Reconsidering the lesser (for now) of several toxic hellholes

Greg Bensinger in The New York Times ($) describes a Twitter nightmare scenario under Elon Musk:

Certainly, Twitter could benefit from some improvements to its service. Its rules are enforced unevenly; it is filled with racist trolling, harassment and misinformation. Politicians and celebrities also seem to enjoy a lighter touch from Twitter’s enforcement of its policies against misinformation, despite the evidence that they are more likely to be believed than regular users. Twitter’s usual approach to moderating content has been to slap warning labels on tweets, which are easy to ignore and don’t mitigate the damage done by misinformation.

Before and after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Donald Trump used Twitter to whip his followers into a frenzy. The company rightfully barred Mr. Trump from Twitter for his role in that shameful episode, but it had turned a blind eye to similar behavior for years.

Into that toxic stew comes Mr. Musk. He has called someone he disagrees with “pedo guy,” made jokes about women’s anatomy and was forced to delete a union-busting message aimed at his factory workers — all on the platform he’ll soon own.

Bensinger predicts toxicity if Musk makes good on his promise to loosen content moderation, and expresses the fear of many of us that he’ll reinstate Donald Trump. I don’t credit Joe Biden with the sweet, sweet civilized silence of the past year and a half so much as I credit Trump’s banishment from corporate social media.

Charlie Warzel, who “used to chronicle the way that Twitter’s product inaction created a ‘honeypot for assholes,'” is less downbeat about the platform’s Musky future in The Atlantic ($) – but not by much:

This timeline—the most plausible of the three—is a blend of the dark and the weird ones: In it, he reinstates some accounts like, say, Trump’s, the platform is fundamentally worse for it, and after a few early wins, he loses interest in the day-to-day operations. His early efforts will be exciting for him and maybe even consequential for us but, if 10 years of following Twitter’s content-moderation and management decisions have taught me anything, I am not sure the things he implements are going to yield the kind of results that can compete to keep his attention alongside everything his other companies are doing. And so some small things change but it’s not nearly as dramatic as we envision now.

I have chosen to be ignorant of Elon Musk, largely because my gut tells me his news coverage would make my stomach churn in the same way Trump’s coverage almost killed me for years. But I know enough to sense that it’s probably time for me to start backing away from Twitter in this new “free speech” era, broadcasting there periodically from my platform and doing little else.

Most of my direct activity on Twitter has involved carefully curated circles revolving around faith and baseball. I like interacting with people I choose to face there, mainly other Catholics who aren’t insane. They comprise a de facto community that I’ve needed, and I hope not to chuck it entirely. Because of that community, Twitter – for me, anyway – has become much less of a toxic hellhole in recent months compared with other corporate social media platforms.

It strikes me as a healthy thing, though, to reassess how much I really want to support what could devolve into an even worse toxic hellhole.

Between this and the whole Elon-Musk-buying-Twitter thing, I’m so weary of corporate social media.

Ian Bogost explores how fixing Facebook may be a matter of just making its users pipe down. As the headline on his Atlantic piece says, “People Aren’t Meant to Talk This Much.”

A lot is wrong with the internet, but much of it boils down to this one problem: We are all constantly talking to one another. Take that in every sense. Before online tools, we talked less frequently, and with fewer people. The average person had a handful of conversations a day, and the biggest group she spoke in front of was maybe a wedding reception or a company meeting, a few hundred people at most. Maybe her statement would be recorded, but there were few mechanisms for it to be amplified and spread around the world, far beyond its original context. …

The capacity to reach an audience some of the time became contorted into the right to reach every audience all of the time. The rhetoric about social media started to assume an absolute liberty always to be heard; any effort to constrain or limit users’ ability to spread ideas devolved into nothing less than censorship. But there is no reason to believe that everyone should have immediate and constant access to everyone else in the world at all times.


This may have been one of the last times she willingly wore a dress. We took her shopping yesterday to buy a dress for her confirmation next weekend, and she acted like we were shopping for roof shingles or a urinary catheter.

It is generally best to avoid reading the comments on any given news site or social media venue. But this piece about the surprising online joy of 1980s postpunk and new wave fans – my generation – makes me want to poke through the ruminations under Joy Division and Modern English clips on YouTube.

Moya Lothian-McLean in the Guardian:

On social media, to be silent is to be found wanting. Despite the different registers of specific platforms (Instagram, for example, is all earnest “awareness”, whereas TikTok is laced with a frenetic, theatre-kid energy), all of them depend on compelling users to actively produce and engage with content. In times of crisis, this demand – baked into code in order to ensure profit for tech bosses – has found itself expressed as a moral obligation. In the case of Ukraine, to visibly engage and express solidarity is viewed as akin to enacting it through practical, tangible action. We are not looking away. We are analysing, boosting and amplifying. We are posting through it.

I shouldn’t care. And the number is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. But damn, 150+ likes on one of my tweets is startling. (Strategic callouts to the Twitter feeds of the show and the host helped. And both accounts responded, which delights me no end.)

My weekend is complete.

My broadcasting life

C and I have talked often about blogging, tweeting, and generally how we use the Internet. He likes to comment a lot, usually on Reddit or Facebook these days. I like to post about stuff I’m thinking or reading or listening to; I like to think I’m ambivalent about if or how people react, though I probably care more than I want to admit. Either way, I’m less inclined to engage a whole lot online – partly out of laziness, mainly because my sense of introversion often extends beyond real life to virtual platforms.

“So you’re a broadcaster,” C tells me.

I never though of myself that way, but yeah, I guess I am. I prefer to produce stuff, package it a little, and throw it out there – and if people want to read it, great. If not, whatever. That was kind of my career for almost 30 years. That has generally been how I prefer to play on the Internet.

So, I’ve created a “Broadcast” category for this site, which is what I choose to share on the timeline and on Twitter. Much of it will overlap with what I linkblog; some of it will incorporate random short takes (which almost function as an online variant of the one-sentence journal concept).

(Facebook cross-posting isn’t an option on, but maybe that’s just as well. I don’t post a ton these days on FB.)

Hoping this can finally realize the one-stop-shop “indieweb” idea of posting to one place where I own the content and syndicating it to other platforms – without having to roll out everything I write here to the social media masses.

Update: I’ve turned off the crossposting until a glitch resurfaced this afternoon (Friday 2/11) that posts EVERYTHING I write here to the timeline. I do not want everything here posted to the timeline. Waiting to see if it can be fixed.

This remarkable exchange between Stephen Colbert and singer Dua Lipa about faith is making the social media rounds.

Of course, I’ve seen unpleasant comments on the old Twitter like “I cannot believe that anyone would think he is a Christian. Plus he says he is a Catholic and a Christian. You can’t be both.” 😐

And then there’s this, retweeted by no less than noted evangelical apologist and Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller.

Having identified with all four groups in my lifetime (Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, and evangelical), I’d concur with Dr. Bradley on this.

(To clarify: I think non-Anglican Protestants and evangelicals are capable of articulating their faith. But, as Keller himself notes, “Catholicism is both a popular religion for the masses and yet has nurtured a robust intellectual class. Fundamentalism’s largely anti-intellectual stance has only grown among conservative Christians who are alarmed by the progressive excesses of today’s universities. However, this leaves conservative Protestantism in general with little ability to reach the college-educated and little ability to reflect theologically on our U.S. culture. The cultural ‘captivity’ of evangelicals—the inability to see the difference between biblical beliefs and American culture—is largely due to a lack of evangelical scholarship.")

And I disagree with Colbert on some things, but I love how open, winsome, and intelligent he is about his faith. Very grateful for his witness.

Here’s how to guarantee that I will absolutely block you on Twitter (thus avoiding your horrific content in retweets on my lists): Have “MAGA” in your handle or bio. Or both.

I think I’m done with those on social media who fancy themselves cultural critics and religious authorities.

Yair Rosenberg, in a wonderfully fortuitous piece in his Atlantic newsletter, verbalizes my thoughts far more eloquently than I; granted, he’s talking about people who are critics for a living, but the sentiments can be applied to the self-styled critics among the unwashed digital masses:

“The problem with being a professional critic is that you end up consuming so much culture that you stop processing it like a normal person. …

“I know that my own preferences here are not the norm. But when critics lose sight of why most people consume culture, they start missing what makes most things popular. In their search for significance, they forget about the fun.”

I had forgotten how much I’ve appreciated Andrew Sullivan’s work. As someone said on Twitter, when he’s right, he’s right:

“How can we unscramble our fevered politics without addressing our psychological and spiritual dysfunction? How do we heal a culture we are constantly distracting ourselves from? How do we break out of passive narcissism into more active, sustaining social lives? …

“…we will not fix our politics until we heal our culture; and we will not heal our culture until we have regained control of our technology, which is currently driving us mad.”

Read the whole piece here.

The cloudy, subfreezing pall have made this day really depressing really fast. Plus I’m already sick of social media (including in the New Year, maybe because I started feeling dependent on the likes and attention again. This can’t bode well for the rest of 2022.

Wading back into the timeline

Tiptoeing into the stream after being sporadic at best with sharing posts on the timeline there. I’ve re-followed a whole bunch of people in my enthusiasm, though I may winnow down my timeline again after a few days, just to keep things manageable. I had forgotten that there’s some interesting conversation and pleasant folks there.

Overall, it’s a terrific community that prides itself on its niceness. And rightly so. But I’m also reminded of some of the political correctness and hypersensitivity to some things – plus the conversation can skew heavily toward First World, Apple-obsessed techie concerns that don’t interest me – that made me worry about getting too wrapped up in the place.

I realized that I tried too hard to fit in at times; I would perceive slights here and there, then post things I would regret later. That’s on me, not on; that just means I need to edit more closely what I see and what I contribute.

The bulk of my blog posts (like this one) will remain off the M.b timeline, but I’m happy to periodically engage there again.

Really loved this post from @jabel as I continue to figure out how my annual New Year refresh will manifest itself in 2022.

Enjoying poking through the community anew and finding voices I’ve missed.

I can’t decide whether it’s healthy to follow a Twitter epidemiologist who alternates between latest developments in terrible COVID strains and rage over people not taking any of this seriously.

Been posting a lot the past few days on social media and here. Starting to add some of my blog posts again to the community ether after taking a hiatus from it.

It could be that I’m looking to renew a sense of connection with the wider world at the outset of this year. Or maybe I’m just trying to avoid decluttering my office. Hard to say.

Charlie Warzel on social media: “What if the internet so frequently feels miserable, and makes those of us posting and reacting feel miserable, because so many people are miserable in the first place? What if we all absorb that misery at scale online and, sometimes unwittingly, inflict it on one another?”

Happy to report a peaceful Christmas Eve that started with a lovely vigil Mass at our parish, then the decoration of our humble tabletop fake tree, followed by a dinner of home-baked milk rolls, arroz caldo, and a tankard of coquito.

No photos. I leave my phone in the car for Mass these days, preferring not to look for the next cool shot to share from church. And I’m increasingly content to relegate the phone to Spotify duty at home. Sometimes it’s just tiring to strive for an Instagrammable holiday. Glad to take a break from it right now.

Merry Christmas.