Longtermism ⋂ Twitter

by RyanCarey1 min read15th Jun 202012 comments


EA MessagingMovement StrategyCommunity

There's now a medium-sized amount of discussion of longtermism on Twitter, and I've noticed a bunch of people newly using it (such as some of those listed by Stefan Schubert here).

Twitter seems like a potentially underrated platform for longtermists. Like the EA Forum, Twitter promotes "liked" content. It allows us to follow content of interest to us. But it also differs from the EA Forum in some ways:

  • It promotes concise discussion.
  • It allows distribution of content to non-EA audiences.
  • It allows reading content from non-EA contributors.
  • It promotes content from top contributors to a greater degree.

Twitter also has some negative traits: it's potentially addictive, boosts (upvoted) political and emotional content. Unlike the EA Forum, it doesn't help longtermist content to be indexed, or attract as much within-group critique.

For better and for worse, I think the default path now is that Twitter forms a significant chunk of ongoing longtermist discourse. For long-form posts, I think many will be posted onto the EA Forum, Medium, or a personal blog, and then shared there.

Is there anything that needs to be done to adjust this trajectory? Mostly, the trajectory seems fine. Probably, some more posts on the EA Forum that are of widespread interest should be shared via Twitter. Probably, more effort should also be invested in mitigating politicisation and polarisation of the EA message there.

Edit: As a useful counterpoint, Tanner Greer argues that Twitter is turning the public sphere into just a "bare-knuckle brawl" here. If he's right: can we still participate in high-quality public conversation in Twitter? How can we best faciliate high-quality conversation in the public sphere without it? Or should we give up on that objective?

Edit 2: Another (old) post where Andrew Gelman argues for blogs over Twitter https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2014/11/22/blogs-twitter/. At this point, I think the right idea a lot of the time is to write blog posts, and then post them to Twitter.


12 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:31 PM
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Hi! First post here; please let me know if I get anything wrong (now and forever).

I was very happy to find this post today when I came to review the forum after much procrastination, only signing up finally during EAGxVirtual. In my mind social networks are heavily under-utilized for constructive purposes in general, and for long term / utopian thinking in particular. I have been developing ideas in this space personally prior to joining the community, and I look forward to collaborate with others in EA on these topics if at all possible.

About the current trajectory and potentially useful adjustments:

  • I think hashtags are currently under-valued and under-utilized by the Twitter community, having become associated in many circles with self-promotion (think of the default reaction to introducing hashtags as "stop trying to make it happen: it ain't gonna happen"). But they remain a useful tool for giving structure to any social network; and I believe that some level of structure is likely needed to foster more focused, goal-oriented conversations. Recommendation: EA could agree on the use of specific hashtags across all social networks. This may already be happening, for all I know; it did happen in EAGxVirtual, although I was surprised to see the official hashtag was very lightly utilized: https://twitter.com/hashtag/EAGxVirtual.
  • Alternatively or complementarily, there is a trend in some circles towards a heavier use of threading. Twitter doesn't have great threading tools, but nevertheless a lot of interesting and nuanced conversations are happening in the shape of thread trees. Accounts with an interest in certain topics or kinds of conversations tend to congregate in the replies to high-profile accounts associated with those; in some ways, the reply space of some personalities resemble their own small social networks. Recommendation: EA could adopt/encourage threading-friendly conventions and perhaps prioritize threads over singleton posts.
  • Finally, and perhaps more importantly, I believe the EA community should consider promoting the well-designed code of conduct of the EA Forum within the wider internet. That is: make it our default to bring the same constructive, non-confrontational, goal-oriented altruistic values onto Twitter, or indeed any social networks the movement wants to use meaningfully. Social networks are empty tools without their users' goals and values. By default they are driven by engagement algorithms and become divisive, polarizing, and sometimes even violent; the movement could choose to lead the public conversation to a better place by example, and in this way also likely attract more users to the movement overall. When I tell users that I try to use Twitter as a platform for constructive debate, they usually express puzzlement and/or skepticism; but I believe it can be done. Network effects are at play here and elsewhere.

If you are interested in discussing further, I remain open and interested.

Thank you!

If we make a code of conduct, can we consider trying to test a system that we'd want others to replicate. Many times when we build institutions within EA we have th opportunity to test new strategies. If these are successful, then EAs will be much more likely to replicate them in their workplaces. As long as there is an expectation that this is a test, if it fails, that's okay.

I suggest we ask the question "what statements should be in a code of conduct? upvote all that you agree with". People put single lines of the code of conduct and the top 5-10 different points get used.

I would do this myself but I'm wary of stepping on toes, if there is widespread support, I'm happy to.

Hi, Nathan! I very much agree that experimenting as a community with codes of conduct seems promising; ideally I believe they would be maintained in such a crowdsourced (and openly reasoned) way.

This is something I've been interested in for a while, and would like to continue researching as time permits. I am in the process of writing a post for this forum about some possible approaches to constructive community building that I've been considering, mostly to gather feedback and pointers to similar/better ongoing efforts. The question of how to agree on a code of conduct that is maximally constructive and inclusive features prominently. I'll share it here when it's ready, hopefully shortly.

Welcome, and thanks for the contribution! I strongly agree with all three recommendations, and would point to #EconTwitter as a Twitter community that has managed to do all three very well.

Maintaining a strong code of conduct seems particularly useful. Different parts of Twitter have very different conversation norms, ranging from professional to degenerate and constructive to cruel. Norms are harder to build than to destroy, but ultimately individual people set the norm by what they tweet, so anyone can contribute to building the culture they want to see.

FWIW, my two cents would be to discourage more serious EA conversations from moving to Twitter. In my experience, it often brings out the worst in people and conversations. (It also has plenty of positives, and can be lots of fun.)

I guess just remember that if you are a public longtermist on twitter you represent the movement to the same degree your content is more spreadable. If you are rude or condescending then that will be damaging to a similar extent that good content is postive.

I find twitter a hard medium in this regard since you have to be constantly gracious even when it feels like you are getting attacked.


To me it feels easier to participate in discussions on Twitter than on (e.g.) the EA Forum, even though you're allowed to post a forum comment with fewer than 280 characters. This makes me a little worried that people feel intimidated about offering "quick takes" here because most comments are pretty long. I think people should feel free to offer feedback more detailed than an upvote/downvote without investing a lot of time in a long comment.

Agreed, and I support EA Forum norms of valuing quick takes in both posts and comments. Personally, the perceived bar to contributing feels way too high.

I agree! I set aside a big chunk of my recent EAGx presentation about posting on the Forum to discussing Shortform posts, which exist largely to encourage brief content/"quick takes".

Thanks for this post, it's something that has been bothering as of late.

I like that these important topics become more discoverable, but worry about the lock-in that occurs when we move discussion to social media. For those who choose not to participate in Twitter or Facebook, it becomes harder to keep up with much of the movement.

Let me be transparent here, I'm worried about this particularly for my own sake!

I can't control my time usage on these websites at all. I have to keep twitter, facebook, etc. blocked completely from my devices or I won't get anything done.

It feels awful that I can't keep up with potentially great discussions by wonderful people on twitter (and Rob Wiblins fantastic hot takes on facebook), without participating in media that leaves me anxious and stressed.

Maybe it's just me who has this issue, but I want to voice it in case I'm not the only one.

Some words of caution here which I want to be brief with to (ideally) set someone up for taking down in a steel-man.

The tl;dr version is Twitter excels at meming misinformed, outraged takes on nuanced things.

First off, EA and in particular long-termism has some vocal detractors who do not seem to use the same norms as most people on the EAF.

Second, Twitter is a forum which people who dislike an event / idea can easily weaponise to discredit the thing and the poster, and do so through (sometimes deliberate) misinterpretation. So it's plausible that long-termist posts on Twitter - if not steel-manned rigorously beforehand - would be vulnerable for this. For example, any post not triple-checked could be retweeted with a misinterpreting comment that argues how long-termism is a bad ideology, and provoke a negative meme-and-outrage-cascade / pile-on.

Third, even with excellent codes of conduct in place (and I agree with disseminating the EAF CoC more widely where possible), an actor who wants to misinterpret something can and will. There is a fairly substantial risk that, should this happen, it would skew the discourse on long-termism outside EA for quite some time, and it may prove very challenging to reset this.

The above are some hot-takes, which I genuinely thought about *not* posting because I haven't had time to mull over them much but thought better to do it than not.

Also, I genuinely hope I'm wrong (especially because I hate being the Helen Lovejoy "won't someone please think of the (future) children?!" voice!) - I think it would be helpful for someone to give some arguments against those or propose some potential mitigations, maybe those seen in other Twitter forums?

My hypothesis is that twitter spreads contraversial views (people *share* things they think are interesting or novel) whereas reddit spreads consensus views (people upvote things they think are true). This is worth remembering while you are on twitter. You probably project a more contraversial version of yourself by mainly retweeting things that you especially agree with.