The impulsiveness, the cliques, the gossip, and the ego — the Twitter cesspool can be fun, entertaining, and darn-right toxic.
A few years back, the sociologist Robert Faris described high school to me as “a large box of strangers.” The kids don’t necessarily share much in common, after all; they just happen to be the same age and live in the same place. So what do they do in this giant box to give it order, structure? They divide into tribes and resort to aggression to determine status.
The same can be said of Twitter. It’s the ultimate large box of strangers. As in high school, Twitter denizens divide into tribes and bully to gain status; as in high school, too-confessional musings and dumb mistakes turn up in the wrong hands and end in humiliation.
Unlike Apple, Facebook, Google, and Pinterest, Twitter bucked the Silicon Valley trend and kept Alex Jones's account live. Twitter thrives on breaking news and its divisiveness.
Clay Shirky, one of the shrewdest internet theorists around, has noted that the faster the medium is, the more emotional it gets. Twitter, as we know, is pretty fast, and therefore runs pretty hot.
Yet despite all the negativity, Twitter may be the world's most important social network even if it's the least profitable. And while some of its users abuse the public microphone, others use it just to talk, teach, and share their work for the benefit of others.