“Least Intelligible Person on Twitter” is a difficult achievement, but Seth Abramson might have it locked up.
Abramson is a fervent anti-Trump tweeter who gained a tremendous following after the 2016 presidential election. Liberal academics and never-Trumpers love him. He’s attracted nearly 450,000 Twitter followers. As one of the leading “journalists” on the Trump-Russia saga, he’s written for or appeared on CNN, CBS and Vanity Fair. Despite multiple critical pieces about his Twitter presence, he maintains enormous influence.
Abramson’s journalistic work is almost entirely long tweet threads. These morbidly verbose internet scrolls assemble the latest information on Trump and Russia with a bunch of Abramson’s key analysis. For casual audiences, he probably appears to be a master investigator putting all the clues together. But in reality, it’s just Abramson telling Trump haters exactly what they want to hear.
Twitter is confirmation bias manifested. People read, like and retweet information from accounts that either validate or bolster their preexisting beliefs. They follow people they respect or know they agree with on a major topic. This makes them unwilling to believe new or contradictory information. It’s a feedback loop of common opinion.
People seek reassurances from outside voices for a number of reasons—some tweeters, like reporters and insiders, have more information and sources. Some tweeters are just good at communicating, or seek to earnestly use their platform to spread useful information to followers.
Seth Abramson is none of those things. He engages in doublespeak and deals almost exclusively in “what ifs.” He calls readers to action by literally writing “ATTENTION” in all caps and presenting absurdly specific scenarios that will bring Trump down. On the surface it looks like a lot, but a minute of reading exposes familiar patterns of conveying insubstantial information.
Take one of his most recent threads about the Shearer Memo (the proverbial sequel to the Steele Dossier that alleges the existence of a Donald Trump pee tape). Over the course of 45(!) tweets, Abramson explains how the new memo—which he hasn’t seen—confirms the most damning aspects of Trump’s misdeeds in the Steele Dossier. Abramson peppers in anti-Trump buzzwords like “stooges,” “blackmail” and “compromised.” (No tweet in the thread has less than 250 retweets, and the first tweet has nearly 6,500.)
TL;DR: Russians have Trump sex tapes. Trump has illicit financial ties to Russians. Putin is holding all that over Trump’s head, and Trump in turn hasn’t (and won’t) say a bad word about Putin or Russia. It’s all true, it’s all real and it will all be confirmed in time.
And hey, maybe it will be. Maybe Donald Trump is a treasonous sexual deviant after all. But what Abramson’s doing here isn’t journalism, as much as he’d like it to be. It’s taking other people’s reporting—he cites multiple sources, mainly this article in The Guardian—and repackaging it in the form of a tasty five-course Twitter meal. At least this Vox explainer gives you a whiff of journalistic integrity with little defense of Shearer’s potential motivations.
Abramson doesn’t—it’s all a means to an end, which is relentless self promotion. He begs for retweets and gains followers, leaving the readers hanging to dry with little new information and even less actual context. What he’s created is an amalgamation of Trump-Russia coverage garnished with hypotheticals. It’s designed to make anyone reading his tweet threads think they’re totally up on the whole story, actual sources and reporting be damned.
Abramson isn’t the first person to take advantage of anti-Trump fervor on Twitter. Louise Mensch has called Trump a Putin puppet since before his election and regularly refers to people that call her out as Russian bots or spies. Eric Garland rose to prominence with his famous “game theory” tweet thread that’s since been memed. Abramson isn’t quite as conspiratorial, but his popularity speaks to Twitter’s echo chamber. People will listen to what they want to believe, even if the source is full of shit.