Fighting on Twitter Doesn’t Have to Make You a Loser

Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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40 Responses

  1. KenB says:

    Careful — I entered the political netosphere 15 years ago from the door to the left, then started actually reading & talking with conservatives and libertarians, and now I don’t believe anything anymore.Report

    • pillsy in reply to KenB says:

      I’ve had almost exactly the opposite experience, entering near the middle and steadily being moved left, as much by conversations with conservatives and libertarians as anything else.

      And not because they were all jerks (though I can’t deny some real jackasses contributed), but because a lot of the ones who were (as far as one can tell based on an impression over the ‘Net) really solid people clearly articulated values that don’t resonate with me in the slightest.

      So you know.Report

      • KenB in reply to pillsy says:

        Was that due to your opinions changing, or more just recalibration of your position on the political spectrum?Report

        • pillsy in reply to KenB says:

          It was a mix. I’ve always been really liberal on social issues, but didn’t necessarily realize that. The biggest contributor to the recalibration side of things was probably the debate over gay rights, though. I’ve always found the arguments against that not only wrong, but mystifying.

          I’ve gotten a lot less interested in fiscal conservatism.

          Oh, and I went from being hardcore in favor of gun control to squishily opposed, but that’s hardly an example of leftward motion.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to KenB says:

      This sums it up for me also. I come from a seriously liberal family, mom, and grandpa born and raised in the Berkeley hills. I don’t think my beliefs have really changed, more clarified, but the Left has moved very left. I think cultural hegemony has done this in large part.Report

    • Jesse in reply to KenB says:

      I strongly believe this is a 50/50 thing – since, I’ve argued with conservatives and libertarians for over a decade, and only become more sure of my social democratic leanings. I’ve become a little softer on free trade, but that’s about itReport

  2. North says:

    A fine post but as an internet old timer who made his bones debating in comment sections on blogs it makes my skin crawl to think that tumblr, Facebook and urk… twitter, are where people are learning to argue now. God(ess?) Help us.Report

    • Em Carpenter in reply to North says:

      Fair enough (though I would not say I learned how to argue on Twitter). But really, having engaged on tumblr, FB and Twitter, I can say that the most constructive dialogue is by far on Twitter. FB is too personal with family and friends and crazy Aunt Edna, and tumblr… well, it is gross (I mean, just an absolute pool of filth.) Twitter has some very smart people and if you follow the right ones, you get some good analytical brain exercise.Report

      • North in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        Character limits are a diamond hard pass for me. Pure poison. I tend to be verbose and in my uninformed opinion that mandated brevity poisons everything resembling thought on twitter from the idiocy of hashtags, the mendacity of gif posting to the pulsing need for brief clever quips that can fit into a post. Oh and the insanity of the twitter rant; if your thoughts dont fit into twitter post size then why the hell are you posting on twitter???Report

        • Em Carpenter in reply to North says:

          I actually enjoy the challenge of finding a way to make a complete and cogent point within the confines of the character limit. It’s good practice for legal writing, where “concise” is the gold standard.Report

          • I was taught that good legal writing meets a “three C” test:

            1. Concise
            2. Clear
            3. Convincing

            The best tweets meet this three-part test.Report

            • pillsy in reply to Burt Likko says:

              You make an interesting point, but I feel compelled to push back against it. There are several factors you may not have considered about the unique nature of Twitter as, essentially, a broadcast medium, that suggest the emphasis on brevity is misplaced. In reality… 1/329Report

              • Kazzy in reply to pillsy says:

                Homer: (writing on his hand) Mindy, because of our uncontrollable attraction, I think we should avoid each other from now on.
                Lenny: (writing on his hand) Max, what I did was because of alcohol and anger…
                Guy with huge hand: (writing on his hand) I am tired of these jokes about my giant hand. The first such incidence occurred in 1956 when…Report

          • North in reply to Em Carpenter says:

            Sure abd for professionals concise can mean brief and to the point but for mass conversations concise devolves to dumb, oversimplified, unnuanced and inane far too often. Twitter mobs didn’t spring out of nothing.Report

          • I think I agree with North, Burt, and Em here. Brevity and concision are great, but with North, I’d say the character limit is an invitation to abandon nuance, etc. I remember one person who (in my opinion, from reading his blog) was a very thoughtful writer, but who, when I read his tweets, came off as smug jerk, even when he was making basically the same points.

            However, while I’ve read a few tweets here and there, I’ll admit I’ve never really given twitter a chance.Report

            • The character limit can be invitation to abandon nuance, but if you take it as a creative challenge it can also be a good thing; refining a thought to its absolute bare minimum is always a good writing exercise. I try to think of it like the old composition exercises where they had to take all the articles and connecting phrases out and then re-read and see if you actually needed them or if it was just wordy fluff. So it’s in how you approach it.

              Nuance is a fair point. Happened to me last night with people who I daily interact with, something was taken the wrong way. It was quickly worked out, but even amongst friends who are familiar with things like your humor and sacrasm nuance can get lost really quickly.Report

  3. Em Carpenter says:

    I cannot abide intellectual dishonesty or deliberate obtuseness. Engaging with my ideological opposition has helped me to drill down to the heart of the disagreement in a way that catch phrases and protest signs cannot. It takes a bit of reading between the lines, though, and a willingness to dive beyond the superficial, but doing so also helps me to clarify my own positions. It helps shore up my more nebulous opinions and sometimes knocks out the foundations of others. Even if I don’t change my mind, I often end up on more solid ground, with stronger arguments. In turn, it makes the “other side” either work harder to justify their own beliefs with facts and logic, or weeds out those who cannot. Win/win.

    (I’ll always be liberalish though, for reasons I will probably pontificate about in long form at some point.)Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    What stands out to me is that I could have probably written more or less the same piece but in describing Ordinary Times. That indicates to me it is less about the what/where and more about the who.Report

  5. Mike Schilling says:

    Great piece. I’ve been doing this online since Usenet days, and since many of us live in bubbles, it is one of the best ways to learn about how the other N% think and feel. (Which can be both educational and depressing as hell.)Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    OT but Cosby was convicted on all counts.Report

  7. Pinky says:

    I don’t mean this snottily, so sorry if it comes off this way, but are you saying that up until 6 months ago you thought that conservatives hate poor people – or at minimum, you hadn’t encountered the argument in favor of small government and charity at the local and private levels?Report

    • Em Carpenter in reply to Pinky says:

      That was a bit of hyperbole, but I will say I have heard a lot of talk about lazy people, bootstraps etc that had little regard for individual circumstances, with local solutions and smaller government argued more as an afterthought than a motivating factor.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        OK. Just figuring out the new girl. Welcome aboard, by the way. I was a couple of days late to that thread.Report

      • atomickristin in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        It’s been my experience that 99.5% of my liberal chums (since I’m more conservative-ish) really do think that anyone who ID’s as conservative or libertarian do so because they hate poor people. But I am who I am politically in large part because I truly think smaller government is better for the poor than big government policies.

        It’s always felt very ironic to me to be lectured by people who are almost always far better off than I am about how I hate the poor.

        Really enjoyed the piece, Em!Report

        • Em Carpenter in reply to atomickristin says:

          Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
          I can only speak for myself here, but I feel like the problem is too big for local and private solutions, and I have my doubts about relying on the generosity of individuals (its surprising how much my liberalism is influenced by a general lack of faith in people- I struggle there). So, if a person is convinced that big government programs are the only way, and someone says “I don’t want my tax dollars paying for…” then assuming ill will is a logical, if lazy, inference. I know enough caring and compassionate conservatives to make me discard that conclusion, even if I was inclined to accept it in the first place.Report

          • atomickristin in reply to Em Carpenter says:

            It’s interesting you say that because that’s very much how I feel as well – a general lack of faith in people leads me to have serious doubts about them being put in charge of government programs and absolutely influences my libertarianism.

            I truly believe that people on both sides of the aisle are very similar, just that we come at the problems from different angles.

            Looking forward to reading more from you!Report

  8. Damon says:

    I live with liberals, socialists, and a variety of left/left of center/left wackos…basically everything that’s left of center. The “republicans” here are basically left of center.

    I go online to read about non leftish opinions. Why would I ever want to engage with folks on social media….it’s the devil. I do it in person. Target rich environment if I want to talk about politics.Report

  9. Michael Drew says:

    I love arguing on Twitter and have had only a few really bruising sequences I really regret – and I’m not anywhere close to adhering to a single one of those four rules (Holy crap, those are TOUGH!). My worst experiences by far have been in comments sections where I can get myself in much more comprehensive, empirically-supported trouble than I can in 280 characters, and endure much more well-crafted and justified assaults upon my character and rhetorical skills. So who knows.

    Kidding aside, these are good (but pretty unobserved on Twitter: don’t expect reciprocity) rules for discourse, and I’m glad you find Twitter to be worthwhile. I was an early evangelist for it in these comments; unfortunately that presaged my own eventual departure-for-the-most-part from this place. For me the immediately obvious value of Twitter was the iterativeness: nowhere else can you get such varied and high-volume interaction on an idea from people who think at the pace of the internet, and with the knowledge often of academia and the professions. Blogs really just can’t compare: the only people at a blog are the people at the blog, whereas everyone’s on Twitter, and on blogs nobody faces a character limit, so people’s thoughts are totally unedited (mine especially). Twitter’s efficiency at clearing ideas can’t be challenged except by another version of it. That being said, most of my interactions on Twitter are with people I used to discuss things with on here. It’s sad, but there it is.Report

  10. I’m just now getting to this thread, Em. The four rules/steps you provide are a really good way to approach many potentially adversarial conversations. I never follow them perfectly, but if I followed them more consistently, I’d probably learn more and others might learn more from me.

    I’ll add something, and this is more about terminology and my own priors than anything substantive you’ve said. I have a personal tendency to dislike framing things as “debate” or “argument.” Not that I’ve never done so, but to me “debate,” “argument,” and other similar terms imply victors and losers in a way that’s not usually helpful. In part, that’s because I’m not a very good “debater” and tend to either lose or get too emotional, which is a form of losing. 90% of that is all on me, of course.Report

    • Em Carpenter in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      I don’t see it quite that way, maybe due to my training and profession. I don’t see argument as a negative; I am “arguing” when I’m in court, strenuously debating opposing counsel point for point in hopes of persuading the judge to see it my way. I suppose there is a “loser”, in a sense, and sometimes that’s me, but I don’t take it personally.
      If I strayed from those rules when arguing in court, I would get my ass handed to me, and I would deserve it.Report

      • I can certainly see argument/debate as good and vital for certain arenas, and I’d say court or other explicitly adversarial contexts qualify. Perhaps there’s a role for it in election-level politics, too, at least in the short term.Report