I’m Still on Twitter

Heads up, media wonky stuff ahead. Don’t want that? Read my friend Andy’s round up of the best writing about plants in 2016. No, really, it’s funny and the reads are ace. 

I’ve been trying to figure out which crowd-sourcing platform to use to raise money for a band project. Search doesn’t work as well as it used to [and here’s where I deleted a screed about how those who have prioritized SEO over quality writing have ruined search for all of us.] If I want a qualified answer from a source I trust I turn to Twitter. Yesterday, I received a lengthy email about crowd-sourcing platforms. It was so helpful, exactly the kind of insight I needed. I didn’t know the guy, he’s a friend of a friend; my friend connected the dots via Twitter.

I have dozens, possibly hundreds, of stories about how Twitter has benefited me. Some are concrete things — a question answered, a source located. I’ve been offered jobs via Twitter.  I’ve received less tactical but equally tangible benefits — I chat nearly every morning with a friend I first “met” via Twitter. If you’re the type that doubts the veracity of these kinds of connections, I was able to invite him to dinner with my parents not that long ago.  That astronaut thing? That was Twitter. Twitter’s transitory quality doesn’t mean the results are equally ephemeral.

None of this is to negate Twitter’s downside. I received threats of physical violence when I questioned how a group was capitalizing on their Twitter interactions. That has not happened again, but I have not forgotten what it feels like.  The hostility I’ve received when sharing my thoughts on gun control has been shocking (and a wee bit ironic).  Not for a second would I doubt anyone’s negative experiences on Twitter. The insults and threats are real — Twitter sucks at dealing with it.

All this thinking out loud about Twitter is in reaction to a Guardian piece by the magnificent Lindy West: I’ve left Twitter. It is unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators. Lindy says:

I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business. If my gynecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix. If I found out my favorite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether.

The President-Elect is a manipulative petulant child on Twitter. I blocked his account because every time he posted, if felt like a personal attack. Ann Coulter is a hate-filled witch, yesterday someone shared what looked like a roll call for white supremacists. I did not see this because I follow Nazis; someone shared it as an example of what a monster she is. I’m good without seeing that, though it makes a good laundry list of the accounts Twitter should suspend.

On a less inflammatory note, Russian porn-bots have taking to retweeting my posts. This isn’t abusive so much as it is annoying; my feed becomes choked with Svetlanas and Natashas showing their plastic like skin and inviting me to click for more. I don’t love the conversion of humans to marketers either, but I understand that this is a trajectory media often takes. Both of these are minor nuisances compared to actual Nazis. Of course. Again, from Lindy’s Guardian piece:

On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”

“We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen Twitter used to mobilize American citizens to contact their lawmakers about the GOP play to gut congressional ethics oversight. Twitter users continue to galvanize us to fight for the Affordable Care Act. I learned about the Grab Your Wallet boycott that targets retailers who carry Trump products via Twitter. Right now in my feed there are calls to support Planned Parenthood, some jabs about the hater behind the Coachella music festival, photos of snow, and a video of a very cute donkey. My feed is interesting, funny, and useful.

I’d never question Lindy’s choice to delete her account. Her experience has been exhausting and deeply negative — I’ve seen it while following her. She gave more than she got and certainly she got a lot of things she did not deserve. Godspeed, Lindy, I already miss the sharp clarity of your voice.

Plus, Lindy is right, Twitter is doing a terrible job at keeping the town square free from hate speech. She’s wrong about it being “only suitable for trolls, robots, and dictators.” Those people are there, but so is Cory Booker and Elizabeth “I Ain’t Afraid of No Trump” Warren. So is Igor Volsky and David Fahrenthold and the good people of Oregon Public Broadcasting who did incredible reporting on the Malheur occupation.

 

I looked up the whole “shouting fire in a darkened theater” thing because I’m a First Amendment booster. I wanted to understand what’s legal when it comes to telling people to STFU.  That took me to “clear and present danger” — the terms under which the government curtails our speech rights. For example, a Nazi group decides to hold an armed march against Jews. (That’s not free speech, that’s being an asshole.)

In addition to direct threats, which should not be tolerated, there’s a lot of shouting “fire” on Twitter. I see Lindy’s take as saying, “Fuck you guys, this is too much shouting. I’m out.” Respect, Lindy, mad respect, and you have taught so many of us so much about where to draw the line.

But I don’t know that I’m ready to give up. At this point, maybe it’s up to those of us still here to pick up a fire extinguisher and turn on the damn lights.

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