Some prominent (sort-of) New Zealanders left Twitter in a flurry of post-election acting out a little while ago.

Some were responding to a high level of abuse they suffered after controversial posts they left lying around the social medium.

Although Twitter somehow continues to muddle along without their contributions, the mini-exodus probably inspired a few more people to question its value as a place for grown-ups to have a discussion about anything.

I would maintain that value is close to nil.


It's only recently in human history that complete strangers have been able to verbally abuse one another in front of a potential audience of millions with just a few clicks on a keyboard.

We should stop for a moment to think about the significance of that.

Social media is a big part of our daily lives. Although Twitter lags far behind Facebook and its army of nearly 3 million New Zealanders, with 331,000 followers it represents a significant percentage of the population.

Magazines would kill for that many readers.

When I joined Facebook, I looked at its interactions as the equivalent of the sort of chat that goes on between workmates during the day.

For someone who worked mostly home alone, as I do, it was a pleasant substitute for the daily interaction with co-workers that I'd had to forgo.

I didn't realise it also meant, as has become increasingly clear, I was going to be an unwitting pawn in a Russian plan to swing the US election in favour of Donald Trump.

On Facebook you have friends you accept, which gives you control over who you talk to and who can talk to you.

On Twitter you have not friends but followers - making it a place that, subconsciously at least, is ideal for people who like to think they are leaders, even if only in the production of snarky little mottos. And anyone can follow anyone else unless blocked.

Most significantly, Twitter's limit of 140 characters a post is not designed to allow for the development of sophisticated arguments. Its structure is best suited for just one thing: being snarky.

It's great for the one-liner and the nicely turned epigram, but that's a skill very few of its users have at their disposal. Even those masters of the form don't include many great thinkers unless you like your philosophy Rosie O'Donnell style - funny woman and a right Simone de Beauvoir compared to your average tweeter.

In most cases the arguments are at the "I know you are but what am I" level that most of us leave behind at intermediate school.

Twitter also encourages the kind of statement that has become a specialty of Still President of the United States Donald Trump: there is just enough room for the passive aggression and the personal attack but, alas, that leaves no room for the supporting argument.

Trump, who is a teetotaller, has mastered the art of drunk tweeting when sober.

With the option it gives non-participants to heart what you say, Twitter also encourages people to tailor their tweets in order to acquire those feel-good likes - which is no way to go about getting to the truth of something.

Twitter has recently suggested doubling its character limit to 280. No, no howled many users - don't make us have to explain ourselves. No, no howled even more - don't let people be stupid for twice as long.

It remains as true now as it was before computers were invented: if you want to have a conversation with someone you're best to do it by having a conversation with them - an open-ended exchange that allows you to talk for as long as it takes to say what you need to say and requires you to listen to what the person you're talking to has to say in return - not by swapping snarky one-liners in a thread.