Twitter is weak and it’s decadent. It needs a strong leader
Oh great, another journalist with opinions about social media. Please do tell us more
I imagine I would have hated life in democratic Athens. Forced to sit in the ekklesia, muttering to myself as Pericles droned on about how fantastic it is to have the state’s decisions made by the literal morons around me.
It’s not that I’m opposed to democracy, of course, it’s just that highly-political societies and groups are inevitably going to be toxic and dominated by obsessives. In Athens, all free adult males had a real voice in government, and there was stigma attached to being apolitical (the etymological root of ‘idiot’), but the system could also be vicious, mean-spirited and aggressive towards neighbours. They may have invented democracy, but they also invented ostracism.
Similarly, as James Marriott pointed out last week ’On holiday in Venice last week I saw the bocche dei leone in the city’s public squares — stone lions’ mouths into which citizens once posted anonymous accusations and slanders. Almost all pre-modern societies have had some mechanism of social shaming and ostracism to enforce the community’s norms. The town squares of our ancestors were places of public humiliation and punishment.’
Marriott was making the point that public forms are not necessarily a positive thing, and that ‘the idea that society needs a town square is a fallacy of recent invention. It is not necessary that citizens debate with one another on digital networks of vast scale. Successful democracies require voters to live in relative ignorance of one another.’
Whereas readers of different newspapers once went about their lives in cheerful ignorance of what their neighbours were discussing, now we are overexposed to all the worst elements of the other side. No society can handle this level of political intimacy, and the effect is to produce what Twitter users often call the ‘hellscape’ of the site, characterised by viciousness and bullying.
It can be unenjoyable. Just as Athens had ostracism, we have the ratio or, worse still, the prospect of seeing your name trending, which is rarely good unless you’re Jeremy Corbyn and your legion of fans are still lamenting your downfall.