In a recent group email with my siblings, I went on a rant about pandemic misinformation, propaganda and the status of state and federal politics.
I don’t usually unload like that, so when I’d finished, my little brother asked if I ever considered “going wild on Twitter,’’ that social media platform that features short, sometimes aggressive and often outlandish exchanges among tweeters.
“All the time,’’ I said. “I use my delete button so often I think it will wear out.’’
He replied, “You should maybe keep them for a book: ‘Things I Didn’t Say on Twitter.’’’
That makes sense. I compose some pretty ferocious tweets, the kind that could (I think) tear the guts out of the ridiculous arguments of other posters. I feel pretty good while I’m composing. Then I read what’s on my screen, think about how my response would be received, consider the number of reactions I might spark, and I hit the delete button. It’s the safe approach.
I got into Twitter in the first place to track down legitimate news sites that would broaden my sources of information about a rapidly changing world. I’ll admit I scroll through a bunch of stuff that isn’t news, too. I do it for entertainment value, looking for things with which I agree, the way so many of us seem to do. When I see things that strike me as preposterous, I work up a tweet. I’m pretty nonconfrontational, though, so those tweets never see the light of anyone else’s screen.
The thing is, I don’t want to get into an argument about, well, anything. Take elections, for example. As a news reporter, I covered more than 40 years of elections — general, primary and special. I’ve been in the secretary of state’s office on election night, and I’ve been in county auditors’ offices on election nights. I don’t need to have an argument about how elections work with someone who hasn’t done those things, not any more than I’d be competent to argue the value of Bitcoins with someone who actually knows what those things are. Twitter, like many other social media platforms, is too often a place where people go to expound on things about which they know very little.
I’ve seen much of that in the last few days as the U.S. has drawn down its military presence in Afghanistan and the Taliban have taken over the country almost without a spot of resistance. It’s been sickening and saddening to watch. We’ve had a presence in that country for two decades. Joe Biden is the fourth president who has served since our involvement began. We’ve spent effort, lives, material and money. I don’t see how we can just leave, but I don’t see how we can just stay, either.
And I really don’t know whose fault it is that things have come to this point. Many people on Twitter seem to know exactly who is responsible. They don’t agree, to be sure. But most of them seem confident they are right and anyone who disagrees, even asks questions, is confused or deliberately being obtuse. There are on Twitter any number of individuals who are, as former Gov. Bill Janklow once said his mother said of him, “not always right but never in doubt.’’
I came to adulthood during the Vietnam Era. I can still picture news clips of helicopters taking off from the U.S. embassy roof in Saigon as the last Americans got out of that country while the enemy stormed into the city. These last days in Kabul remind me of that exit, but on fast forward.
And yet, while I saw the pictures from Saigon, as I’m seeing the pictures from Kabul, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t in Vietnam, and I’ve not been in Afghanistan. I don’t know what to say, and I don’t feel I have standing to say much. I have free-speech, sure. I don’t have the background to speak on this topic that people with actual experience have.
I don’t even have the background to compose tweets to delete. I just read and read, hoping to come upon some voice or voices that make sense of it all.