For a brief, wondrous moment before Thanksgiving, it looked like Twitter might die. Elon Musk, the social media platform’s new owner, had fired too many crucial people. There was no one maintaining the servers, former employees warned, and if they shut off, there was a high chance they may never turn back on. The night before my holiday flight out to the American West, I frantically took screenshots of every tweet I’d embedded here on Night Water so that I could replace them if the platform went down.
I love Twitter. I’ve been on the site since 2008.¹ It is my social media platform of choice, a perfect mix of offbeat jokes and breaking news and brain-damaging discourse. But, like many Twitter users, I approached its impending death with a sense of relief and even glee. Of course Twitter would go out like this—an explosion of chaos set off by an egomaniacal freak who just wanted people to like his memes and would accidentally destroy two companies in the process. Maybe now, with the death of Twitter, I would be free. I’d walk outside my apartment and take a deep breath of fresh air and feel electricity flow down to my fingertips. I’d finish that novel, learn to bake bread, meditate for 30 minutes every morning. Twitter would die so that I could live.
That did not, unfortunately, happen. Twitter is still running, though it still seems possible that it could shut down at a moment’s notice. This uncertainty has left me wondering: will Twitter die before I find out why Howard Dean, the former governor of my home state of Vermont, blocked me?
I found out that Dr. Dean (I have to assume that we are not on a first-name basis, given the evidence) had blocked me on July 26th, 2022, at approximately 11:51 PM. Finding out Howard Dean blocked you on Twitter—now that’s a late night vibe.
A friend had sent a tweet from Dr. Dean to our Vermont group chat. Dr. Dean was weighing in on the primary race between Molly Gray and Becca Balint.² I tapped the tweet with my finger, revealing an error page in the Twitter app. “Huh, that’s weird,” I thought. I tried searching for Dr. Dean’s account directly, but he didn’t show up in my search results. “Huh, that’s weirder.” I found a tweet that mentioned @GovHowardDean and tapped his username. It was then that I discovered the weirdest thing at all:
When had Dr. Dean blocked me? It’s impossible to know from Twitter itself. Prior to this incident, I had never tweeted at or about my former governor. His profile—which I was still able to access when not logged in—stated that he blocked “bigots, whiners and enraged right wingers.” I am a bit of a whiner, but I don’t feel like that’s enough for Dr. Dean to block me.
The next morning, I went to work, attempting to find up-to-date contact information for Dr. Dean. Unable to find anything online, I reached out to a few Vermont news sites, as well as the Vermont Governor’s office and the Democratic National Committee. Despite the clear injustice that had occurred, no one responded to me, leaving me on my own to stew over the blocking.
As Dr. Dean is no longer an elected official, he is free to block me without incurring the wrath of the ACLU. But I couldn’t stop wondering how I ended up on his blocklist. If I knew when I was blocked, that could help crack the code. I’d like to believe that Dr. Dean blocked me personally after reading my review of Vermont Is so Great and Cities and Towns Places! “Everyone knows that ‘Shelburne Is Such Fine All-American Place’ is the best track on that album,” I imagined him muttering to himself as he reached for his phone. But I admit that this scenario stretches credulity.
Was the fact that I am a former Vermont resident in any way connected to the blocking? Or was I instead swept up in some kind of automated blocklist after I used the wrong keywords? Was I on a list of bigots? Enraged right wingers? Whiners? Or, perhaps scariest of all to the Democratic establishment, Bernie Bros?
We may never know. Dr. Dean deleted his Twitter account after Musk took over (or so goes the official story—I think that he was feeling the heat from my investigation and decided to cut and run). I’m still unable to find contact information for Dr. Dean. This could’ve been a perfect case for Reply All’s Super Tech Support or an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I need Robert Stack to come in with his trench coat and implore anyone with information to call the tip line.
Will a whistleblower from Dr. Dean’s social media management team come forward before Elon Musk drives Twitter into the ground? Or will the secret of my blocking die with Twitter? Stay with us here on Night Water—perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery.
My 15th Twitter anniversary was actually on January 6th. Cue George Lucas: “It’s like poetry. They rhyme.” ↩
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray was the favored candidate from the Democratic establishment and started the race in the lead. Becca Balint, who served in the Vermont Senate, quickly caught up and exceeded Gray, solidly winning the primary with 59% of the vote. While Gray promised continuity with Democratic representatives past, Balint was a fresher, more progressive candidate, earning the endorsements of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Near the end of the race, Gray and her backers, including Dr. Dean, attempted to attack Balint by condemning the outside spending from PACs supporting her campaign. This didn’t connect with voters, and possibly backfired on Gray—the outside spending was primarily coming from groups supporting LGBTQ candidates. In the tweet that caused me to discover my blocked status, Dr. Dean wrote: “After saying she opposed spending by outside groups, Becca Balint has benefitted from more than half a million dollars spent on her behalf. This is wrong, [sic] It’s bad for Vermont and bad for our country. I’m really disappointed in Becca. These are not Vermont values.” Incredibly patronizing! Though now when my cat Finn does something bad, I do condemn him by saying “these are not Vermont values!” ↩