Surviving 2020 on Twitter

I’m a political junkie, perhaps in some ways more now than ever. And yet, I’m posting very little about the 2020 election on Twitter. An old friend with similar political compulsions asked how I’m doing it. The answer is ironically too long for Twitter, so here goes.

Reduced my Twitter political inputs

Step 1 was to simply reduce the amount of political stuff that I see when I go to Twitter. I see all kinds of other wonderful stuff instead! What I did:

  • Unsubscribe from all ‘news’ feeds on twitter—@nytimes, @cnn, etc. I use other mechanisms (email, actually visiting a website) to get them daily at most. More generally, I aggressively turn off all news notifications on my phone. If the missiles launch and I need to hug my loved ones, someone will text me.
  • Unsubscribe from people I don’t know personally. For me, that’s basically all celebrites (except Lin-Manuel) but if that sounds too aggressive, you can Marie Kondo your follows with the help of the Tokimeki Unfollow tool. Two (small) exceptions for me:
    • Have they taught me something I didn’t know, because they’re giving me diverse perspectives not in my personal network? That can be troubling/non-joyful, but still valuable.
    • Have they given me opportunities for real-world action that you can’t get in some other way? For me, this is primarily local organizations — several San Francisco bike, transit, and YIMBY activists. (I find this to almost never be the case from national media, because the opportunities for practical action are too limited.)
  • Turn off pure retweets with the Turn Off Retweets tool. In my experience, pure retweets are highly likely to be more angry/emotional, and less informative. Yes, there was some FOMO here. I got over it very quickly. If it is important, I see it eventually.
  • Mute (aka filter) political words aggressively. Here are Twitter’s instructions. My word list: all the primary candidate’s names; Trump; President; debate. I’m sure I’ll add more.

(optional) Replace with better news sources

I still feel the need for a lot of politics news. I subscribe to them via non-Twitter mechanisms. This is local as much as possible, or in some cases national news for very specific needs. For example, I still very much feel the need to understand global warming, so that I can target my giving in that space, so I read heated.world and the Washington Post’s Energy 202.

I use Feedbin to subscribe to newsletters (and yes, some RSS feeds still) so that they stay out of my email inbox. (Most of the same ‘aggressively unsubscribe’ applies to my email inbox too…)

(hard, but helpful) come to terms with the world as it is, and act in that framework

At some point in the past few years, I accepted that I’m going to have a baseline level of anger about the state of the world, and that I have to focus on what I can change and let go of what I can’t. (Twitter anger is the latter.) So what can I change? Where is my anger productive?

I’ve found that doing things offline—for me, mostly giving money—really helps. In particular, giving to causes that seek systemic (usually, that means political/government) change like 350.org and local activist groups, and giving a lot, and regularly. This, frankly, makes it a lot easier for me to ignore anger online — each new tweet is not likely to make me be more angry, or give more, because I’m already basically giving what I can. Being confident about that really reduced my FOMO when I started filtering aggressively.

I hear from non-parents/non-startup-founders that physical-world activism (door-knocking, phone banking, local gov meeting-attending, etc.) can be great in this way too but sadly I can’t confirm :(

(I also want to acknowledge that, in the current state of the world, ‘letting go’ gets harder the less privilege you have. I have no great response to that, except to say that I empathize and am trying to fight for you where and how I can.)

Improving my outputs

Having done all that, here’s how I try to improve the Twitter environment for others:

  • If I must RT or otherwise share politics news, I only quote tweet. I try to add useful context. What can I add that others can’t? If I can’t add something, if I’m just amplifying anger, I try to shut up instead.
  • If I must be angry, I’ve tried to follow a rule that I only express that offline if I am also telling other people who are angry how to constructively address the problem. I don’t just say “I’m so mad about global warming”, say “I’m mad about global warming, here’s what I’m doing to help fix it, you can too“. If I don’t have a ‘here’s what I’m doing’ to add to it … I go back to ‘figure out what I can do’.

This isn’t perfect

Twitter has made me a literally better person, because it has exposed me to viewpoints I don’t have in my daily life that have made me more empathetic to others. It has changed my politics, making me vastly more open to systemic critiques of US center-left politics. So I’m reluctant to say ‘use it less, particularly for politics’. But I feel like it’s the only way to stay sane in 2020.

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