This tweet was apparently intended for a completely different thread posted by another account I had retweeted (seeking caption suggestions for Scott Morrison enjoying his leisure). Before I received an apology and the tweet was deleted, I spent an hour baffled over what had inspired what appeared to be public trolling from a prominant journalist and union representative towards myself, an impoverished crowdfunded citizen journalist?
At the time I was dealing with past abuse issues from my childhood so it seemed particularly odd to be the subject of criticism from a progressive journalist.
The tweet is just one example of behaviour we have all come to embrace and engage in and it is behaviour which I have recently begun to question at a very fundamental level for what is driving it and where that road ends.
A lot of transparency work focuses on the role powerful interests play in corrupting policy and funding decisions. However, searching for evidence to fuel political scandals in an effort to take political scalps is only one approach to social and political change.
Beyond the randomly uncovered scandals, there are ongoing influences playing in the background (ie what makes people vote a certain way regardless of the scandals that come and go) and the voters who play a significant role in electoral outcomes and key policy debates.
But taking a dispassionate view of why people make decisions which the left consider politically incorrect, even if only to better understand how to sway those votes, comes with its own risks: the risk of being seen to be challenging progressive ideology and the abuse that such a misconception can unleash.
Progressives did not come to view posting offensive tweets or inciting large scale abuse toward people they have never met as an effective strategy for social change without help. Algorithms reinforce and magnify strong emotional responses. Posts that spike anger, whether interpreted as intended or not, are the ones most likely to generate engagement.
Anything nuanced or long-winded enough to clarify misconceptions to get in front of knee-jerk responses sink like stones in that ocean, never to be considered, much less debated.
The posts people do respond to then generate more responses and on and on it goes up the chain until at the top you have posts that are considered 'viral'.
That infection is the terminology given to such posts speaks to the valourisation of strong emotion (in this case moral outrage) over careful and informed analysis. In a world spilling over with bad news, we can only respond to those posts which most trigger our moral outrage or that catch our attention through the bizarre.
Solutions to complex problems require a will to get beyond outrage and our desire to feel morally superior or to be entertained. I suspect it is the valourisation of moral outrage that is a key factor inhibiting the left from understanding how and why it is not making progress where it feels it should.
The success of social media pile-ons and blacklisting anything perceived to be politically incorrect has convinced progressives that might is right. People who otherwise feel they have little voice in policy making feel they are doing something useful by encouraging these kinds of activities and the left feels it is making progress.
With so much conservative blood in the water, suggesting that bullying perceived enemies may not be the answer to every problem is likely to be viewed as another target for the cross-hairs, and make the messenger of such a view a candidate for political, social and financial crucifixion.
Cancelling people is now a proud tradition of the left and it is not that undermining powerful conservative voices is a bad thing but that so many people now invest a lot of time and energy into pre-emptively cancelling or bullying into line anyone who appears not to side with their views. This iron-fisted solidarity has some very unhelpful side-effects.
Working in this environment requires me to choose between telling people what they want to hear and watching them clap along to the beat of the approved narrative or to write what I think people need to hear with the risk of becoming political roadkill. Such work exacts a high price from anyone sharing inconvenient truths over partisan rhetoric. After all, corruption is not solely the province of conservative governments.
So where does that leave researchers or journalists committed to revealing corruption wherever it is found or questioning the accepted narrative? Being ignored for the inconvenient partisan implications or de-funded and forced back on welfare. So much for progressive values, but this is the reality the truth faces in this environment and why transparency projects struggle so much for financial sustainability.
I've always found it particularly ironic that so much of Twitter is devoted to demanding transparency and the truth but whenever the truth does not fit with partisan interests, it is ignored at best or at worst, subject to attack.
However, the costs are not just personal or subjective. There are wider implications to the way social media works. One is that nuance can not fit into this model.
The right-left divide has become an angry machine that spits every single word, action or idea to one side or the other and there is nothing in-between. That conservative pundits are key benefactors of our outrage is hardly an endorsement of its merit.
If the solution to a better democracy is in fact not at the extremes but in the two sides (at the level of voters making political choices) understanding where the other is coming from then this machine that constantly reinforces a winner-takes-all approach to any and all public communication or intellectual discourse has become the enemy of progress- the one thing we are all trying to achieve.
I suspect that progress from the left can not come from a might-is-right approach and that we are seeing the effect of this approach in the hardening of both extremes as each side retreats further and further into their own worlds, reinforcing their own beliefs (with the help of social media algorithms) and neither side believing the other could have anything valid to say.
Few seem to consider the negative impacts that the circle of validation that social media creates might be paving the way for the very things they are so against, not just in those they perceive as enemies but also within themselves.
When we endorse only the enmity social media and journalism feed off, or when we assume we don't need to understand because we can simply force our views on the other, we lose the opportunity to understand what we are missing.
I think we need to consider that if we do not care to listen to what people who do not vote our way think or why, that someone else will come and fill the void.
Some very dangerous interests benefit from the increasingly divided political discourse that moves conservatives and progressives further and further apart the longer we participate in it.
If we don't want to be surprised that people vote for opposition policies and candidates elected for their promise to empower the same people we refuse to listen to then we need to step out of the binary divide long enough to look at the long term consequences of our own behaviours. If we fail to do this, we can hardly expect it of those we consider less informed.