Twitter is a social network that people mainly use to keep up with the news and connect with like-minded people. This is the optimistic way to view this platform. There are very successful and intelligent people that use Twitter to spread ideas. These people often develop cult-like followings on Twitter. Indeed, this is even the word choice Twitter uses when you subscribe to see someones tweets on your feed. When you give people the option of developing a following on a platform you will always attract the narcissists.
This creates tribal mentalities in different groups of followers. Within a group there is an “echo-chamber” effect. Everyone believes in the same ideas as each other so there is no critical thought. These people often band behind the people with the biggest celebrity in the group (read, biggest following) to help attack the other group.
Instead of Twitter being a place where ideas battle, people who believe in certain ideas battle each other. The results are often fairly extreme. For people who want to grow their number of followers they need to shout above the noise on the news feed. This often involves either:
Adopting a more extreme stance
This is done to polarize the people who see the tweets. The people who are on the same team LOVE the tweets, and the people that are on the other team HATE the tweets. People that love them retweet and like them, people who hate them comment on them. This engagement increases the number of people who see the tweets on their feed.
Developing a more grandiose persona
The term persona was coined by the psychologist Carl Jung. It is the social face that the individuals presents to the world – “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.” The invention of social media has made personas a greater psychological phenomena than ever before. People can control the side of themselves they show to social media. They can never show weakness, double down on their strengths, and lie about their achievements.
These are the two methods people use to grow their followings. They are definitely not the only ways users grow their followings, but they are the methods Twitter rewards.
People will see the braggadocios behavior, but they never see the more human side of the user. This is what makes it almost impossible to empathize with other users on Twitter. If an entire platform is devoid of empathy, than real communication will be impossible on that platform. Twitter is the place where empathy goes to die.
There is an experience I have (and I think everyone on Twitter has). This is the nothing argument. You see a notification pop up on your Twitter, you check it and see someone disagree with you. You click their profile to look at their bio to determine their views (read, see in what way they are an idiot). You then enter into an argument with a random person about something that is always unimportant. When this used to happen to me I would find myself looking for the smallest error in their argument to attack, even if their argument was mostly logically sound.
Now I just don’t take people seriously on Twitter. I take a deep breath when I think I might get in an argument. I remember that when you entertain a clown you become part of the circus.
I believe I am more sensitive to the information inputs I receive than most people. This is why I have gone to so many steps in hope of solving information overload. On Twitter, my muted words list is constantly growing. These are topics I don’t want to see people arguing about on my Twitter feed. They are the topics that people yell the loudest about. I also do not value arguing about these topics. The two main topics are not things I am interested in discussing online. I am not from the U.S. so I am not particularly interested in their politics, and I am not interested in discussing societal ideas of gender. I may discuss these issues at my dining room table at my weekly meal, but never online.
I may need to filter the information I receive because I am a more sensitive person. It also may be because I am far more skeptical about the implications of technology use on our minds and culture. These topics are also the ones that are talked about the most by the narcissists. Narcissists have grandiose fantasies of changing the world.
Sam Vaknin on The Online Narcissist
In italics below is an exert from an article by the world’s foremost expert on Narcissism, Sam Vaknin. The article is about the online narcissist.
In the virtual universe of the Web, the narcissist vanishes and reappears with ease, often adopting a myriad aliases and nicknames. He (or she) can thus fend off criticism, abuse, disagreement, and disapproval effectively and in real time – and, simultaneously, preserve the precarious balance of his infantile personality. Narcissists are, therefore, prone to Internet addiction.
The positive characteristics of the Net are largely lost on the narcissist. He is not keen on expanding his horizons, fostering true relationships, or getting in real contact with other people. The narcissist is forever the provincial because he filters everything through the narrow lens of his addiction. He measures others – and idealizes or devalues them – according to one criterion only: how useful they might be as Sources of Narcissistic Supply.
An Evolving Online World
Vaknin’s article was written in 2005, when online mass communication was limited to forums and chatrooms. The phenomena of social media were still in their infancy. Facebook was launched in 2004. Twitter was invented in 2006. Instagram was invented in 2010. In 2005, the online playground of the narcissist was small. Later in the article Vaknin says,
But a long exposure to the culture of the Net – irreverent, skeptical, and populist – usually exerts a beneficial effect even on the staunchest and most rigid narcissist. Far less convinced of his own superiority and infallibility, the online narcissist mellows and begins – hesitantly – to listen to others and to collaborate with them.
This argument has not aged well. It may actually be true with chronological feeds. However with algorithmically curated feeds an echo chamber is created.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
I was going to use Donald Trump as an illustration of a narcissist on Twitter. Honestly, it might be easier at this point because Taleb has recently blocked me for calling him a narcissist in the comments of one of his tweets. (This happened while I was writing this article – between one night to the next morning I became blocked). The tweets I am highlighting are Taleb’s commentary on the Kavanaugh issue. Disclaimer: I do not know much about the Kavanaugh issue, I have his name as one of my muted words.
This tweet is trademark Narcissistic abuse. Narcissists like to bully people they view as weaker than them. I know Taleb values people having #skininthegame and taking risks for what they believe in. Kavanaugh’s daughter and wife have received death threats because of his controversy, and he is willing to put his family at risk to serve his country. Risking your kin to serve your country is a brave act, even if you do not support Kavanaugh’s ideas.
Crying in public because you saw atrocities and feel sorry for someone else is fine;
crying in public because you feel sorry for yourself (& implore others to feel sorry for you) is the greatest marker of weakeness.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) September 28, 2018
Some of the commentators (#idiots) here don't get that the two statements:
1) believing that K is a victim and
2) believing that K is weaker than expected
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) September 28, 2018
People disagreed with Taleb’s viewpoint in the comments of his first tweet. Instead of contending with the idea that they may have a viewpoint he can learn from, he calls them idiots. This is typical narcissistic abuse. Someone in the comments made a plea for Taleb to have empathy for Kavanaugh. I responded to this by saying not to expect empathy from a trademark narcissist like Taleb.
This comment led Taleb to block me on Twitter. Taleb believes he is honorable for having skin in the game. Yet he cannot handle criticism of his ideas. It is so bad that he doesn’t use professional book reviewers on his books. For his latest book the book jacket included twitter comments. One I can remember is “The problem with Taleb isn’t that he is an asshole, he is. The issue with Taleb is that he is right.” – @tweetersname.
Sam Harris on Nassim Taleb
Twitter and the False Self
Twitter provides the perfect medium for people like Taleb to build their brand. People see their bullying tactics and conflate it with bravery and honor. Taleb, of course, does his best to promote this image of himself. He is a child in a man’s body. This is a perfect description for the narcissist. Narcissism is arrested development in a child. The disorder is often created because of childhood abuse. The child creates a false self to protect their true self. Vakin’s description of this process is below
Having been told repeatedly how “bad”, “worthless”, “disappointing”, and injurious he is, the child comes to believe in his self-imputed delusional ability to hurt and damage family members, for instance.
Such imaginary capacity is the logical extension of both the child’s grandiosity (omnipotence, “I have the power to hurt mommy”) and his magical thinking (“I think, I wish, I hate, I rage and, thereby, with the unlimited power of my mind, I cause real calamities out there, in the real world”). So, it is the child’s natural primary narcissistic defenses that enable him to feel so miserable! These defenses allow him to construct a narrative which corresponds to and justifies the judgmental, hateful appraisals and taunts of his abusers. In his young mind, he accepts that he is bad because he is all-powerful and magical and because he leverages his godlike attributes to act with malice or, at the very least, to bring misfortune on significant others.
To skirt this inner overwhelming negativity, the child “appropriates” precisely these defenses and bundles them into a protective shield, thus sequestering his vulnerable, fragile self. Occupied by the ongoing project of his budding pathological narcissism, the child’s defenses are no longer available to construct and buttress the narratives offered by the abusive voices of his tormentors. Moreover, by owning his fantastic grandiosity and harnessing it, the child feels as empowered as his abusers and no longer a victim.
The false self replaces the narcissist’s true self and is intended to shield him from hurt and narcissistic injury by self-imputing omnipotence. The narcissist pretends that his false self is real and demands that others affirm this confabulation, meanwhile keeping his real imperfect true self under wraps. The false self is everything the narcissist wishes he could be.
The narcissist has no private life, no true self, no domain reserved exclusively for his nearest and dearest. His life is a spectacle, with free access to all, constantly on display, garnering narcissistic supply from his audience.
A Changing Culture
Now does it make sense why narcissists are drawn to Twitter. This type of commentary on Twitter is the norm, not an exception. If you engage with a platform that rewards narcissism you are responsible for the monsters it creates.
In popular culture we often hear about how our culture is becoming more and more narcissistic. This trend is incredibly pronounced on social media.
Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier