FILE - In this Wednesday Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, the Twitter logo appears on an updated phone post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Twitter reports financial results Friday, April 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Twitter Founder Bemoans Short-Attention Spans, For Real

Evan Williams is one of the co-founders of the social media platform Twitter, an entertaining but remarkably petty form of communication that eschews deep thinking for immature jabs, and celebrates snark over intellect.

And now, with apparently no sense of self-awareness whatsoever, Evan Williams is voicing his concern that our media environment is creating a short attention span that is making us all stupider. I know what you’re thinking. I know what we’re all thinking, except apparently Evan Williams. He just defined the very media platform he created, where information is condensed into no more than 140 characters and marketed specifically to those who have no ability to digest anything that takes them longer than 10 seconds to read.

Specifically responding to a question about Twitter’s role in Donald Trump being elected president, Williams opined,

“The much bigger issue is not Donald Trump using Twitter that got him elected, even if he says so; it is the quality of the information we consume that is reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting people’s open-mindedness and respect for truth.”

Limiting people’s open-mindedness and respect for truth, you say, Evan? Would that be like when British author J.K. Rowling tweets out a bogus tirade of insults at President Trump, accusing him of snubbing and ignoring a handicapped boy in a wheelchair at a press event? It was edited footage and Rowling was informed of that almost immediately by hundreds of people, including reputable news sources. Her false information was retweeted over 10,000 times and “liked” over 50,000 times on your platform, Mr. Williams. Even after the handicapped boy’s mother took to Facebook to correct Rowling’s false information, she left it up for three days. The correction she eventually offered (after having been shamed into it) received 1/10th the number of retweets.

Thus with all due respect, it’s honestly hard to come up with any people more responsible for fueling people’s access to fake and deceptive news than Evan Williams and his co-founder. But when he should have realized that and just stopped, he chose to do the opposite:

“There is a media ecosystem that is supported and thrives on attention, period. And that is what’s making us dumber and not smarter, and Donald Trump is a symptom of that.”

Again, those sentences could be chosen as the corporate slogan of Twitter itself. And call me crazy, but it sure seems to me that a man heavily responsible for the creation of the most superficial social medium in American society really should not be saying things like this:

“One of my big learnings, over the last couple of decades, is that access to information alone doesn’t make us smarter. The fake news thing is one small part of it; another even bigger part of it is the quality and depth of the information. Is it actually building our understanding or deepening our understanding of the world or is it just noise?”

First of all, if you’re expressing concern about us being dumber as a people, it’s probably not a great idea to start off by telling everyone about your big “learnings.” But secondly, given the network he created, when it comes to discussions about “deepening our understanding,” he should probably just sit this one out.

But he’s not about to, and he is more than ready to tell us how to solve the problem that he was so significantly involved in creating. And I bet you would have never guessed it would include centralized gatekeepers of information:

“Providers of information systems and the platforms that our media get disseminated on have a big responsibility. It includes removing stuff.”

Please don’t miss the inanity of that idea. Evan thinks once-deep people have become superficial, surface-level thinkers. And though he was one of the major architects of either causing that or at least exploiting it, Evan thinks that people like him need to be the porters of what information we are exposed to. He, one of the primary engineers in making us dumber, will make America smart again.

What could go wrong?

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Peter Heck

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