Columnist Says Twitter Has Become a Prison

Matt Lewis, a columnist for The Week and a media contributor to The Daily Caller, is hitting chords today with a column titled, “Why I hate Twitter.” NBC Political Director Chuck Todd called his story a “compelling case” for why Twitter is like high school. Author David Limbaugh, brother of conservative bigmouth Rush Limbaugh, swallowed the story whole. “I learned during the Fluke kerfuffle that the block button was my friend,” he reacted on Twitter this morning.

Naturally detractors chimed in. “Guys, the economy may be tanking but we need to focus on the important matters,” wrote conservative blogger Ben Howe on Twitter. “Like how people on Twitter are super duper mean.”

Party lines aside, Lewis says he’s received more positive private feedback from prominent opinion leaders on this piece than nearly any other he has written. “I can’t tell you how many smart and successful people have reached out to me today to tell me they feel the same way,” he told FishbowlDC in an extensive email exchange. “As I have learned from all the emails I received today, a lot of other folks who once embraced the Twitter community have already begin distancing themselves from it.”

Twitter as a Dark Place

In recent weeks, Lewis’ feed has been a virtual cage fight with some conservative bloggers, such as Howe, joking about him having sex with animals. Which part tipped Lewis over the edge of thinking Twitter was still a sane and reasonable place? In his column, he writes, “It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it happened — but at some point, Twitter became a dark place. It’s a lot like the transformation of the 1960s. It started out being about free love, sharing ideas, and changing the world, but somehow we ended up being more about Altamont and Charles Manson… What was once an inspiring place that gave you a competitive advantage became a prison.”

While the precise moment or insult is unclear, likely all of it over the past year contributed to his declaration that his relationship with Twitter is on the outs.

No, he won’t be leaving. But he will be preserving his “inner artist” by 1) Utilize Twitter lists, following only those he finds “interesting or inspiring”  2) blocking those who want to mock or otherwise engage him in verbal warfare. “I’ll try to use whatever tools available that can empower me to discover new ideas, while also avoiding the negativity and bitterness and noise,” he told FBDC. “Blocking is what you do when you try to weed out the bad seeds, but remain yoked to Twitter. I’m advocating that people should step back a bit from Twitter, take breaks from it, etc.” 3) Generally refrain from conversation or debates.

Lewis says he has never enjoyed the fight. “I’ve never liked arguing,” he said. “Debate and discussion are another matter. But I will probably be doing less of that on Twitter. I’m not sure this medium lends itself to thoughtful debate.”

Lewis says there are no easy answers here, but feels strongly the time to do something different has come. “I really think that as writers, it’s incumbent upon us to guard our creativity and our sanity. This means drawing lines and thinking about our writing process (which, I think, encompasses everything in our lives — including social media),” he said. “I don’t want this to be something I do for a year or two — I want to have a career. So I have to do whatever I can to preserve the things I love about politics and the creative process — to keep the ‘artist within’ happy. I also don’t want to end up a bitter old man.”
Give Peace a Chance
He says he wants to find a way to adjust. “Twitter was once an amazing place where you could spend a lot of time and fully engage the community,” he said. “Sadly, those days have changed. We can either continue on, allowing the angry voices to drag us down with them, or we can flee the medium like a once-great city. Or we can adapt and overcome.”

If you can’t tell how bad it’s gotten lately, Lewis, incredibly, turns to a Holocaust survivor for wisdom: “There’s a great quote by psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl that I’ve been trying to follow, of late: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”