The Real Reason I’m Not Leaving Twitter

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve seen the dark side of Twitter. Since joining the social network in 2008, I have been called any number of the typical slurs that women encounter while existing on the Internet, along with a few more precise creations from the brains of the truly depraved virginal cretins. Hate mobs? I’ve experienced them. Stalkers? I’ve got ‘em. Oddly enough, I haven’t encountered any of the rape threats that most female public figures face on an almost daily basis. Apparently no one wants to publicly suggest that they might rape the STI activist. It turns out that herpes has a silver lining.

Twitter has introduced new tools in the last few years to help users protect themselves from abuse, and while their good faith effort to show victims they care are too little too late, I can’t say they’re ineffective. I’ve now got “#MAGA,” “libtard,” “degenerate” and “feminazi” muted so that tweets including those words never appear in my notifications. It shields me from seeing the run of the mill conservative jerkwad, sparing me the five seconds of annoyance that would usually interrupt my workday.

But despite Twitter’s best efforts to arm users with BandAid controls, the platform has only gotten worse in the wake of November 9th, 2016. Alt-right trolls feel emboldened to shout threats and prejudice from the digital rooftops now that their guy is in the Oval office. Suddenly we’re all debating whether or not it’s ethical to punch Nazis. Internet famous feminists are “taking the red pill” because they’re tired of being criticized for their hypocritical behavior. Don’t even get me started on covfefe memes. Twitter has become an even more noxious, exhausting place to be, a feat none of us previously believed possible.

Much of the time, I hate Twitter. A few weeks ago, my alarm woke me up and I picked up my phone to hit snooze. I woke up when my alarm went off nine minutes later to find myself scrolling through my Twitter feed. Quite literally, I was sleep tweeting. It doesn’t help that my day job is managing @TEDTalks, along with TED’s official Facebook page and other accounts. Social media is my career, my rent check, my professional future. And to be a writer and an activist, an active Twitter presence is a must. My second shift requires Twitter too. It came as a surprise to no one but myself that my twenty-fifth birthday brought with it a quarter life crisis the size of a small planet, or at least one of Jupiter’s moons.

So why do I stay? Why is it that when I finally had a full week of vacation to myself, no Facebook posts to write, no tweets to hone the right level of sarcasm for, I was still scrolling through my Twitter feed? Even after I turned on the SelfControl application on my computer, even after I hid my social media apps in a folder off the main screen on my iPhone, even after I intentionally left my cell phone upstairs, why was I still on fucking Twitter? Sure, I have a social media addiction to the point where the muscle memory is enough to override my REM cycle, but that wasn’t really why. Why was I on Twitter? Why am I still on Twitter after everything this website has done to me?

Because the people are nice.

I know, it’s a simple reason. It’s probably anti-climactic and naïve, the Thomas Kinkade painting of social media takes. But it’s true.

Let me tell you a story. I saw Wonder Woman this weekend with my dad and I left the theater emotionally destroyed: about halfway through the movie I started crying and didn’t stop until the credits and I couldn’t understand why because the movie isn’t that sad. There was something about seeing all of that unapologetic, un-watered down female strength that stirred me, made me feel alive and awake and visible and capable all at once. There’s Diana striding across a battlefield named “No Man’s Land” (no one said the on-the-nose script was the movie’s strength) and suddenly my chest was full of air, able to breathe, represented. When I got home, I tweeted.

I tweeted a lot about Wonder Woman that night and I’m still tweeting a lot about Wonder Woman now: I’ve only had a few days to recover from that adrenaline shot of a film. But what I’ve heard again and again and again from women and men on Twitter is that I wasn’t alone in my visceral reaction. Strangers on Twitter have helped me parse out the film’s strengths and weaknesses, have raged with me about sexist reviews, have shared GIFs and selfies and anecdotes. There was an outpouring of pride—and beyond that, relief—when Wonder Woman decimated box office records and expectations. We knew this film was amazing, but we didn’t know until Twitter that we weren’t alone. But that’s not the point of this story. Two days ago, I saw a tweet from a fellow fan that there was a doll (because it’s a doll, fuck the pretentious masculine cloak of “action figure”) of Robin Wright’s character General Antiope for sale on Amazon. I retweeted that tweet with a link to my PayPal tip jar and asked Twitter to buy it for me. I was joking, or at least three-quarters joking; a few months ago I asked Twitter if someone would buy me a $90 gown I wanted and was shocked when someone actually sent me the money, thanking me for my activism and bravery. It seemed unlikely that lightning would strike twice and I went to sleep, forgetting the entire thing.

The next morning, there was $45 sitting in my PayPal account. A kind soul had sent me the money for the Antiope doll with the note “A badass Barbie for a badass girl.” The message included their name and it was someone I hadn’t spoken to before, unless I’m not associating their name with their Twitter handle. Thanks to Amazon Prime, Antiope was waiting for me in a box outside my door when I got home from work today.

I don’t know how to thank my benefactor personally, so this post will have to suffice. Thank you. You didn’t need to do that, and I’m so grateful that you did. Thank you for reminding me why I love Twitter so, so much, for why I find myself returning to it after the most vicious of attacks, for why I find so much solidarity and strength in my notifications. Thanks, dude.

I know that I shouldn’t associate kindness with money, so here are a few other examples to soothe the anti-capitalists among you. With the help of a hashtag started by Sammy Nickalls, I’ve sought advice on dealing with mental illness, specifically anxiety. The kind souls who populate #TalkingAboutIt offer support and guidance for strangers on a daily basis, the kind of small but inclusive, precious community you stumble across exactly when you need it most.

The global family that is the now defunct Femsplain lives on in its hashtags and mutual follows, its legacy being some of my truest friendships and bravest writing. Twitter friends I made through Femsplain gave me the courage to come out as bisexual, to talk about abusive relationships, to raise my voice at a time when women are being told to shut the fuck up because the men are speaking, sweetie, degenerate skank. Men on Twitter may be more aggressive, more invasive, more insulting, but the women and non-binary users, the good guys, they are louder for me. I owe them almost everything.

Here’s another. Last year, a few weeks after the election when we were all contemplating our mortality, I got on a train to meet a Twitter friend. He was an IRL buddy of one of my best friends, so I knew he wasn’t a psycho, which was good because he was less of a friend and more of a love interest. A sex interest, if all our cards are on the table. In true Twitter meet-cute fashion, he woke up with the flu while I was on Amtrack racing through the beautiful valleys of New Jersey. We spent the entire weekend on opposite ends on the sofa watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and swapping Westworld theories. I did not get laid that weekend, but I did meet someone really fucking cool with the same pop culture interests and politics and open embrace of the world. He’s still a friend, occasionally a flirty one, and we show up in each other’s texts—and Twitter mentions—often.

My friends still ask me what on Earth I was thinking, booking myself a hotel and a round trip train ticket to visit a total stranger, and I’m sure my middle school guidance counselor would have a lot to say about my risk assessment. But real Twitter friendships and relationships and professional collaborations pop up every day on the platform as people with mutual interests collide against the odds. A mutual fondness for Twitter is what turned Gabe, this site’s editor, into my best friend instead of just my ex-boyfriend’s college roommate. Twitter is what made this writer into an activist. Most of you are probably here because of a tweet.

Social networks have a responsibility to keep their users safe. The positive results of Twitter do not make its negative impacts insignificant, and I’ll be the first to say that Twitter harbors and rewards a lot of trash. Strangers on Twitter have told me that I deserve to be pinned down and branded with a scarlet letter “H” so that men know not to touch me. Or maybe that was Facebook? You’ll have to forgive me; the abuse tends to blur together over time.

But I am still on Twitter and I am not leaving any time soon. I have Twitter to thank for most of my friendships and opportunities, my job, my platform, my social life, my voice. My Twitter self may be louder and funnier and meaner than my IRL self, but it’s just as real. I’m not leaving because I love it here. That’s something worth fighting for.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

7 thoughts on “The Real Reason I’m Not Leaving Twitter

  1. No, before I go, thank you. Coming to think about it, what I was living myself was consequence of an abusive online behaviour of guys. I can give it a word now: “abuse”. In my religion, it is sometimes referred to as trials and tribulations that one might be going through. I learned a lot from it. I found a way of “scaping”, but sometimes we cannot just run away and have to face it somehow. That will depend on the situation, I guess.

  2. I was supposed to be sleeping already, but had to read the whole post first. Very well written!
    I have thoughts that differ from yours, but though I may not agree with you at certain points I find your writings very interesting and intelligently said.
    Hope you have a nice week.
    : *

  3. Let the positivity and love drown out the haters! Thank you for the interesting post and the optimism boost 🙂 xx

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