Twitter: Some feelings

I should be writing a proper post. I had a proper post planned – it was about Sherlock, and how none of the emotional moments in it worked for me because Steven Moffat just does not understand that you’ve got to put money into the emotional bank in order for those big moments to pay off. I probably still will write that post.

Instead, I want to write about something almost as contentious.

I want to write about Twitter. Specifically, Bookish Twitter and how these days I can stomach it less and less.

There are two important points to be made before I get into this. One of which is that I am a person with a lot of privileges: I’m an educated white cisgender lady. The other, is that at 24, I’m definitely at the older end of the spectrum of book bloggers. And I didn’t even realise what that meant until I started watching how 19-year-olds act on the internet.

All that said, I see a lot of young white girls online who have taken up the gauntlet for bookish diversity and allyship, and rather than expressing that by reviewing books, posting articles and using their own following to bring attention to marginalised voices, they seem to spend the vast majority of their time bullying other users.

And I don’t think bullying is too strong of a word. Time and again, I see tweets linking to the twitter, goodreads and other social media accounts of people who’ve written – sometimes, yes, legitimately bad – things, always with the headline of how TERRIBLE this internet stranger is and how NO ONE SHOULD FOLLOW THEM. The effect of this is, to my view, twofold:

First, it’s just straight up a shitty thing to do. It’s bullying. It doesn’t take into account any possibility of lost nuance, or even that perhaps one dumb tweet isn’t representative of a person’s heart. Also, if this past election in the US, and the whole Brexit disaster in my own country that preceded it have shown us anything, it’s that spewing hatred at each other is not the most effective means of getting a message across. Yes, some people are legitimately heinous and to be avoided, but a lot are just teenagers who don’t know any better (and, to be frank, aren’t going to learn from someone just telling them they suck).

Second, I just don’t know why people always make the choice to uplift the voice of the racist, homophobic, etc stranger on Twitter. Spreading hatred around really doesn’t help anybody long term.

Okay, now that’s over with, my main point: Being an ally involves more than attacking strangers on Twitter.  

Yes, it does mean having difficult conversations.

You know what is absolutely fucking terrible for difficult conversations? A website that only lets you think in 140 characters.

And, to be clear, the definition of a difficult conversation isn’t telling someone who wrote something insensitive about gender to go fuck themselves, or that they are stupid, or that no one should follow them on Twitter. A difficult conversation is what happens when a person is open, and willing to understand the opposing viewpoint enough to effectively challenge it.

I don’t see this. All I see on Twitter is people who would rather attack someone than actually talk to them.

All I see is people who would rather talk about ‘the marginalised’ than actually listen to them. It is deeply troubling to me that many of the most prominent voices in the bookish diversity conversation are white.

Listening is the other important part of being an ally. I found a really great article on Salon a while back that put it perfectly. The author writes: ‘Refrain from centring yourself in a movement that deserves your support but is not about you and about which you are not an authority.’ Or, as I would put it, bluntly, but from the kindest place in my heart: SHUT UP.

FINALLY: Keep in mind that everyone is still learning. Especially in this community, where a bunch of you are teens. Always be willing to question your assumptions, view your motivations critically and check your privileges, but also be mindful that to do so is hard, and we’re all in the (I am starting the think never ending?) process of figuring it out.

ACTUALLY FINALLY: watch this video. It’s such a valuable resource for anyone looking to communicate with people via Twitter, but the questions it presents are also helpful to ask yourself in daily life as well.

I have Mike McHargue’s four questions pinned to my desk top. I try to keep them in mind whenever I’m communicating with people on the internet.

ACTUALLY ACTUALLY FINALLY: Talking about this is scary, because you don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing, or make a problem worse, or be insensitive. I get it. But I think it’s a discussion that needs to be had, because bookish Twitter has become a very toxic environment.

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Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

25. Loves a good story.

8 thoughts on “Twitter: Some feelings”

  1. I completely agree! I’ve thought about this a lot as well. I joined book twitter to talk about books and as a 1/2 black have 1/2 Moroccan Muslim girl (living in the US) I obviously support diversity! But I do think we can talk about it in better ways. It sucks that a lot of teenagers are afraid to speak their mind because they know they won’t always be approached kindly when someone wants to correct them. It’s definitely okay to talk about problematic behaviour but there is a way to do it and a lot of adults on here forget they are dealing with teens. I definitely said things I would NEVER say now as a teenager because I hadn’t unlearned that behaviour yet.

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    1. It’s hard. I think that in the past few months so many truly inexcusable, awful and unforgivable things have been said by people with all the power and all the privilege, that a certain, very vocal group of people have done is assume that the prejudice, discrimination and hatred they have seen is true of every teenager on Twitter who in truth just doesn’t know any better yet.

      When things are hard, it’s easy to assume that everyone is awful, and that all their intentions are bad, but I just can’t make myself believe that.

      I hope you’re okay. This must be a rough day to live in the US x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea I agree! Its easy online to just jump out and call people out. Especially because everything so instant but I think it’s important to just take a break. And yea its tough in the US today lol – I’m just avoiding the news 😦

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  2. Fabulous post! Very well said.

    I have to say, I’ve been avoiding Twitter for the last week or so. I’m getting very tired of the “screenshot” shaming that I’ve been seeing (most of the time, the comment is racist or homophobic or some other diversity issue). It’s not that I am opposed to people calling people out on offensive content (how else can you learn your actions are offensive); but it’s like you said, it is bullying. And I’m not sure that it is necessarily helping anyone either by using this method.

    I read a great book by Jon Ronson called So You’ve Publicly Been Shamed and online shaming and like is something he discusses at length. It’s an interesting read!

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  3. Thank you so much for writing this, Lydia. I know I (as a white ally of POC) have learned a LOT about how to be a good ally from reading POC’s Twitter conversations, but—especially in the last couple weeks, and ESPECIALLY at about the time you wrote this post—I had to step away from Twitter because of all the drama and bullying that was scrolling along my dashboard. I was actually away from home for the week when you wrote this post, and had to call my husband just to vent about some of the things I was reading. Seeing someone else venting about it in public is incredibly therapeutic. So: thank you.

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    1. Thank YOU. I have been in two minds about this post ever since I published it. In so many ways it didn’t feel like mine to write, you know? Writing a blog about the importance of listening over talking felt somewhat hypocritical, haha.

      I think Twitter breaks are important. So is twitter unfollowing. Unfollow is totally my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “In so many ways it didn’t feel like mine to write, you know?”

        I completely get that. Learning to shut up has been probably my biggest lesson in allyship so far, and I wish I’d learned it ages ago from someone’s thoughtful post like this. Thoughtful, coherent, not-ragey discussions that aren’t limited to 140 characters (or long strings of 140-character partial-sentences) are my preferred way to learn things, personally.

        Thank god for the unfollow and the mute button.

        Like

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