Note: I wrote this piece in June, 2020, when Donald Trump was still breathing fire all over the land. Most of it is still relevant, still how I feel. So here it is, just as it was. Thanks for reading. All comments welcome, even those that don’t agree—or don’t get Twitter at all.
“People confuse Twitter with writing. It’s not writing, it’s signalling”. Margaret Atwood
It has finally happened. I’ve become a Twitter fanatic. To give you some idea, even before I wrote that first sentence I clicked back over to Twitter to see if I had any new notifications. I’ll be doing that a lot as I write this, because I put something clever up there and of course I want to see the reaction.
So far today I’ve gained six followers and lost three. I shouldn’t even know that and I really shouldn’t care. But I want to know why the hell only a handful of people are starring or retweeting what I’ve said in the past hour. Seriously?
I don’t remember when I got serious about using Twitter as both a soapbox and liberal headquarters (Yes, liberal. Come on. You knew that.), but it was long after 2009, when I apparently joined. I’m hooked now. Judge me if you want but I’m okay with it. More than okay. It’s my place for better or for worse.
Jack, by the way, is Jack Dorsey. He owns Twitter and makes all the rules. It’s his baby. People in the know call him Jack and, indeed, his Twitter handle is just @jack. He has 4.7 million followers, to give you some perspective. I’ll get back to him in a minute.
At first, when Twitter was young, anything we had to say had to be accomplished in 140 characters. That was hard! Then they raised it to 280 characters and that put some meat on our argumentative bones:
“Take that, you pusillanimous upshot of a rouge-faced hyena, thinking you can laugh you’re way out of this one! I’ve got your number! I’ve seen your kind before! Your mother wears combat boots! Dummy! Stupid dummy! And don’t come back if you know what’s good for you! LOLOLOLOL. Hahahahahahahaha! #getouttahere”
If you’ve been there you know it’s far worse than that. Twitter is not for the faint of heart. Dark, ugly stuff goes on there 24 hours a day. People’s lives can turn upside down over a single tweet. Careers have been ruined over days-long tweet storms. There are bots and trolls and all kinds of slimy creatures crawling all over the place. Cell phone videos capture everything from embarrassing fashion fails to off-the-wall temper tantrums full of naughty, naughty words to real-time physical attacks on real people.
So you may be wondering, what’s a nice girl like me doing in a place like that?
Well, let me tell you. I see Twitter as a vast city and I get to choose where I’m going to visit. I don’t have to go to those dark places, but if I do happen to wander in, there’s nothing stopping me from leaving. If I don’t like the people I encounter, even if they scare the bejesus out of me, I can make them disappear with a single click of the ‘Block’ button.
They’re there and they’re visible and vocal, but so are a lot of incredibly amazing, talented, committed, sweet, sensible people, most of whom are working side by side to make the world a better place. To dismiss Twitter because of the bad stuff is to miss the chance to become that village it takes to raise us all, to lift us up, to feel a part of a growing force for good.
On Twitter we get to choose our village — our village within that vast city. I’m a political animal so the people I follow tend to be other political animals, but I follow writers and artists and musicians and creatives of all kinds. They’re the artsy neighborhood and I go there for respite when the fight gets to be too much and I need some R&R. Or just because. They’re infinitely interesting and a lot more fun.
When breaking news happens, Twitter hears it first. The rumblings begin long before the networks pick it up. Witnesses tweet messages first-hand and it’s as if we’re right there watching on the sidelines. That’s the good part.
But with every bit of breaking news there’s an aftermath: How did it happen? Why did it happen? Who is to blame? Who do we want to blame? What do you mean, you don’t agree with me? Why do you hate…..? Then it gets ugly again.
We’re in brutal times. I blame Donald Trump. Every nasty thought has risen to the surface now and it’s out there full blown, ready to erupt into some sort of violence, either emotional or physical. We’re into hurting each other now because it’s the thing to do when you have a president who instigates and outright demands an arena full of fighting gladiators so the crowd can call for blood and do a classic thumbs up or thumbs down.
It’s wearing, it’s wearying, it’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating for some, and it’s eye-opening for so many others. What the hell are we doing to each other? Why can’t we all just get along?
I submit for every cruel act, every bit of name-calling, there’s a rising tide of awareness, of decency, of understanding and forgiveness, and it all plays out on Twitter. We’re using Jack’s vehicle to find ourselves, and even Jack is finally coming around. Sort of.
So far he’s resisting cutting off the Worst Offender completely — I mean, how do you tell the president he’s such a piece of shit he’s no longer welcome on Twitter? (I could do it and so could you but apparently Jack can’t.)
But Jack is giving in a little, and irritating the hell out of Trump by slamming a notation on some of his tweets, announcing to the world that the president is pushing ‘manipulated media’.
The latest is his retweet of a video of two adorable toddlers, one black, one white, running toward each other on a city street, hugging and laughing and so happy to see each other we can’t help but smile, too. Somebody saw a chance to mess with the video so it looks like the little black kid is chasing the little white kid to hurt him. Trump saw his chance to grab the attention of his racist rat pack and retweeted it. (No, citizens of the future, I’m not kidding. The president of the United States did that. I hope you’ve evolved to the point where you find that sort of thing outrageous and inconceivable. If not, it probably means we didn’t get it done and in November, 2020 this guy got another four years.)
So Jack didn’t take it down but he did call it ‘manipulated media’, adding a link to clarify. It’s something. I guess. But it shows that Twitter is evolving, too, and if certain corners are still hellholes, they’re fading fast. Jack is permanently banning certain creatures who refuse to change their vicious ways, including someone named Katie Hopkins (I admit she didn’t show up in my circles so I don’t know her) who apparently had once been a British “Apprentice”, a nasty racist, xenophobe and homophobe who had been condemned by the UN for violations of human rights, but had more than a million Twitter followers and was one of Trump’s retweet favorites. She’d been warned and temporarily suspended many times before but was finally banned forever for “abusive and hateful conduct”.
The blowback shows the efficacy and popularity of Twitter. It’s a big deal to lose your chance at propagandizing when a million followers are champing at the bit, waiting breathlessly for your next snotty, hurtful tweet. (I’m not sharing any of Katie’s tweets here. You can find them easily if you’re so inclined.) It needs to happen more often, but it’s a start.
I’ve been on Twitter long enough to have seen several cultural sea-changes, but the most remarkable is the current Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve watched hundreds of marches and protests across the country after the murders of more Black men and women whose only real offense was walking around in deeply pigmented skin. Murders perpetrated by police officers.
The latest were George Floyd, who died after a rabid cop pressed his knee to George’s neck for nine agonizing minutes, and Rayshard Brooks, whose only crime was falling asleep at a drive-thru window and not passing a breathalyzer test. There’s a whole long list of others, just this year alone, including Breonna Taylor, a medical worker who was shot to death in her own bed, a victim of mistaken identity.
The outrage is in full flame, the pain is palpable, and we as a nation are working to come together to stop any more Black murders at the hands of our supposed protectors. We see racism everywhere we look but that’s where Twitter shines. We hear the raging, grieving voices and they’re right here. They’re not nameless, faceless strangers, they’re people we’ve come to know. Our hearts are with them.
We have to learn how to help, but first we have to listen. Twitter is our village. Or is could be, if we let it. We’re never going to agree on everything — including how best to use Twitter — but it’s a place for us to work together, to strategize, to try to understand where we’ve come from and where we’re going. It’s not that hard to muffle the noise and concentrate on what’s important.
I’m here, by the way, and you may not like everything you see but there’s something else that happens on Twitter and almost nowhere else. I feel brave. I get my fight up. I’m a part of a bigger cause and whatever it takes, it’s worth it because I know the resisters. It feels personal.
One last thing: If Twitter built Trump up, it’ll be Twitter that takes him down, Jack or no Jack. Trump’s tweets are getting more and more desperate, more and more pathetic. We’re watching him fall apart in Twitter-time, and if that’s not energizing I don’t know what is.
(Ed. note: Update: Jack DID IT! He banned Trump forever.)