On dislikes: once long ago I worked at a company that makes a reasonably popular piece of software (>10 million users) and they were implementing Likes.

Their internal data showed just how much Dislikes turn off casual users from ever participating again. It led to a filtering of the contributors to a certain kind of brash young male engineer who is convinced that dislikes are just society failing to understand their brilliance.

Normal people, on the other hand, were strongly affected. After all, humans have millions of years of evolution where the only control was social shaming.

Since the Dislike was much easier than writing a reply -- and conveyed no information explaining Why -- they tended to accumulate faster and quicker than negative replies.

You've probably heard the social science finding about how a single negative interaction is weighted the same as seven positive interactions?

That's the kind of thing you're fighting against with Dislikes. They are a surprisingly huge speedbump for new & casual users to actively contribute.

Expand full comment

For many of us lurkers, not posters with many followers, Twitter is okay as is. Why? We decide who to follow, and that's who we see. Generally avoid replies (unless it's a thread) and we miss most of the flame wars.

Expand full comment

FYI your twitter idea at the end is similar to Mastodon, it just won’t be immediately doomed because Twitter doing it would be Twitter doing it.

Expand full comment

Wow, yes. Letting people moderate their replies more would be great.

Roundtables in public view, but without public interruption, could make Twitter a serious knowledge collaboration space.

Sure, collaboration already happens. But Twitter could be so much more if serious conversations didn't have to climb the wall of noise.

My personal wish: a sliding cutoff for unknowns' replies, based on how much their follows overlap mine. Someone who's a fan of both Noah Smith and Scott Alexander has better odds at a reply that interests me.

Twitter today is crippled by noisemakers. If we could have threads that still traded thoughts at Twitter speed, yet fenced out all that heckling? The results could amaze.

Expand full comment

The only winning move is not to play. I think the idea would be if everyone just left Twitter. It's irredeemable in my view. I use a few social media websites and I follow Arnold Kling's rules. That is I use them purely for communicating with friends, family, and coworkers. I never respond to anything political no matter how wrong or offensive I think it is.

Expand full comment

Your censorship idea by posters is a very bad idea. "Suppose I tweet a popular tweet about how good vaccines are, and it draws responses by antivaxers. By making my own tweet popular, I have also given a platform to antivaxers, because many of the people who look at my tweet will scroll down and see the antivax replies. I am forced to platform bad actors as the price for offering my own ideas."

Imagine the roles switched and this was an antivaxer complaining about having their post challenged. Your idea would significantly stifle discussion and further encourage separation based on views. No longer would people have to see opposing views and the decline in a shared view of reality would be further accelerated. It would create silos.

Expand full comment

I grew up on the alt.net newsgroups. In college I was always posting on message boards for my favorite nba team or music related.

I always thought it was rich that sports writers at the time thought it was a bad look to post on the messageboards for their beat. We knew they lurked and used what we said in stories. But they made fun of the people posting. Now they seem to be oblivious that Twitter is just the biggest message board of all time. I will always find this funny.

Now. It’s also funny that the tables have turned. Writers can’t stay off Twitter to tells us their thoughts. And most readers are lurkers like they were to message boards.

I’m not sure how much proficient Twitter users know that most people read their tweets don’t have a Twitter account. I read Noah or Matt Y or whoever as a webpage now. I don’t have Twitter account. I load up Twitter pages like they are a webpage blog everyday. I’m not sure if Twitter users know that’s how most people read their tweets.

Expand full comment

I had to make a substack account just to comment on this.

I'm a professional artist. I absolutely despise the concept of "dislike buttons" on twitter. Our field and community isn't being accomodated as it already is in allowing us to promote our work (when most platforms have dried up or are just intimidating in comparison). This could open up avenues for abuse by bad-faith actors without any sort of viable way out.

We're here to draw and get work doing it, not get mired up in drama and be a part of the "discourse".

Expand full comment

On top of all that, there's still a lopsided approach as to who gets perma-banned or not. With the exception of Donald Trump & Stefan Molyneux, malign influencers like L**r*n S**th*rn, J*ck P*s*b**c, A*dy Ng* & P**l G*s*r continue to get away with spreading disinformation & inciting hate/violence, while many of those calling them out get the banhammer from mass reporting by the disinformants' fanboys.

Expand full comment


> show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome.

the problem is incentives, not technology. and right now (and for a long time) twitter, as an organization / culture, is incentivized to drive profit over everything else, for their shareholders which is not a surprise and shouldn't necessarily be poo-poo'd.

... but the point is that it can't be fixed. it must be destroyed or recreated from scratch. first-principles type of stuff.

there are good tools out there for building community, connecting with others, passing / sharing value, without giving up your privacy or real identity... censorship-resistant communication tools are possible. but, they aren't twitter.

Expand full comment

I feel like there's just a fundamental tension between how a lot of verified pundits like Noah want to use Twitter (pretty much a one-to-many broadcasting platform where you can harvest backslaps without comeback) and how a lot of plebs want to use Twitter (the one platform where you can call out some verified pundit talking garbage and actually have a shot at them seeing it). And I think I have less sympathy for the verified pundits who basically want to bar people from dunking on them for saying stupid or evil things.

Expand full comment

I agree with adding a dislike button, but the number of dislikes a tweet gets should be largely invisible and anonymous. And likes should also be more anonymous. Right now likes and retweets are basically the same things.

Retweets should be public, but if likes and dislikes were anonymous they could simply show the number of likes minus the number of dislikes (although they should not allow the number of likes should only publicly update when it goes higher). This way users won't feel the negative reaction of dislikes and coordinated dislike campaigns won't be as effective in bullying users. If a comment is heavily disliked it will appear the same as if it is just being ignored.

And the algorithm can choose not to promote the tweets that get a lot of dislikes.

I also strongly agree that originators of threads should be able to act as moderators of that thread. One of the biggest weaknesses of twitter is the lack of moderation, and that would at least help it a bit.

Expand full comment

You present the idea that if Twitter creates the unmoderated "clone sites" they can kill them whenever they want unlike sites created by outside entrepreneurs as a positive selling point; in fact, that fact will make nonconformists whose views might be subject to "cancellation" avoid these sites like the plague in favor of independent sites run by people with enough of a backbone to resist the rage mobs trying to "no-platform" them.

Expand full comment

I think the dislike button, if implemented at all, should hide the dislike count from everyone but the author (and any people they have designated as moderators) and only be used to determine thread display. And should definitely not generate notifications the way likes do. YouTube is already experimenting with hiding the thumbs-down count.

Expand full comment

Love all this. Would also like to see social media attempt to better reproduce reputation from the real world. For instance, folks could be given so many points per year to award to commenters/posters who are simply behaving poorly. And if, over time, a poster gathers a worse and worse reputation, their voice fades, just like in real life. Lots of important details here, and some attempts at this are out there already. Just like you say companies will get used to waiting out storms of outrage, I think social media needs to find a way to accurate label voices as bad actors.

Expand full comment

"This would allow people to have discussions in public without involving the public, which is a useful mode of discussion."

Very bad idea - one of the big problems of Facebook, IMO, is that you can create public posts without the public be allowed to comment, who is very good for the peddlers of disinformation: because their fans could share ad infinitum their posts, but their critics could not reply (in the main posts) refuting their lies.

Look to your example and simply exchange the words:

"Suppose I tweet a popular tweet about how bad vaccines are, and it draws responses by pro-vaxers. By making my own tweet popular, I have also given a platform to pro-ivaxers, because many of the people who look at my tweet will scroll down and see theproivax replies. I am forced to platform god actors as the price for offering my own ideas."

Expand full comment