To The Twitter That (Never) Was
"I love Twitter but I have never seen so much cruelty in my life than on that platform. "
Whenever I was invited onto panels or podcasts, I would tell people that I am the quintessential millennial author. Years ago, after graduating from college—an Ivy at that—I thought that I was going to move to New York City, or some North Jersey town where I could see Manhattan from my living room window, become an editorial assistant, and then somehow, one of the top execs would just so happen to find my manuscript on the copy machine, I’d get a book deal, and then I’d be on the escalator ride to literary success.
Life didn’t happen that way.
Instead, I had no job offers and I moved back to my hometown, a place where I didn’t want to be. I spent my days sulking over my heart being broken by some guy, ballroom dancing to keep my spirits up, tutoring five or so hours a week total, and pursuing an MFA at a low-residency program. But most of all, I was online.
When I tell people that I am the quintessential millennial author, I mean it. I was able to build a platform for myself because I connected with editors who sought pitches through Twitter. My first agent found me when a then BuzzFeed editor retweeted something of mines. The woman who would acquire my first book found me on Twitter too. The vast majority of my friends, who I did not know from undergrad and earlier, came from Twitter.
It goes without saying that I feel like I owe my entire career to Twitter. In 280 characters or less, I can showcase my personality as well as my curiosities and professional writing. I can talk to people from New Jersey or as far as Indonesia. For many Black and Brown millennials, Twitter was responsible for us being able to get our foot in the door and make gatekeepers see and read us without ever having to leave our seat. We’ve fought back against the old vanguard and tradition. We spoke up. We were the driving force that engined internet culture. Without us, countless articles would never have been written because tweets of ours become whole stories, for better or for worse.
If it weren’t for Twitter, movements like Black Lives Matter, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Mahsa Amini, or Arab Spring, may not have had the global impact that it did. And that’s why it really pains me to see what is happening to the platform, even though it was a long time coming.
The truth is, Black and Brown people were the biggest cultural architects on Twitter but we were never protected like we deserved. As much as many people, including myself, had professionally soared due to our Twitter presences, we’ve also been subjected to plenty of nastiness. I love Twitter but I have never seen so much cruelty in my life than on that platform.
On the low level, I’m tired of people tweeting innocuous things and being berated because someone out in the universe is projecting their own life, experiences, and insecurities onto a complete stranger. I’m tired of people not extending grace to others when their whole ethos is about accountability or community. I’m tired of lies spreading quicker than the truth simply because a person doesn’t like the subject who they take glee in humiliating because that subject is not even human anymore, but rather a two-dimensional avatar. Twitter is a place where self-righteousness can reach nauseating levels. Twitter is also a place where you can’t just be wrong and be corrected but rather piled onto, relentlessly for hours or even days. To what end other than a thirst for blood?
Yes, Twitter can be a warm place, and I’ve met many like-minded souls on there. But Twitter is also a gladiator sport. Twitter is a place where compassion and tenderness are replaced with a hunger for virality and a chase for the dopamine high of being watched. I hate it but I also recognize that people love a spectacle and performing meanness will get you an audience quicker than kindness will.
On a more disastrous level, Twitter is the place where neo-nazis and fascists can harass and threaten you and if you are a Twitter user of color, sure, you could have reported it, but not much might be done about it.
And I’m not just talking threats like “I’m gonna get you”—that’s child’s play. I’m talking potential doxxing, (TRIGGER WARNING) rape threats, death threats. We were so vulnerable to a platform that we had given so much of our intellect and brilliance and if we were truly valued, then so many Black female digital experts, who sounded the alarm on how destructive these campaigns were for years now, would’ve been listened to and respected. But instead, we got Elon Musk, a man who purports to value free speech and yet urges his followers, which is over 100 million, mind you, that the Republican party is the right one. He (unknowingly or not) tweets an image of a Nazi soldier and reinstates accounts of those who are antisemites, transphobes, and, baby, it’s just a bingo card all under the white supremacist umbrella.
Now, Twitter isn’t as fun anymore. I wake up wondering what else did that man do to make the platform more contentious? How many more people resigned or got laid off because he wants to work them to the bone marrow? What other far-right, dangerous account is he tweeting to as if they are good dinner pals while the rest of us flail our arms in the air?
When I first read that Twitter might stop functioning or cease to exist altogether, I felt…relieved. To this day, I’m still trying to process why. I’m a person who still remembers how old I was and where the computer was located when I wanted to play my Barbie CD-Rom, Little Critter, or Magic Schoolbus game. I’m the person who was on AOL chat rooms at 10 and could code for Xanga at 11. I had MySpace as soon as I got to middle school, unbeknownst to my mother, got onto FaceBook in high school, and made a Twitter account when I was a college sophomore. But no other platform has given me the status that I have now other than Twitter.
Maybe I’m relieved because life is different. I have three books under my belt with a fourth on the way, I offlined with quite a few Twitter friends in order to build IRL relationships, and to put it plainly, I got what I needed. I made it out of South Jersey and I have a brand and career now. Perhaps, on a more optimistic note, I realize that like so many others, I’m a digital migrant. Nothing good lasts forever. There will be another platform, and I’ll make my way over there when I’m good and ready. The Internet always metamorphoses and we’ll all be just fine.
Or, maybe I’m relieved because my brain needs a break. I’ve never obsessively checked any other social media platform like this. I could have my Google Chrome open and open a tab to Twitter without realizing that Twitter is already open on another tab. I’ve closed my laptop for bed but pulled out my phone to check Twitter underneath my covers. I’ve scrolled and scrolled until I have to flex my fingers so they don’t cramp up.
I’ve been inundated with so much information but particularly the bad news. Though I like how quickly I can receive it, I don’t think my brain or my heart is evolutionarily designed to absorb so much so soon.
Some days I imagine what it would be like if I go onto Twitter and I see the fail whale. I refresh and the whale is still there. I text a few friends to ask if it’s down for them too and they confirm that it is. We may make jokes in the group chat or we go over to Instagram to see who is recording about this disaster. For about a week, we have to wean ourselves off of the dopamine. We might feel unmoored with no lighthouse to call us home. I worry about that darkness. I’m not an extrovert and like I said, most of my friends, especially those in NYC, through Twitter. I fear that if Twitter becomes obsolete, will I really have had the audience that I think I had? Is all that I built strong like the pyramids or thin like the sand beneath them? Will I cease to exist to you and other people? How will my career and the careers of my friends and colleagues shapeshift in this new era?
But I also have to be mindful of the fact that Twitter has not been the Twitter from my immediate post college grad years in quite some time. In fact, I’d say that for the last few years, it’s been nothing but heartbreak after heartbreak, bad news on top of more bad news. Comedy here and there of course to break up the monotony but it’s not a playground anymore.
Twitter has become even more of a gladiator sport only now, no matter if you’re Black or Brown, woman, queer, Jewish, or anyone who has even mildly progressive views, you are the sport.
You are the main attraction, whether you like it or not, because I believe this was the plan all along. The backlash of the 2020 reckoning, the hatred towards the “Defund the Police” movement, the amount of Black and Brown people in high positions, it chills them and something must be done about it.
In the weeks to come, we will see even more unspeakable cruelty on that platform because yes, there are those who want those of your community dead. They will not restrain themselves in acknowledging this, and their accounts will not be chastised for it. Yes, you will feel even more vulnerable under this man’s reign because that’s exactly what he wants. Yes, the bad news is going to keep coming. But I hope this radicalizes you to fight for what’s right, whether it’s online, IRL, or both. Because remember: you’re next.
I will stay in that I refuse to delete my account and see someone take my name…my name…and maim it into something entirely different and unrecognizable from who I am. But I don’t know what else there is to do. I vibe now. I log on not to search for opportunities, but to see how y’all are doing. Maybe that’s growth. Maybe that’s how it should be or should have been for a while. There isn’t much to pull from anymore. Layoffs are happening all across companies. Strikes are underway. The editors of yesteryear have been laid off. The outlets we revered are slashed or defunct. Whole micro industries are gone. It’s terrible. But if we are still on there for each other, well, that says something, doesn’t it?
Maybe I am relieved if Twitter becomes less popular that I can be free for a little while. I have to force myself to go to a neighborhood bar or take a class and meet friends without that social media crutch. Maybe I’m relieved that I won’t see people like me disrespected and spoken to like they are not knowledgeable in their fields every time I log on. Maybe I’m relieved because I know, and we all know, who really made that platform popular to begin with.
And if we did it once, we will do it again.
Because that’s what we’ve done and been doing.
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