If you don’t support abuse on Twitter, should you support Twitter?

It’s my Twitter anniversary, and I’m celebrating by breaking up with Twitter.

Thirteen years ago, part of my job was persuading reluctant reporters to use Twitter. Today, I want to apologize to all of those journalists who have been abused by the hordes of anonymous sociopaths and jerks on Twitter, have been absorbed into its addictive and unrequited time-sucking platform, or both.

I’m clearly not Chrissy Teigen or Meghan Markle or Elon Musk, and Twitter won’t miss me or my half-legion of followers. But in good conscience I can’t support a business that provides a forum for misogyny and hate, a platform that spews misinformation that’s not remotely amusing and is literally dangerous.

Look, I quit going to a certain popular chicken restaurant when the manager refused to remove an insane-looking customer who was wearing a trench coat, carrying a long gun and scaring kids. I stopped shopping at a grocery store and ordering from a pizza shop because of their owners’ anti-human-rights views. I won’t patronize any business that doesn’t require masks — like the gym where the manager smirkingly told customers, “We’ve reached our mask capacity, please take it off.”

So I had to ask myself: Um, why are you still on Twitter? Every day, my own friends and colleagues in media are cyber-attacked by trolls and bullies who make veiled or overt threats, call them stupid and fake, and invite others to do the same. A simple retweet of a link to another journalist’s story can lead to a barrage of vitriol against the RT’er. Women reporters who have been abused in real life are abused all over again. Journalists of color face particular harassment by people hiding behind fake names and lots of compatriots.

For the past few years I’ve dreamed of freedom from Twitter. It filled me with a sense of peace. You may have your relaxation images of running through fields of lavender; I imagine sending deranged blue birds straight to hell. Now that I’m no longer a full-time journalist, I’ll walk away from Twitter, and my account will go dormant.

But back to my apology origin story.

Thirteen years ago, we digital-leaning journalists really thought there was a chance that social media could distribute our great journalism to people who wouldn’t otherwise see it. We thought Twitter could be a place for concise, constructive commentary and conversation about our journalism. (I mean, how much damage could you do in 140 characters?) We thought it would be a better option than story comments, which had become the sewer systems of our websites.

I really don’t know why we ever imagined that would happen. Too many humans are prone to what media researcher Thorsten Quandt calls “dark participation — the evil flipside of citizen engagement.” Twitter beckons to these people.

If you are a woman and/or JOC who has been on the receiving end of “the wicked side of things” (also a Quandt term), I especially apologize to you. I expected a few bad actors; I did not expect Twitter to become an uncontrollable monster whose wrath could be activated by a female sports reporter’s game coverage or an Asian American journalist at work.

And when I say uncontrollable, I mean that literally. Social platforms have neither the bandwith or business case to truly end anonymous and abusive accounts. A very patient full-time employee would be needed just to read the reports I’ve made over the past couple of years in my vigilant but futile attempt to protect myself and my staff from harassment.

That vigilance also can lead to a doomscrolling problem — at least it did for me. This year, though, I’ve managed to change my middle-of-the-night scrolling habit to arts-and-crafts videos on TikTok. But here’s what’s different: Once you’ve swiped through several TikTok videos, a friendly-looking guy pops onto your screen and gently reminds you to get some sleep or have a snack.

On Twitter, you’ve got the nice Doomscroller Reminder Lady’s nudges, but she’s one person, and not employed by Twitter. She can’t be everywhere. And I worry about her, too, taking on the task of prying billions from their Twitter addiction.

Even for those who manage to sleep through the night without a Twitter fix, too many journalists still feel the need to check it frequently each day — even when they’re actually “afraid to open Twitter” as a female New York Times journalist recently admitted to a Vanity Fair writer.

Some journalists, of course, have cut ties with Twitter and opted to spend their social media time on Instagram or TikTok or even Clubhouse. I remember when journalist Jill Filipovic abandoned Twitter:

“By not checking Twitter, I found a lot more clarity in my work, because I wasn’t writing from a defensive crouch, worried about what various anonymous avatars were going to say…. about how stupid and bad and awful I am on a daily basis.”

But…she’s back. Why? One of her reasons:

“I have to be on Twitter; editors expect I will tweet out what I write.”

Editors and managers, is that what you really want for your staff? To subject your journalists — especially women and journalists of color who already have so much crap to deal with — to the threats and abuse on Twitter? Have you ever told your staffers that it’s okay to quit social media, to step away from the psychological firing squad? Will you do it now?

CJR: “The cost of reporting while female”

To recap, Twitter is dead to me and I hope more journalists (especially the ones I prodded to create their accounts all those years ago) will have their own Twitter reckoning. The self-interrogation goes something like this:

Am I or my colleagues being attacked on Twitter? Am I spending my extremely limited time scrolling and posting to Twitter, desperately wishing for that elusive viral post? Am I using Twitter just to talk amongst my colleagues, sometimes over-sharing? (Wait, isn’t that what Slack is for?) Do I spend more time blocking and reporting trolls than I do posting? Is Twitter interrupting my work and sleep? I’m not one of the rare people who might earn measurable benefits from my tweets, so what exactly am I getting from Twitter? Does Twitter help me learn more about my community?

Or, are you now convinced that your community is a legion of creeps who hide behind increasingly stupid fake names, posting 280 characters of hate while banging their fat forefingers on a keyboard encrusted with slobber and Cool Ranch Doritos dust?

That’s not your community. It’s not mine. I won’t go back to the place that created that image in my brain. For the sake of every journalist, especially women and people of color, I hope you’ll think about that too.

In the meantime, forget what I said 13 years ago. Stop doomscrolling, get some sleep, and have a healthy snack.

Now: Media consultant. Priors: The Washington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Raleigh News & Observer, American Press Institute; Pitt, ODU, Point Park adjunct.

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