The Twitter Travails

–Vanity, Jealousy, and everything in between

Twitter provides us with a wonderful platform to discuss/confront societal problems. We trend Justin Bieber instead.

― Lauren Leto

I could write a book on my love-hate relationship with Twitter. But I choose to keep it short, like Twitter is. Twitter, with its 140-letter character limits aimed to be a world and society-changing platform.

One can get access to celebrities directly, following them and reacting to their news, views, and rants. Twitter has made the world the common man’s oyster. Official government news, announcements, and comments about movers and shakers – through their ‘official handles’ directly connect with their ‘followers’. The most followed people have more than 10 Million followers.

The platform went through an upheaval starting with the US 2016 elections. Fake news and political canards flew thick and fast in the elections, and for the first time, Twitter along with Facebook proved the power of social media to swing an election by influencing micro-targets. Major issues like Make America Great Again, Black Lives Matter, Me too, and the January 6 Insurrection got dissected and weaponized into decisive swings and action among people on either side of the aisle.

Fake news driven by dogma, fuelled by passionate rhetoric, fuels binary thinking. People who participate tend to react than respond, getting into slang matches, often personal and then the downslide happens.  This extends further, using ‘hashtags’, to propel and fuel a topic or a point of view, which then reaches a volume and becomes a ‘trending topic.’ A video or a text content could go viral.

One of the offshoots is the meme-making industry. There are specialist meme makers – often viral, witty, satirical, and sometimes, venomous memes, and spiral into ‘trending topics’.

I switched on Twitter as a necessary means to reach writer, reader and publishing communities. It worked well for me, but the distraction of ‘trends’ and the tweets on the feed is a dirty magnet, attracting me to potentially explosive conversations. The urge to react, considering the taunts (again, the mistake of getting consumed, is on the beholder, in this case, me) was overwhelming. So, I switched off.  It is a decision I choose to live with these days, but the impact of the cesspool does not leave me easily. So I decided to get it off my chest.

The whole atmosphere on Twitter today is a chaotic, toxic environment of celebrities, newsmakers, and trolls, trying to run down each other. The devolution of a democratic platform that started with a noble intention is what I call the ‘Twitter travails’.

These are personal views, so I won’t apologize. There is a more balanced forum that exchanges views and despite differences, the exchanges are open-minded and fair.  I wish short form-social media would be like that, but it is not, so I would be living in a fool’s paradise if I believe so.

Passion and Dogma:

A common human has things to say. The ‘things to say’ are quintessential opinions. Opinions are funny, in the sense that they are perspectives without facts. They are instinctive, emotional, and biased, and form the basis of reactions. The common human seldom dons the thinking hat, for the verbiage of the reaction, which we shall call ‘opinion’ is a culmination of fear, frustration, insecurity, bias, and conditioning. The ingredients of opinions are the basal negatives of human instinct.

The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.

― Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays

The key operating word in Bertrand’s quote is ‘passion’. Passion is the fundamental premise to opinion, and it defangs the ‘rational conviction’.  Religion and politics, especially in the cesspool of equitable, untethered, and undeterred access – which today is called ‘free speech’, have armies of passionate believers who track and troll intending to shut down the contrarians.

In my article on ‘Binary Humans’, I had written about how do passion fuelled by dogma creates a whirlpool of reactions and counter-reactions, leading to an explosive atmosphere. The passionate propensity of the trolls and followers to precipitate any news that scores for them. The emotional chain is not broken, but wave after wave of canards, myths, and fake news is floated. This is no less than propaganda, well-oiled and organized, almost Gobbelsian in magnitude.

It might sound alarmistic, but passion is blind and so is anger. When these two causes of blindness combine, it is total darkness.  We see the lack of dignity and politeness in responses, with trending hashtags, being ‘called names’. To score a point and have the last word at the cost of human dignity is exactly why the cesspool of Twitter has become toxic.

Any crack that is visible in human society is yanked open, and salt is rubbed without mercy on the wounds. Religion, science, politics, race, and nation – all these are the labels of identity that the leaders and their passionate followers wear, and the proverbial binary yardstick is applied.

I am not saying that there are good, utopian, meaningful, and open-minded conversations. They are. But they are like a little speck, swept aside in a feed that washes over like a tempestuous sea.

The heroes and the villains

The second dimension to this toxic twitter is the celebrities and trolls. Unlike other social media – including Facebook and Instagram, Twitter is considered more ‘official’.  Celebrities have two legs to stand on – their fans or followers, and their vanity. The followers feed their vanity and the celebrities pander to the followers. This is a normal phenomenon going back to the pre-Internet era.

But there is a big difference. The road to fame has gotten easier, and more importantly, more instantaneous. We see overnight celebrities, based on single events.

A kind of banalization of celebrity has occurred: we are now offered an instant, ready-to-mix fame as nutritious as packet soup.

― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

While celebrities have Instagram handles and Facebook pages, Twitter is where the real flesh-and-blood action happens. I am not sure why, celebrities have a thing for Twitter and the trolls are looking for blood. Now, they say, any news is good news, because celebrities love to ride the ways. Their followers create the high tide based on the type of news, for the celebrity or against.

The instant celebrity is a product of the Internet Era. They have unlimited access to their followers. But for every vain hero, there is a vicious villain on the prowl.

Celebrities often think that social media is an apparent safety net. The physical distance yet the electronic proximity. If you consider that there is a virtual fence, there are three types of followers who jump over this fence.

Cyberstalkers and Trolls:

The first one is the fan – the fanatic one – who resorts to stalking. Cyberstalking is an issue that celebrities deal with. More often, the Twitter handle of celebrities are run by their social media managers, but the fans don’t know that. The depth of fanaticism can obliterate the physical distance that is considered a safety net. Cyberstalking has the power to mentally harass the celebrity despite the safety perceived through physical distance.  Cyberstalking can happen to even common, non-celebrity participants of Twitter.

The second one is the troll. A troll has two specific characteristics. They almost always have an opposite point of view. They also act like cyber-stalkers

Both cyber stalkers and trolls have one common characteristic. They are insecure people. But cyber stalkers stalk because of their obsessive nature, while a troll does it because of jealousy. The insecurity of many people today turns them into passionate but harmless participants. Cyberstalkers and trolls are a subset of these insecure people.

They only feed off of self-righteous rhetorical argument, trolls—even plain old reason doesn’t stand a chance.

― A.D. Aliwat, In Limbo

The short point here is that cyberstalking and trolling are done by people with broken minds. One cannot ignore the impact that they can cause both mentally and physically, even if their intrusion or assault may not be physical. The compulsive need of celebrities to share and engage with their followers puts them in a vulnerable position.  This is where ‘vanity’ meets ‘jealousy’, a toxic cocktail of virtual, social interaction.

It’s dangerous to fool yourself into believing the online world is ‘virtual’ and the person behind the keyboard can’t inflict real-life harm.

― Ginger Gorman, Troll Hunting: Inside the World of Online Hate and its Human Fallout

Trolls have multiple roles. They can be the bloodhounds of those ‘passionate dogmatic’ leaders (the ones we saw in the earlier part), individuals with no agenda, or fans of celebrities. But trolls have one thing in common – they are messengers of hate. They carry hate in their heart. This hatred comes from self-loathing, which in turn comes from their insecurity.

Trolls can gang up and have pitched battles, much like the one on the streets. We can see this in ‘trending topics’ of opposing themes. This is where polarization begins. Polarization is the ultimate goal for those who want to succeed at any cost.


Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian
Ashok Subramanian is a Poet and Fiction Author based in Chennai, India. Ashok has been writing blogs and content since 2011. From technology and management articles, and to website content, Ashok has written articles on businesses, finance, funding, capital markets, management, strategy, and sustainability over the years. His poems and articles, which were published in blogs got a publishing turn when he had time in hand to put together his poetry and short story collections. He publishes short stories and poetry reviews regularly in his blog. His published works so far: a) Maritime Heritage of India - Contributing Writer - b) Poetarrati Volume 1 &2: Self-published on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback; Ranked #8 in Amazon Hot Releases in May 2020. c) A City Full of Stories: A Short fiction Collection based on people and events of Mumbai: Self-published in Amazon in Kindle and Paperback. d) Poetarrati Ponder 2020 - A collection of Poem Reviews He is currently working with his creative advisor and publisher on his next poetry collection. His second short story collection about Kolkata, India, and his first novel are in the manuscript stage. He is a graduate in Engineering from Madurai Kamaraj University, India, and a post-graduate in Management from IIM Calcutta, India. He currently runs Strategic Advisory and Investment Banking companies headquartered in Bengaluru. He lives with his wife Gayathri and son Anirudh in Chennai, India.

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  1. A comprehensive view on twitter, where author has brought out points effectively and resonate my views to . so, it leads to a Primary Q: why then twitter? answer lies in the name twitter , where a tweet from a bird is always sweet . they hardly spell bad tone . I think that would be in most order but who can change the world? so, my solution is I should remain away from heat. ofcoure there would be people to drag me into their net for the purposes set by them .

    I always wished that the a tweet should have limit like within Nation or overseas. we a citizen may like to deliberate internally , which may not be for others. this discussion may be required to evolve a strategy after understanding issues or problems. some of the conversations may be in raw form . i am sur that this would be issue with all nations