Twitter’s Implosion is a Blow to Antiwar Politics

Twitter’s Implosion is a Blow to Antiwar Politics
Wikimedia Commons, photo by James O'Keefe (1/4/2020)

Anyone who knows me knows I hate Twitter—a segment on my podcast is literally called “Stay Off Twitter.” Yet, paradoxically, I find myself using the bird app nearly every day. Why? Because the pros outweigh the cons, for me at least.

I’ve gotten speaking engagements, publishing opportunities, and free trips because of Twitter. 80% of the journalists who do interviews with me found me through Twitter. I discover new academic research, podcasts, and magazines through the app. And Twitter was crucial to me understanding the evolving landscape of leftist thought enough to write about (and be shaped by) it. I’ve even made friends through the damn thing.

So while I’m not as upset as the dude below, I understand his feelings about Twitter’s pending implosion under Elon Musk:

It’s not just that everyone expects Twitter to become a toxic place unworthy of anyone’s time. It’s that high-quality people are fleeing the platform in droves and deactivating their accounts preemptively. I don’t know whether Twitter will become an oligarch-constructed mind dystopia, or if the doom and gloom proves premature. We’ll see.

But Twitter’s role as a site where elites, workers, artists, politicians, and intellectuals all bump up against each other made it a kind of public square. Flawed? Totally. But a para-social public square has been important for the left, for antiwar politics, and for checking the groupthink narcissism of foreign policy elites.

Everybody knows that journalists are very on Twitter, and everybody knows that even though Twitter “is not real life,” it plays a big role in shaping news coverage because it’s where all the journalist are.

But even if you bracket off the journo influence thing, Twitter’s impoverishment will lead to our foreign policy getting more incompetent, and more undemocratic.

That probably sounds like a big claim, but you have to understand how the antiwar grassroots of the Democratic Party got nearly strangled to death by the Obama presidency. There’s a great book about how the Iraq War brought the antiwar left and the mainstream Democratic Party out in the streets, together. The left was unified around a particular (albeit limited) cause.

But as Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas explain in painstaking detail, when Obama became president he encouraged people to get out of the streets and to go work on policy. Become elite. Don’t boo, vote. And maybe work at McKinsey.

As former podcast guest Malcolm Harris relayed, a lot of that antiwar grassroots energy dissipated, but some of it made its way into the Occupy Movement after the global financial crisis. And Occupy became the only real incubator for the left leading up to the Bernie-Hillary standoff during the 2016 presidential primary.

Throughout that period and since, Twitter has been one of the few points of convergence for the intellectual arm of what the left is now—a beautifully messy ecosystem of small magazines, social media personalities, podcasts, and newsletters. It’s where we all discover each other, talk shit, form cliques, promote each others’ work, and exchange, well, everything. None of it is a substitute for canvassing or real organizing or unionization. But it amplifies the real-world stuff in a major way.

Now, or at least for the past 5-6 years, everyone from the world of foreign policy and politics is also on Twitter. Twitter has become a place where the antiwar grassroots of the Democratic Party—which the Obamians forsook long ago—have been able to confront the party’s elites. The balance of institutional power and resources is not on the side of the antiwar constituencies, but at least there’s a place where their voice can be a counterweight to West Wing propaganda.

Also, there’s literally no place on earth where necktie-wearing dinosaurs of the power elite have to contend with contrarian opinions from normal (and not so normal) people. Where else can you drag and ratio ghouls like Max Boot or Larry Summers? Not at an f’ing restaurant or on the street. Not even at a conference. Only on Twitter.

And I have it on good authority that most of the political appointees in the Biden administration monitor Twitter conversations about foreign policy obsessively…they just lurk rather than post.

So yes, those Ivy League technocrats with a book out who used to post all the time during the 2020 presidential campaign? They’re still reading your tweets, and the shit that you link to. When you’re working in a presidential administration, you spend so much time talking to foreign counterparts who want to butter you up, and journalists who want to butter you up, and think tankers who want to butter you up. It’s really hard to know what’s true or real sometimes. I experienced that firsthand in the Obama years. Twitter is a very easy way for elites to check the temperature on any given conversation. And they do, religiously.

If Twitter as we know it ends, it’s going to have all kinds of consequences.  Among them is sure to be the ebbing influence of antiwar politics and a new elitism in foreign policy.