I have observed a change, or really a narrowing, in the public behavior of people who use Twitter or other social media a lot. (“Other social media” sometimes coming into play after ejection from Twitter.) When I compare Mr. Musk, Mr. Trump and Ye, I see a convergence of personalities that were once distinct. The garish celebrity playboy, the obsessive engineer and the young artist, as different from one another as they could be, have all veered not in the direction of becoming grumpy old men, but into being bratty little boys in a schoolyard. Maybe we should look at what social media has done to these men.

I believe “Twitter poisoning” is a real thing. It is a side effect that appears when people are acting under an algorithmic system that is designed to engage them to the max. It’s a symptom of being part of a behavior-modification scheme.

Behavioural changes occur as a side effect of something called operant conditioning, which is the underlying mechanism of social media addiction. This is the core mechanism analogous to the role alcohol plays in alcoholism. In early operant conditioning, pioneered by famous behaviourists like B.F. Skinner, animals were given positive and negative feedback in the form of treats and electric shocks. The behavior of each individual animal was monitored so that the stimulus given was constantly optimised to a purpose. A similar scheme targets people through their phones today.


Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist whose writings are always worth reading, wrote a must-read short article in the NYTimes.