Writing for our friends across the pond at the Libertarian Alliance (UK), alextantwell argues that the political left loves Twitter and dislikes blogs, and that the reasons for that preference highlight central differences between the political left and right
Taking as his starting point Marshall McLuhan’s (1911-1980) observation that “the medium is the message” (that the nature of a dominant medium of communication actually alters the minds of those who use it even more than the actual content being communicated), rantwell observes that Twitter is the most influential communications tool among the British left, having supplanted blogs in that regard:
It’s a striking difference from blogs, which enjoyed a similar cult status for a brief time in the liberal media but were gradually abandoned as the “blogosphere” became increasingly dominated by conservative bloggers. Twitter however has suffered no such fate, and since launching in 2006 has rapidly become the go to source of many mainstream journalists in need of a “voice of the internet.”
He then argues that Twitter is “skewed to the left”:
. . . Twitter gives a very skewed view of what “the internet” is saying, and it’s usually skewed to the left. And it’s not just me saying this, people as diverse as Suzanne Moore and the excellent Peter Hitchens have noted the left wing bias on Twitter, while in 2012 Dr Rachel Gibson of Manchester University proclaimed it was because Twitter users were “early adopters who have higher levels of education than the rest of the population, so tend to be more progressive and open.”
Rantwell quickly disposes of Gibson’s self-aggrandizing notion, pointing out that if it were true, Twitter would have begun veering to the right several years ago, as the early adopters were subsumed in a sea of newer users, who would, by Gibson’s own logic, be much more conservative. That has not occurred, Rantwell notes, at least in the UK.
Rantwell then observes that the logical explanation for the skewing of Twitter is in the nature of the medium itself. His argument is rather devastating. He begins with a description of blogging, emphasizing the fact that bloggers are, by the nature of the medium, required to develop their ideas and defend their logic and factual claims:
It is not the sequence of adoption, or as Gibson suggests the intellect of the users but rather the nature of the medium that makes Twitter so beloved of the left. You see to write a political blog post you generally have to take an idea and develop it in some detail. It wouldn’t be enough to simply report the news with your spin on it, as this is well covered by the traditional media organizations. And because these blogs are usually open to comments from readers you tend to find that huge leaps or flawed logic are challenged.
Twtiter, by contrast, actually prevents logical discussion, he notes, in favor of unsupported opinions:
Then along comes Twitter –a running commentary on events as they happen, in 140 characters of fewer. Not enough of course to actually develop a point or idea, and because it’s fast moving little room to challenge fallacious ideas.
You can tweet that it’s all [former UK prime minister Margaret] Thatcher’s fault that you didn’t get a pay rise, and never have to explain how. You can tweet that [the petroleum producer] Esso kills penguins without ever having to show any evidence of it. You can Tweet that [UK Independence Party leader] Nigel Farage is Adolf Hitler, that [UK Conservative prime minister David] Cameron’s modest public spending cuts are causing a famine in Britain, and any other ridiculous assertion you like without ever having to explain or defend it. And this makes it a happy hunting ground for the left.
The reason Twitter’s logic-free opinionating is such a happy place for leftists is that it plays to their strengths and avoids attention to their monumental weakness, their open disdain for facts and logic, Rantwell says:
It’s happy hunting ground because left wing ideas tend to collapse under scrutiny, yet be appealing in slogan form. “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” is a classic example. A “Tweet” from Louis Blanc in 1851, retweeted by Karl Marx and liked by many since, right up to the present day.
It has an initial appeal to our innate sense of human decency. Those with great ability should help those with great need. In most families those with the ability to do so will help those in need, and in any functioning medieval village surely those who enjoyed a bumper harvest would help those whose crops were blighted, out of both basic humanity and the expectation that the favour will be reciprocated if fortunes are reversed. So why not apply this decent principle to the large, complex industrialized societies we now live in?
Well because it inevitably means that it falls to a state employed bureaucrat to determine the relative abilities and needs of various people in society, on a group level, with very limited information and virtually unlimited, mostly negative consequences. A point that would be made within the first 3 posts on any blog or message board, and a fatal flaw that is as true now as it was when it was written in 1851.
While avoiding logical scrutiny, leftist slogans on Twitter sound wonderfully kind and compassionate. They are difficult to refute in 140 words or less, however, because sensible thoughts that stand up to scrutiny are typically too sophisticated to be conveyed in such bite-sized morsels. Rantwell states this point well:
By contrast free market ideas tend to be initially unattractive, yet start to make sense on further reflection. “Stop helping the poor” won’t get you many retweets or likes, but well reasoned arguments against welfare and the dependency culture it creates are hard to dispute on logical grounds, and borne out by reality.
Although Rantwell does not say so explicitly, his observations about Twitter and the left’s favored mode of persuasion—the medium, if you will—accord well with the approach to government and society that they advocate—their message:
On Twitter, ideas succeed not on their merit but on their instant appeal. The meat that distracts the watchdogs of the mind in political discourse on Twitter consists of short, pithy messages often posted under the name of some bien pensant celebrity, but the message of this banal medium is “Don’t think, we’ve done that for you. Don’t analyse as that’s all been done. Like. Retweet. And show the world that you’re trendy and with it.” A message made by and for the left.
As Rantwell notes, Twitter uses authoritarian means to convey messages promoting authoritarian government and a culture and institutions that support it. The right, by contrast, prefers to use free discussion to promote freedom. It’s an interesting premise indeed, and surely McLuhan would be fascinated by this latest affirmation of his brilliant observations.