Twittling: Toddling & Toxicity In Social Media

Version 2

It’s my twitterversary. Two years. I’m a toddler. A twittler. I’m now toddling in social media (or is that twittling?). Still uncertain in my footing, certainly. Prone to outbursts, but unsure when committing these feelings to words. Only just formulating a sense of self in this world.

A great many encounters alarm. People’s certainty. The streamlining of timelines to such narrow world views. The spewing of hatred, hatred, hatred. All hard edges. Hazardous, for a toddler.

I try to steer clear of controversy. Only poke the cage a little. It’s dark in there. There’s no way of telling what lurks in the corners.

Besides, there is enough controversy. I don’t feel the need to chime in. I don’t feel the need to one-up, correct or counter. If I were to do these things in any social encounter, I’d expect to solicit some kind of conflict. Why would it be any different here (with the added benefit of anonymity)?

Rather than trolls (so far), I’ve found gracious guides. Kindness and consideration. Generosity. I’ve been awed by people’s bravery, their honesty, their wisdom. The vigilance in how people support one another. Have supported me.

(Yes, that may sound very schmaltzy, but it’s true – so what can you do?)

Amid the black and white squawking, there are vibrant voices in all colours. And people are so funny, and so clever and quick. There’s a lot of good beneath the spats that make the headlines.

I took a long time to come around to social media, for two reasons, mainly, and, Cassandra that I am, both have played out.

Firstly, by nature, I’m a very private person. Cagey, in all honesty. I was always like that, I can’t really say why (or is it that I could, but won’t?). Mistrustful, I suppose. The less you know about me, the less you have to use against me, that train of thought.

Broadcasting yourself to the world, then, seems a pretty counter-intuitive thing to do.

Secondly, I not very good at forming habits. Now, once I have a habit (I write this with a ghastly cancer-stick in hand), I’m not very good at shaking them, so it’s possibly a good thing this is the case, but, when it comes to taking a course of antibiotics or trying to eat three sensible meals a day, I just can’t get into the routine. I can do it for a couple of days running, and then – well, something else always seems to come up.

So there’s no point being on social media if you forget to go out and socialise.

True to form, I’m still a bit cagey. I figure if I respect my privacy others might too. I’m also not sure anyone really wants to know, and definitely doesn’t need to know. My domestic front is something of a final frontier (I’ve known people for years, in the flesh, in ‘real life’, that have never been to my home and I wouldn’t particularly want them to come, peering over my books and scrutinising my knick-knacks).

At the same time, I’m learning that hiding might be a waste of time. The responsibility of being an active citizen, of speaking out. The world-changing opportunity that that is. Something not to be taken for granted, that freedom to formulate your 140 characters, or put out anything else you want into the world on one little link.

It’s big. Use it or lose it.

Also true to form, I’m patchy with it. I’ll have days when I can’t stay off Twitter and days when I forget to even look at it. Something else comes up. Sometimes I have that same sort of lingering guilt I experience when I’ve cancelled a social arrangement. I always think it’s a terrible thing to turn down an invitation when one day you could find yourself longing for an invitation to anywhere, but then, when you’re not in the mood, you’re not in the mood.

And I guess thinking about mood is helpful in the context of social media. What mood am I in when I’m posting? The all important question: will I feel the same in five minutes, an hour, tomorrow, a decade from now – or when someone’s one-upped, corrected or countered my point?

As with controversy, there’s more than enough negativity in the world too. It’s tempting to be sensational. It’s tempting to bleat. My question, more often than not, is does it help?

There are so many fires. As Billy Joel reminded us, we didn’t start them, but does it help to fuel or fan them? Of course, if you think you might be able to have a sensible dialogue…a timeline can certainly help you be the judge of that.

Something else might help though, and this is my idea for Twitter. It’s pretty simple. I think. In fact, it’s so simple, I can’t believe I’m the first person to think of it. It must have already been dismissed as a concept, and for good reason I’m sure. You can tell me if not.

Just as we have the little heart for likes, why can’t we have, alongside, a little skull-and-cross-bones that, anonymously, ranks a tweet as toxic – a dislike. If a tweet, or user, is frequently registered toxic, they get an equivalent of a little blue tick (maybe a ‘red for danger’ one). You follow at peril. And, of course, Twitter can monitor more closely those that are rated toxic. Users should also be able to appeal their toxicity (I can see there could be toxic – ‘FAKE TOXIC’ – trolling, but nothing’s perfect, right?).

Am I missing something? A lot? Okay, so President Trump would probably get a toxic rating, but could appeal and keep his blue tick instead. People could also retweet their own toxic-rated tweets and explain where they were coming from. Clarify their intent. Expand the dialogue.

Would only a toddler think of something so asinine?

There is so much to be gained from participating in social media. Personally. Professionally. Culturally. Commercially (or so a zillion bots tell us). To be fair, I’ve gained something from social media in all of these areas (despite my ‘proceed with caution’ approach – or, possibly, because of it).

Many people are missing out because of the fear of those dark corners and the beasts that may occupy them. Those people shouldn’t be silenced. The haters shouldn’t be silenced either. It’s important to hear what they say, what they think. But if we could just shine a better light on them without people fearing personal retribution, couldn’t that help everybody grow up a little?

I’m sticking with it. Sporadically. Cautiously. I’m a twittling, still wide-eyed with wonder. I just wish, if the playground bullies do decide to single me out, there were more options to consider other than only fight or flight.

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4 thoughts on “Twittling: Toddling & Toxicity In Social Media

  1. When I read this yesterday on the fly, my first response was (one more time) how astonishingly alike we are. I joined twitter about one week ahead of you 2 years ago and had avoided ALL social media before that for the same reasons you state–I am by nature very private, but ultimately came to the conclusion that lurking in the shadows wasn’t accomplishing much. I also have experienced almost no trolling but instead have “met” so many wonderful, intelligent and supportive people like yourself that my faith in humanity remains robust in spite of the state of the world and politics. I also call myself “Cassandra” but usually in the context of people who refuse my very excellent advice and discover only in hindsight that it was much to their own peril. And as your psychic twin, I would like to offer my intuitive hit as to why the toxic button wouldn’t work–it would be employed by the same folks who deserve a “toxic” rating on their tweets to cyberbully people who choose to be far less private than you and I. And I have to admit, even when it makes me uncomfortable I admire people who are willing to be so much more vulnerable and less measured than we are. I don’t want to make it too easy for other people to criticize them for it. And people who say hateful things are often dangerous. So when we do poke the cage, we should do it mindfully. That’s my two cents for the week!

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    1. Well, I’m very happy to be psychically twinned with you Kara and thank you for your two cents! And yes, I know, that was my thought with the toxic button too, the toxic trolling, but then I was hoping the appeal process (and common sense – however rare that might be) might help with this.

      Funnily enough, I watched an episode of ‘The Good Fight’ last night addressing this very issue, and they started off with an appeal process for those being bumped off platforms for bad behaviour, but ended kind of with the conclusion the best thing you can do is just ignore these people. That’s all fine, but when it’s coming at you I’m not sure, from the distress you hear from people, it’s all that easy to ignore.

      It’s also not just the outwardly hostile content, but just some of the dubious stuff too. I have an example from the other day. I saw a tweet claiming that the reason the Good Friday Agreement happened in Northern Ireland was because the US stopped funding the IRA after 9/11. My instant response was, well, that’s wrong as the Good Friday Agreement happened in 1998, 9/11 in 2001. I knew this, but still had to check myself.

      So there I am, faced with just a wrong fact, and I was so tempted to point this out but also saw, if I did, before I knew it I’d probably be being labelled some kind of terrorist sympathiser! But it really bothered me, this misinformation, stated so certainly, with no one else on the hashtag correcting the error.

      So I just ignored it and felt like a coward. And maybe an anonymous device to flag a tweet with a ‘proceed with caution’ rating is also cowardly. I often feel a bit cowardly on Twitter, but then I remember that people like you and I actually put our faces to our words, so we’re not the cowards out there, and perhaps we should also pride ourselves on being mindful enough to not throw open the doors of too many cages.

      But I do like the idea of another way to flag content. Lots of stuff doesn’t feel like it warrants reporting (like my example), but does feel like it shouldn’t go unchecked if it paves the way to post-truths. Of course, my other idea is for Twitter to develop a sister platform, maybe call it something like Spew.com, and navigate all the haters and bile injectors there, leaving the rest of us to have a decent conversation!

      The free for all is a wonderful idea, but it seems it’s more free for some than others. M x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you may have hit the nail on the head in talking about anonymity. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy (unfortunately it means ALL speech) but put your face on it. We should be able to shut down anonymous accounts that spew hate and misinformation. People should be accountable for their words. I know what you mean about feeling like a coward for not picking fights; maybe in the case of factual misinformation a DM would be the less shaming way to go? But everybody has access to Google (and Snopes!) and that doesn’t seem to make any impact on say, the PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES telling blatant, easily identifiable lies. We take the weight of the world on our shoulders when we feel this is our problem to correct. And as a totally off topic note, I did laugh a bit about your “guilt” over disappearing from social media for largish gaps. Because yes, I do check on you and fret a bit about your well-being when you are gone for while. And I think that is the true gift of this world of social media–it expands our insular worlds exponentially. I have to believe this is true on some level for all of us. So even if we can’t always recognize the progress, it is happening. Even if only incrementally in some.

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  2. This gift really was the most unexpected thing for me about social media.

    When I ventured out on my Twitter journey, my core aim, in all honesty, was marketing; to spread my message (and, however pompous it might sound, to try to make sense of things for myself and others through my writing). I was all medium and message, but totally overlooked the social aspect.

    I forgot that when we formulate our sentences and throw our words out into the world we form relationships with others too. I didn’t think about forming relationships with people, let alone meaningful relationships with people where, without ever having met, we can fret about each other and worry about what’s going on in each other’s lives.

    It’s truly amazing to me! All of it is, however ‘humble-bragging’ it might sound. Every follower, every like or retweet, every reader, every connection, the very fact we can do this, is quite incredible (and it’s just as incredible it’s become so commonplace so quickly, so expected).

    I guess that’s why the barrier of toxicity troubles me so much. Those who would most benefit from the connections and support to be found in social media are probably most likely to be kept in their insularity through fear of being attacked. And, the truth is, as I’ve found, good people aren’t hard to find. They’re everywhere.

    The truth might be increasingly hard to find too (Trump’s certainly not helping!), but, in the grand scheme of things, I guess it was ever thus. Maybe it’s more important (and more rewarding) to seek out relationship rather than seek to make sense of it all – relating to one another, with thousands of miles between us, might be progress enough.

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