Twitter was a beautiful experiment in my beginning, 2008; a microlist of every person’s interests and anguishes, a way to share your immediate thoughts with like-minded others.
Stuck in a little apartment at the bottom of Japan with only a PS2, Vice City, Virtua Fighter 4, and Shadow of the Colossus, it was too quiet when the TV was off. This silence was wrung out by dipping a toe into the fast rapids of Twitter to share my thoughts on how bamboo fronds drifted on air on my morning walks, or how the ash from the volcano in the peninsula had coated my underwear on the balcony. Such bland, gushing observation was only interesting to friends or shinnichi English speakers, and occasionally I’d talk to people who liked or talked about video games for something to do.
But then, people didn’t seem to care who I was, or where I lived, or what I liked, as long as I was agreeable. This hasn’t really changed, apart from that until last month people looked at my follower count and thought that what I said must matter more than it did when I had 300 people following me. This is a strange feeling, because really, I am just as prone to mistakes, misunderstandings, and assumptions as I was when I was 22 and had no fellowship to attend to. Perhaps I am a little more internet savvy, but I’ve been burnt by the internet just as much as I have been embraced by it.
But the follow count is the thing: once you hit a certain mark, and I have no idea what that mark is – for me it hit somewhere in between 2012 and now, I suspect – Twitter becomes surveillance. I think this is true for all social network platforms, but particularly for a platform that organises itself around the most immediate emotional knuckle duster sentences you can possibly form. The context collapse of your statement on Twitter can lead people to assume all sorts of things about you, and it is in part your responsibility to tend to this context collapse, because just as you can hurt someone by making a blunt observation in real life, you can also hurt someone with a blunt sentence online. But often you have no idea who you are addressing with your words on Twitter, so the hurt is magnified exponentially.
You are no longer amongst friends.
This means the smartest high follower count Twitter users keep their Deep Thoughts for articles, their work, their actual day to day Stuff, and reserve Twitter for the sort of jokes that you would tell as icebreakers at parties. Sometimes they are not even jokes – they’re just banal thoughts, or petitions for good causes, or link boosting friends.
This is because the cost of tending to your Twitter account when you really have something to say – particularly if you are a highly visible woman of colour, say – has become too much. Twitter’s damage control tools are not good enough to be able to limit the damage of sexism, racism, bigotry, things that are a worldwide problem. Every time we think that perhaps they will make the reporting system and the blocking system more stringent, it is found that it is just as weak as before. This recent round of improvements, we hope, will make the arseholes pucker to pinpricks, but the likelihood of it is miniscule.
For me, someone whose career largely came to fruition because I found a handful of women writers who supported each other and swapped work after connecting on Twitter, I found the encouragement I needed – I remember swapping Unwinnable essays with Katie Williams and with Jenn Frank and discussing so many things with Lana Polansky – I feel sad that I had to leave Twitter. And I left because I felt the cost of tending to Twitter was too high for me. It was taking my time and in return, giving me stress.
I think it’s good to remind yourself that Twitter needs your follower count more than you need Twitter’s visibility. I’ve been writing online for six years and the majority of hits (about 90%) to ‘online content’ (if you want to call it that) are sent from Facebook posts, not Twitter. And as much as we all dislike Facebook’s current annoying organisational system and damaging dependence on real names, at least the kind of creeping Facebook does is more manageable. The blocking system on Facebook is flawless, as far is my experience. I’m sure there are other forests Facebook is bulldozing.
Having left Twitter behind I find that my life is now absent of all sorts of anxiety that I’ve nurtured for years. The anxiety from too many RTs and favs or too little. The constantly tending to replies. The tiring surveillance of your Twitter account (sometimes of people who you have blocked, because blocking is terrible; sometimes of friendly people who ‘just want to help’; sometimes of people who just want ONE REPLY FROM YOU so they can go on with their day). The subtweets, the feuds, the same arguments happening in circles. The real time that those consumed, simply because of the immediacy of the platform, was removing a great deal of time from the work that I care about, which is the work that got me the readership in the first place. I am not sure anyone will write an obit for me when I’m dead, but if they do no one is going to say ‘RIP CARAS FUNNY TWEETS’.
I wonder if I would have been gutsy enough to delete twitter if I was still churning out whatever it was I did a couple years ago. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write the book I did, and so this isn’t a rant about how Twitter is bad. It’s just become bad for me, at at a particular time. I don’t think the option of deleting your Twitter is open to everyone. At some angle I think it’s like a trap in Saw: it is a test of your will to live, twisted through psychological BS, and the more you journey into it the harder it is to leave.
Once you have 100k+ followers Twitter should send a social worker to your home to discuss if you still want/need access to this technology.
— Team Tony Stank (@KendraJames_) 25 May 2016
Yet there are many worthwhile communities on there, and there are so many good things to be had from participating in conversations on Twitter. But it is a very loud platform, one that demands being tended to more than a fussy puppy. It wants to be fed. It demands via notifications that you pay attention. It sometimes bites into your creativity, removes ideas from you as deftly as a practised pickpocket. It’s like any awards show or competition or game: they need you to put yourself on it more than you actually need it. The player of a game is a resource.
Pop mogul Beyonce very rarely says what she thinks in public. That used to puzzle me, really – most of my being used to revolve around my direct thoughts being heard, because I felt like I’d been underheard for a lot of my life, sort of like a teen Cassandra dressed like Daria who always turned up late to say ‘I told you so’. So I wondered why Beyonce didn’t face her haters in arguments, or shout down reporters, or ask Miley what in the heck was good. When everyone on the internet got mad that Beyonce hadn’t declared she was a Feminist, Beyonce stood up on a stage at a show and silhouetted herself in front of a giant lit backboard with FEMINIST on it in capital letters. She has not recently to my knowledge said anything outside of her music about the opinions people have of her or her work.
This is probably due to a clever, privileged, and expensive PR strategy that has cost her a lot of money at some point. But it also means that Beyonce has a lot of time to think about what she really wants to say, and says it more powerfully and more brutally through her home turf medium, because she isn’t giving away morsels of it, in little increments, in interviews, or in personal blog posts. She waits until she is playing at home, and then she bats Lemonade.