How (Not) To Use Twitter

Things Twitter should be used for:

  • Expressing opinions without inciting hate
  • Keeping up to date on current affairs
  • GCSE memes (only thing that will get you through Year 11)
  • Chrissy Teigen

Things Twitter shouldn’t be used for:

  • War

The warnings of social media’s dangers in 2019 is borderline proverbial, but in true spirit of embracing the cliché, I will say it again: social media is a dangerous place. Instagram is a knavish archive of airbrush and underage girls dancing provocatively to ‘Depacito’, Facebook is looming with the threat of stumbling across a minion meme on your mum’s wall (and presumably for millennials, the delicious news that your ex is now engaged), and of course venturing onto Twitter may find you in the middle of an insidious political crossfire. Of all the most baffling and bizarre things the Internet has facilitated, of which there are a plenitude (WikiHow has provided us with some perplexing gems such as the article ‘How to trick people into thinking you’re possessed’) the white noise and shrapnel spewing from the White House since 2016 is by far one of the most pernicious.

Trump’s displays of political buffoonery on Twitter have received much lampooning and scrutiny since their advent in 2009, much in the same spirit as the UK uniting in a fit of hysterics upon hearing of Theresa May’s wheat field shenanigans. A typical tweet from Trump has come to look something like this:

‘While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are Intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!’ (November 28, 2018)

In just 280 characters he manages to stitch together a quilt of inflated truths, defensive posturing and accusations of moral McCarthyism. Brevity is the soul of wit.

Earlier that year, Trump entertained the possibly of nuclear war:

‘North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on this desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted, food starved regime inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is much bigger & more powerful than his, and my Button works!’ (January 3, 2018)

This tweet is a glorified key board smash; the energy of his stirring tantrum is tangible through the screen. Eliot A Cohen, who advised the Republican former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, tweeted in response, ‘Spoken like a petulant 10-year-old. But one with nuclear weapons – for real – at his disposal.’

Despite the lack of political astuteness in Trump’s tweets, it is greatly dangerous to dismiss them as the blubbering nonsense of a rampant fool. I am not of the opinion that behind these masterpieces of random emphatic capitalisation and poor grammar is a mind of Machiavellian mastery, however he is complicit in a war of words which holds far more severity than May’s rogue but harmless agrarian frolicking. They are rather telling of the contemporary Orwellian society of ‘post-truth’ politics. Trump’s tweets engender the political sub-culture of obfuscating the truth to serve a larger rhetoric; this is politics divorced from the idea of policy in favour of appeals to emotion, in Trump’s case, inciting anger and confusion to further his own self-serving agendas. Social media, paradoxical in nature, has phenomenally deepened the conflict of our world. Simultaneously it facilitates the globalisation, the sharing of ideas, intersectionality and increased tolerance as well as tearing a democracy apart at the seams and intensifying hostilities between political adversaries. There is such an immediate hostility in the polarity of ‘Trump is great’ and ‘Trump is terrible.’ But is it a frightening plunge into a new wave of authoritarianism, or is it merely rhetorical tripe? Trump’s perpetual traffic of half-truths makes it exceedingly hard to tell.

Challenges to the democratic health of a state are not limited to the exacerbated polarisation and the general atmosphere of uncertainty, but also in the threat of cyber warfare. While terrorism and weapons of mass destruction still remain a seismic global threat in terms of destructive impact, cyber warfare ranked number 5 in the projected 2019 Global Risks Report in terms of likelihood. Samuel Woolley, of the Digital Intelligence Lab at the Institute for the Future talks of “computational propaganda,” which he defines as the spread of disinformation and politically motivated attacks designed using “algorithms, automation, and human curation.’ Alarmingly, he believes that the impact of social media stretches beyond the political design of one tweet, expressing that entire regimes can be cultivated online, targeting and exposing individuals to subliminal political messages which, in effect, ‘[assail] foundational parts of democracy: the press, open civic discourse, the right to privacy, and free elections.’

All sounds very far-fetched and Black Mirror-esque, doesn’t it? However, in the months running up to the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee was hacked in a systematic cyberattack; documents were leaked and fake news bots propagated false information across a number of different platforms. In a world vulnerable to such covert political mechanisms such as this, where does that leave the value of democracy and the passage of information through society? Who can we trust?

Perhaps, it is not Trump’s Big and Powerful Nuclear Button we should be cautious of, but the modest little blue and white ‘Tweet’ button that most of us use every day.