Why Liberal Washington Can’t Quit Twitter
WASHINGTON — To tweet or not to tweet? That’s the question many left-leaning, Elon Musk-hating political influencers debate, often on Twitter.
Washington was one of the first places to grasp the potential power of Twitter, and it may be one of the last places to abandon it, as many worry about the platform’s new direction, despite the hand twists of its biggest blue vote, blue-checked users.
“I’m just finding coping mechanisms for how I can still use this thing,” said Alex Vindman, the former Army lieutenant colonel and National Security Council official who was at the center of the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
Vindman first joined Twitter while working in the Trump administration because that was often how his then-boss, the president, did politics.
But he has now become a pseudo-celebrity on the platform, with nearly 850,000 followers interested in his take on Trump and the war in Ukraine, where he was born. His wife, liberal activist and podcaster Rachel Vindman, has nearly 400,000 followers, making them a progressive couple on Twitter.
Vindman considers Musk a “purveyor of hate and division” and traded personal attacks with the world’s richest man on the social media platform he now owns. But Vindman says he and his wife are unlikely to leave any time soon.
“If there’s an alternative, I’m happy to go,” he said. “It’s just that there are no real alternatives.”
Vindman isn’t the only one with this view among like-minded tweeters.
“Until there’s a viable alternative, I’ll be on Twitter and you’ll have to take my fingers off my phone,” said Molly Jong-Fast, a writer who rose to anti-Trump “Resistance” fame and has amassed over a million followers.
President Joe Biden, when questioned, suggested that Musk’s purchase of Twitter be the subject of a federal investigation. But his official account remains active, including his use on Thursday for post pictures from the Oval Office of him and Brittney Griner’s wife after the WNBA player was released from Russian captivity.
Washington power users feel conflicted because beyond just hanging out with a business with a problematic owner, they create much of the content that makes Twitter valuable, making some feel more like collaborators than as consumers.
“I want to be a diplomat. I think Musk is an authorized jerk, and so participating in one of his platforms only helps him, and I generally don’t like to help authorized jerks,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Typically sweet of Hillary Clinton. mannered vice-president of the vice-presidency of 2016.
Still, Kaine said he was “in dialogue with my staff” about leaving, showing that quitting smoking is easier said than done.
In a clubby town obsessed with status and information, Twitter offers both, all from the comfort of your cell phone.
Journalists, politicians, and activists can interact with famous and powerful people, slip into the DMs of a potential associate or spouse, and amass their own power by building a large following. Meanwhile, the platform’s firehose can keep even the most insatiable news junkie gorged with quality information, bad takes, and insightful jokes.
“Some people I know have left. I’m not leaving,” said Norm Ornstein, a longtime Washington researcher and commentator. “Leaving Twitter would be costly in many ways. I have something like 230,000 subscribers. And it is significant in many ways. …I don’t know if I could recreate that.
Twitter, it seems, could be another too-big-to-fail institution that even powerful policymakers in Washington are grappling with.
“I wish I could walk away from it,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y., a former college principal with 386,000 combined followers. “And since [Musk’s] purchase, there is even more vitriol, intimidation, hostility and just inhumanity going on there. I feel bad when I scroll through the things people say.
But Bowman said his staff convinced him that social media is where many of his constituents get their news, so leaving could cut them off from critical information. “We have a responsibility to communicate with all of our constituents, so if we take that away, we could miss a lot of them,” he said in an interview just off the House floor.
Congress’s most famous liberal tweeter, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., a social media juggernaut with 14.2 million combined followers, isn’t ready to go either, though he finds Musk obnoxious on many levels.
“There’s a line where it gets too toxic,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who is a frequent target of online harassment and sometimes receives death threats. She will leave Twitter, she said, when it “become so difficult to use that I can no longer use it as an effective means of communication”.
Many politically active liberal celebrities have abandoned the platform, with singer Elton John announcing Friday he was leaving because Musk is now “allowed[ing] misinformation to thrive unchecked.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson said on The View that Twitter “isn’t the real world,” so people should “turn it off.”
While Jackson has his movies, John has his sold-out arenas, and famous writers scribbling “Why I’m Quitting Twitter” essays have credits pages from August magazines like The New Yorker, most Beltway tweeters n don’t have any other platform where they can easily reach such a large audience.
This even includes famous senators.
Asked to answer questions about the platform, Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., who has nearly 5 million combined followers, replied with a smile: “Definitely not Twitter.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with 12.8 million subscribers, also asked about the platform. “I just didn’t put any of my brain cells into Twitter strategies,” Warren said.
No one wants to leave Twitter until everyone else does, but there’s no obvious place to go next.
Many users find alternatives like Mastodon and Post confusing, underpopulated, and generally not ready for prime time. And past campaigns to quit Facebook show how difficult it is to get people to quit en masse, especially after the initial outrage subsides.
Some believe Musk will kill Twitter whether or not there is a mass exodus of its users.
“What Elon Musk is doing is so destructive to a source of public knowledge and communication,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who sits on two committees that oversee tech companies, “It’s really nihilistic and I don’t know I want to be part of that kind of thing.
When asked if he’s reached a breaking point with Twitter, he replied, “It’s just around the corner. … [Musk’s] destroy an institution.
Washington’s administration isn’t the only one struggling to quit Twitter.
A new academic analysis of over 140,000 Twitter accounts that used phrases or hashtags like “#ByeByeTwitter” found that only 1.6% had left the social media platform completely. “I’m not very surprised, because I’m one of those people who still publish on both,” one of the researchers, Gareth Tyson of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told New Scientist, making reference to Twitter and its rival Mastodon. .
Some political tweeters say they’re addicted, half-jokingly. Others say it’s too vital a source of information to give up. Others cite more noble reasons, arguing that they cannot cede the ideological battle space. And all have personal brands to maintain, though few recognize it.
Peter Sagal, the Chicago host of NPR’s political comedy show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” refused to buy a Tesla because he didn’t want to support Musk and found himself with a Chevy Bolt, which he calls “essentially a glorified golf cart”
But giving up Twitter will be harder for the self-proclaimed Twitter addict with over 300,000 followers. He has cut back on posting his own tweets, but says the platform is still the best newsfeed.
With a new 2-year-old son at home and after endless hours of “destiny scrolling,” part of him wants Musk to destroy Twitter so he can get rid of it and focus his energies elsewhere.
“There was a feeling of elegiac farewell,” Sagal said. “It may be over. It may be like the end of World War II. It’s time to say goodbye, shake hands and go home to our civilian lives.
Three hours later, Sagal tweeted a Star Wars meme on the Yankees.