Tweets are Not News! (With One Unfortunate Exception)
Like a lot of people, I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. As folks who follow me on Twitter are no doubt aware, I tweet compulsively. Unsurprisingly, I also spend way too much time on Twitter despite knowing damn well that it’s doing terrible things to my attention span and further feeding my already fierce need for public validation.
I tell myself that, as a freelance writer, I need to not only be on Twitter but to be active on Twitter. If I tweet a lot of links to articles on this site that’s because the marketing and promotion budget for Nathan Rabin's Happy Place is currently zero dollars so I rely pretty heavily on Tweets to let the world, or at least my twenty-eight thousand or so followers know what I’m up to. In that respect, Twitter is an invaluable tool to promote the website and now its podcast, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast
So while I appreciate Twitter as a tool for self-promotion, I feel like on the whole Twitter has been a negative force not only in my own life but also for the world at large. There’s a lot about Twitter that pisses me off, but I am particularly peeved by the relatively new phenomenon of treating the tweets of celebrities and non-celebrities as newsworthy.
It’s easy to see why lazy, Clickbait articles grounded in recycling celebrity Tweets are so popular. The pop culture media is ruthless and heartless. It’s a cruel Darwinian realm where only the most calculating and cynical survive or thrive. You either focus pathologically on video and hooky news briefs with clever titles or you either get shut down or forced to shift dramatically to doing what everybody else, but more specifically Buzzfeed is doing. These days it’s all about quantity over quality, timeliness over substance.
It takes almost no time and almost no work to churn out these Twitter round-ups. The cycle goes something like this: someone does something embarrassing (or, to make this even more a snake-eating-its-tail type situation, someone Tweets something) and then poorly compensated writers for various pop culture websites check their Twitter feed to see what celebrities had a funny or memorable tweet as a cheap and disingenuous way of gauging the public’s reaction to something.
Pop culture writers: do your own fucking work. Don’t lazily rely upon the clever Tweets of people like Kelly Oxford, Matt Oswalt, Kumail Nanjiani, Rob Delaney and Kumail Nanjani to help you fill your daily quota of news pieces. You might be getting those sweet, sweet clicks and page-views but you’re contributing to the dumbing down of America. Your job is not to curate celebrity Tweets, and if it is, that’s kind of sad. I think if Edward R. Murrow were alive today his beat would almost assuredly not be keeping an eagle eye on Lena Dunham’s Twitter account to catch her in one of her many epic fails.
As with so many horrible things in our culture right now, the media’s cheap reliance on covering Tweets instead of creating something original and substantive can be laid at the feet of President Trump. Tweets are not news with one unfortunate exception, and that is the President’s tweets.
Trump’s Twitter feed is, on one level, a never-ending temper tantrum from a silly little man-child. But it’s also, horrifyingly, a never-ending series of communications from the most powerful man in the world. Among his many other crimes, Trump’s constant tweeting has elevated Twitter to a place of profound importance in our culture.
Trump’s Tweets create a cynical cycle: Trump tweets something egregiously awful and eminently mockable, like his infamous assertion that he totally could have been Time’s Man of the Year, but he passed because he was told he’d “probably” be given that honor, and for a man-God like himself, “probably” is not good enough.
It’s Trump in a nutshell: an obvious lie, endlessly self-regarding, deluded and an assertion so ridiculous that it begs to be mocked. Sure enough, the tweet was mocked and parodied by seemingly everyone on Twitter whose avatar doesn’t contain a flag, American eagle or Trump hat. Some of these Tweets were very funny but they’re not news! That’s especially true since seemingly everyone was mocking this one particular Tweet.
You notice how nobody talked about President Obama’s Tweets? That’s because he's a fucking adult with dignity, and he understood that, as addictive as it might be, Twitter is a silly toy, not a crucial tool for communicating with the American public. Obama understood the significance, or rather the lack of significance, Twitter should play in American life. It’s about time the pop culture media followed suit.
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