Some years ago I read Joel Spolsky’s very funny description of Twitter in which he said:

Although I appreciate that many people find Twitter to be valuable, I find it a truly awful way to exchange thoughts and ideas. It creates a mentally stunted world in which the most complicated thought you can think is one sentence long. It’s a cacophony of people shouting their thoughts into the abyss without listening to what anyone else is saying. Logging on gives you a page full of little hand grenades: impossible-to-understand, context-free sentences that take five minutes of research to unravel and which then turn out to be stupid, irrelevant, or pertaining to the television series Battlestar Galactica. I would write an essay describing why Twitter gives me a headache and makes me fear for the future of humanity, but it doesn’t deserve more than 140 characters of explanation, and I’ve already spent 820.

I just read Maggie Haberman’s moving and troubling account of why she is giving up on Twitter, at least for a while. And I thought of Hobbes’ description of life in the state of nature as “nasty, brutish, and short”. Not a bad summary of the modal political tweet or of the style of the would-be-emperor, who is not very good at governing, but sets an excellent example for how to behave badly in this genre.  I think it was Acton who said that “with words we govern men.”  Words matter. When I was a schoolboy in post-war Germany the “Wörterbuch des Unmenschen” (lexicon of the inhuman) was a well-known book about Nazi rhetoric. We’re not there yet, but are we getting there? Spolsky’s phrase about fearing for the future of humanity struck me as a little overblown when I first read. On a re-reading it sounds frighteningly plausible.