt contrition about our spat. Unfortunately, my twitter life is so crowded and busy that I have no idea who you are or what argument you’re referring to. It just didn’t register to me. Please send me your Twitter handle so I can unblock you. I’m sorry that something that made you do deep self-reflection and profoundly upset you meant nothing to me.
I never, ever, ever, ever wanted to be someone who had this kind of relationship with even a single other human being, much less many of them. It happened without my understanding or intention. I can’t go back and make it not have happened, but I can damn sure stop it.
3: Self-Care. I Have No Need to Torture Myself.
Now that Roe has been overturned, the inevitable is occurring and rape victims are among those wishing to terminate who are being denied the opportunity. A story about a 10-year-old rape victim was the biggest topic on the last day that I was reading Twitter. (Note: the story is entirely plausible to me. 10 year olds get raped, including me when I was ten, and plenty of them can get pregnant. Pregnancy is possible beginning just before the first menstrual period. I was nine when I got my period, and most of my friends were ten or eleven. Having said that, the story hasn’t been vetted sufficiently for me to fully believe in its veracity. Just because it’s entirely plausible, predictable, and inevitable that a story just like it will happen, many times, doesn’t mean that this particular story happened. My Bayesian analysis puts it at 70% probability of factual status, no higher.)
In response to this story, two things happened that were depressing and demoralizing to an extreme degree. One did not surprise me; the other did. Supply your own “not alls” — if you’re a Christian and the next few paragraphs don’t apply to you, fine; they don’t apply to you.
The first, a particular type of Christian showing their true colors, was not surprising.
I already knew that the real reason why abortion infuriates most of them is that they see it as a woman weaseling out of her deserved punishment for having sex. I already knew that they were perfectly willing to punish (yes, punish—which is why the word “mercy” was used; mercy is what keeps people from getting the full punishment they deserve) raped children because their political enemies upset them. I already knew that there really are people who hate the other political team so much that they’re perfectly willing to let raped children be sacrificed, even the ones who will be forced to share custody with their rapists (a reality in more than a few US states). The Christian right raised me and I was well aware of how they think. I knew that the “children are a blessing” stuff was so much nonsense.
That doesn’t mean that wallowing in the reality is healthy for me. And I fully expect our media to find and cover every case of a raped child being denied a termination, so the topic is going to come up over and over again.
The one that did surprise me was this: I saw dozens of tweets from seemingly sane and normal people, people tweeting under their real names with their real business websites (a real estate agent, a dating coach, several others) linked in their profiles, often with hashtags attesting to their love of Jesus and America, asking how we know that the pregnant 10 year old was raped.
I repeat myself: they were asking, with neither irony nor awareness of how thoroughly they’ve swallowed the lies of the movement to advance normalization of pedophilia, how we know that a pregnant 10-year-old was raped.
How do we know that the 10-year-old child didn’t consent to the sex that got her pregnant?
They asked that question because they believe two things: one, that children can and do consent to sex; and two, that females who consent to sex deserve their punishment, rather than weaseling out of it by getting an abortion.
I knew pedophilia normalization had progressed quite far. I didn’t know it had gotten this far. And it would be an act of self-hatred to continue to subject myself to these things. In writing my extensive essay on this topic, I did everything I could, put everything on the line. I owe the world nothing beyond the psychological autopsy I already did on myself, naked and in public.
That’s all you get.
4: Never Really Being Alone: Fooling Myself
After a long period of controlling Twitter by only using it one weekend a month, I consciously decided to stay on it through the winter. I live alone and work from home. My area still had vaccine and mask mandates to do almost anything, and I knew it would be a long, lonely, depressing winter. It was, and the sense of “company” was helpful. It kept me alive—but it did so in the same way that a diet of only candy will keep someone alive. Yes, the calories will sustain life, but at tremendous cost and enormous damage to overall health.
One of the major ways this happened to me is that I lost my ability to ever really be alone. With the sense that over 16,000 people are reachable at any moment, just by pulling the phone out of one’s pocket, everything becomes performative. Cook a healthy meal for myself? Tweet a picture. Take a walk through the pastoral beauty in which I live? Tweet another picture. Feel restless, irritable, lonely, discontented, or anxious? Find a moronic blue check to QT and dunk on. Bothered by a memory of the bullshit from college that I’m still paying off the debt for? Write a quick thread telling one of those stories and bask in the dopamine hit of approval from strangers.
I have a long way to go to become the person I want to be, and making peace with myself by being truly alone is a necessary step. Twitter, at least in my situation, prevents it.
5: The Fragmentation of Developmental Trauma
This is the most complex reason, and many of you will probably not understand it. Developmental trauma is fragmenting. Developmental trauma makes it very, very hard to be a whole, unified person—a person with stable mood states whose feelings, thoughts, and views originate from integrity. (I am using the word integrity here to mean wholeness, being in one piece; not the way that word is typically used, as a synonym for “honesty.”)
Twitter is a powerfully fragmenting medium. In even a ten-minute stint on Twitter, a high-interaction account might respond to five people posting about good news and five people posting about bad or even tragic news; three news stories about genocide or other genuinely outraging situations; two funny or heartwarming videos, a couple of insider jokes, and a couple of pop culture references. One can hit every emotion on the 1 to 10 scale from rage to joy, easily, and in a busy day on twitter, could easily hit every point on the scale multiple times. Constant emotional whiplash is the Twitter norm, not the exception.
The emotional whiplash of Twitter is not healthy, but neither is the only way to use it without emotional whiplash—by not actually feeling anything about the words, images, and videos you see. There is no way to do Twitter actively that is healthy, in my opinion, and this is especially true for people like me, who are deeply fragmented and have a lot of healing work to do in order to better unify ourselves.
What Do I Expect To Change?
Recently, I had a trusted friend change my password and took a Twitter break. Unlike previous breaks, I intended this one to be a dry-run at deleting Twitter permanently. As such, I made changes intended towards orienting myself in new directions—away from social media. I’ve spent more time with friends in real life, meditated for longer, exercised more, written more, read two great books, had a really excellent idea that may prove pivotal for my career, drawn more, done more Python and R coding challenges, kept my apartment cleaner, slept better.
Most importantly, I’ve liked myself more.
Will I Ever Come Back to Twitter?
Probably not, but I’ve learned not to say “never.” If I ever have a major crisis in the future, it would definitely be a good emergency ripcord to pull. For example, if I fall on hard times and I’m about to be homeless, I might avail myself of the option to crowdfund a month’s expenses to buy myself more job-hunting time. Major good news—eventually becoming a foster parent or buying a house or such—will be things I end up writing about here.
If You Like Reading My Substack….
I’m not on Twitter anymore, so my Substack is going to sink or swim without its “content creator” to promote it. If you think something I write is worth reading, please spread the link around. I continue to offer free subscriptions to anyone who can’t afford a paid one. Just email me, no questions asked. hollymathnerd at gmail.
If You and I were Mutuals for a Long Time….
Thank you. My time on Twitter wasn’t all bad. I learned a lot from many, many people, and I appreciate all of you. Please email me if you’d like to stay in touch.
I know you are off Twitter, but thought this thread would give you a laugh: