I joined Twitter in 2009 out of curiosity, for my photography work, to chat with funny and interesting fellow Black people, to connect with Black women around the country and around the world, to shoot the breeze with anyone cool, to stay informed, to share my thoughts, my ideas and my writing, and like anyone else, to vent sometimes. In 2015, Twitter is a space where I regularly speak with people that I now consider friends, people that I have met offline and absolutely adore, and it is a space where ideas such as Gradient Lair and Cinemacked came to me and came to be (though both are housed on Tumblr as well), in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Back in 2009, I could not have imagined how annoying (let alone dangerous) Twitter would become by 2012, let alone now in 2015. It often feels like I am trying to have lunch with a few friends and a few nice acquaintances in a park while thousands of strangers throw manure at us because they disagree with us or sometimes solely because we exist at all, and of course some of those manure-throwing strangers are not just annoying, but also dangerous.
I do not like the ways that most people use Twitter. Well…most people that I come in contact with. Of course I cannot account for what I do not actually experience and/or see. But I have observed certain behavioral trends, many specific to Twitter, that I have despised for years now, and they are ones that many other Twitter users that I know also despise. These behaviors make Twitter so unpleasant from minute to minute, at least for me. Being a woman online, a Black person online, specifically a Black woman online, and having a high follower count on Twitter adds to the type, frequency and intensity of certain constant unpleasant behaviors that I experience, let alone the actual the long-term trolling, abuse and threats (though I will not discuss the more serious abuse in this essay; I wrote about that over the years on Gradient Lair) that I experience.
I do not like when people use “reply all” in response to my retweets of news, of a celebrity, or of a viral tweet. Under what context would I want to have an all day conversation “with” CNN just because I retweeted one of their awful articles to share my viewpoints on it? I retweet a quote from a celebrity only to have someone else drag on a 10 tweet conversation with me and that celebrity, a celebrity who is not going to reply to either of us anyway. (I alluded to this before in Microaggressions and Asshole Twitter Reply Styles on Gradient Lair. Some people will even turn typed names into Twitter handles — especially when they are celebrities’ names— and engage in annoying stunts). If I see a funny tweet that has gone viral, I may retweet it to have a few laughs — so needed in these dire times — with my followers, not because I want to have a 5 tweet conversation (via a forced “reply all” from someone else) with the person who sent the viral tweet, usually someone that I do not know/normally engage with. I estimate that about 95% of the people who “reply all” in response to my retweets have under 1,000 followers. They often want to be noticed by as many people as possible. I have even noticed that some of them only engage in “reply all” when people with high follow counts/high visibility are involved in the reply.
Why is “reply all” necessary outside of the context where several people are actually speaking to each other in semi-personal conversations? So many people that I know already hate “reply all,” whether enduring them in Outlook e-mail chains at their jobs or via long annoying message chains on Facebook. I understand that Twitter made it a feature; most social media companies view forced superficial interactions (i.e. the annoying “reply all” on Twitter) and superficial connections (i.e. someone barely known is a “friend” on Facebook) as “community.” While I do not believe that social media is to blame for “killing human connection” —this is an ahistorical scapegoat — I also recognize that some people are playing community instead of actually building/engaging in one, but they are no different from people who do the same offline.
I do not like when people try to play “hero” and force me to remain in a conversation with someone who is trolling me, usually someone that I have already blocked. I engage in self-defense from a troll and/or block them to spare my constantly moving Interactions tab on Twitter (people do not understand/do not care what experiencing hypervisibility in social media — and specifically as a Black woman — entails in terms of the sheer volume of Interactions) only to have someone else pretend they care about my feelings when instead they are “performing allyship” and want to be seen “defending” me. They refuse to remove my handle from this performance, so the troll remains in mentions for hours, days and sometimes even months. In many cases, I end up blocking such people and the original troll. Last year, I wrote about behaviors specific to performative allyship and the problems it causes on social media in 10 Ways That White Feminist and White Anti-Racism Allies Are Abusive To Me In Social Media. (To be fair, since I posted this, some non-White people have joined in on the same behavior and it is specific to a follower count increase; such people no longer engage me as a person at all; I will elaborate on this aspect later.)
I do not like when people force highly trolled hashtags onto my tweets once they retweet me because they have zero concern for the fact that I am trolled more in a day than they are in a year. (I really hate most popular hashtags being added to my tweets by someone else; the presumptuousness that this reflects completely repels me.) Sometimes I share a personal topic. I understand that Twitter is “public” and that “public” seems to mean “free space to enact everything from microaggressions to abuse to threats on women, Black people, Black women and other oppressed groups; free range to use, exploit and profit from any content that one can see, without permission, regardless of creator.” I understand that this entitled engagement with content and people is what drives social media spaces like Twitter. However, I have never seen someone share personal experiences with their followers and felt the need to force hashtags on their experiences upon retweet. I do not seek hypervisible people and use their ideas as my microphone without any regard to their safety, forcing in hashtags that they did not use. I estimate that about 95% of the people who force hashtags onto my tweets have under 1,000 followers, are not using their own portrait as their avatars and/or have no identifying information in their Twitter bios. They stay protected from the consequences of more severe trolling while forcing me into the position to be trolled. Convenient.
Sometimes, they simply do not experience trolling at all, have no frame of reference for it, and do not particularly care about what women, especially hypervisible Black women experience online. While my tweets have a lot of reach, there is still a significant difference between the quantity and scope of trolling that I experience with certain hashtags on my tweets versus not. I know how to use Twitter. If I do or do not use a hashtag, it is deliberate. I understand that hashtags are at times powerful tools and since I wrote about many of them before on Gradient Lair, I do not devalue them, in general. If I know a hashtag is being heavily trolled, I may use it or not, as my decision, on my tweets. I do not make the decision for other people. Twitter users are people, not Fact Portals and arbitrary “content sources” to gorge on like wanton vultures on carcasses. This is something that I elaborated on in great detail before in Not Your Microphone and in When Online Consumption Gets Disgusting.
I do not like being included in “cattle call” tweets. These are tweets where some sort of violent link (i.e. on rape or police brutality) is dumped in and 3 or more Black women with high follower counts are demanded to react or engage in some form of “activist” labor. These tweets are usually sent by people who do not care what we Black women who were included in the tweet actually do for a living; honestly, they do not care whether we live or die. These tweets are usually sent by people who slander the same Black women but turn to us anytime something “political” happens. These tweets are usually sent by people who resent Black women who have high follower counts on Twitter because why should “lowly” people like us ever be listened to? These tweets are usually sent by people who deliberately ignore the abuse that Black women face online while they simultaneously pretend that micro-hypervisibility in social media and macro-hypervisibility as a Black person — as a Black woman in particular — are perks and “privilege.”
I do not like when people use intellectual dishonesty as a trolling tactic.There is nothing that incites greater anger in me than someone who prefers to lie about what I have said, lie about the parameters of the topic, deliberate choose not to engage my full point on something (which may be covered in more than 1 tweet, often connected in a tweet thread), and/or cherry-picks my point to make a “joke” or fit their pending straw man argument. It is repulsive. People gladly pretend that they are interested in “open discourse” on a “public” site yet they refuse to even engage ethically regarding what a topic actually is, even if the perspectives or opinions on the topic itself vary. This method of unethical engagement seems to be common among some of the same people who will suggest that anyone who will not suffer their context-averse willfully ignorant tactics is a person who just wants an “echo chamber.” But how can people even have a conversation — heated or not — if one of the parties continues to lie about what the other party has stated, in totality, on a particular point?
I do not like when people engage me as a “concept” and not a person.They gaslight in response to literally anything that I share. Some make it worse by taking individual personal experiences and arguing against them as if I shared a theory and not what happened in my day or in my life in general. Everything is a consumable and generic “social justice theory” and not a real thing that happened to a real 36-year-old Black woman with a Twitter account. They are horrible at empathy in general, and it devolves rapidly when it is a Black woman describing her experiences. There are people who link my tweets about personal experiences — or even something mundane — to other people and then proceed to have a conversation about their personal lives in my mentions. The conversations do not involve me. They refuse to remove my handle, of course. They perform in my mentions like I am the maid in the room who is supposed to always be invisible while the mistress of the house speaks to her country club friends. White people have always done this to me and it mirrors some of my offline experiences with them treating me as if I am invisible and they are entitled to whatever space I occupy. However, I noticed that more non-Black people of colour started this when I crossed 10K followers and sadly some fellow Black people did the same when I crossed 25K followers. In 2012, the average number of followers per Twitter user was cited at 208. I recently passed 40K followers on my personal Twitter account and I have a little over 52K among all of my Twitter accounts for personal use and my work. I also have more than 20K subscribers on Gradient Lair, and despite ending it (on Tumblr) in October, it still impacts my Twitter traffic. A lot of people decided that non-famous people with high follower counts — especially if they are Black women — are not actual people. Ideas. Quotes. Fortune cookies. Microphones. Laborers. Mules. Not people though.
I cannot “ignore” these behaviors since there is no thorough way to pre-curate my Twitter mentions. I can only respond to them via replies, muting or blocking people after it happens. (Block Together does help a bit with preemptive blocking services.) I have to endure the process every single time, at least once per person, which is every few minutes of almost every hour I that am Twitter, for years now. I can pre-warn people who follow me that these behaviors are ones that I am not going to tolerate. Now, they can whine and assert that they have the “right” to do whatever they want on Twitter. However, I also have the right to respond however I feel is appropriate in terms of how I want my social media experience on Twitter to be. See, people do not like the latter part; they love the aforementioned part though. To them, “public” space is where they can be as annoying and microaggressive as they choose — without any regard for the experience, online safety, and humanity of Black women in particular, though people like this usually piss off many types of people — and then I have to quietly accept it, or they claim that they are being “censored.” Nevermind what censorship means and what First Amendment rights actually entail; facts have little use on Twitter in these circumstances.
The most pathetic aspect of all of this is that most people rather continue to attack me once I advise them that I do not want to engage with them on these terms, or they rather not speak to me at all. They can “only” engage with me if it is annoying to me, exposes me to additional trolling, abuse and/or threats, or pleases them alone. They have the “right” to annoy or harm; all I get in return is the “right” to silently endure them, if they have their way. This becomes especially obvious when I refuse to engage with people — my policy is to mute early and mute often — who do these things and they lash out at me via direct message or by copying someone else into their reply so that when that non-muted person replies, I see it. I am required to indulge them when they cannot stop doing things that are so simple to stop doing.
One of the predictable responses to my feelings about these behaviors is“you have an ‘ego’ if you hate annoying behaviors and microaggressions occurring by the minute, and for years now!” Ego. Of course. I must quietly indulge everything while other people can do as they please towards me. The other predictable response is “well, delete your accounts!” Trust me, it crosses my mind every day. I also know that the same type of people think that I should stay home to avoid street harassment — abuse that I have endured for 24 years now — because that is also a sound strategy. It is unreasonable to expect people to stop annoying or harmful behavior. Hiding is the only solution, of course. However, my work and some of my friends are tied into social media, just like in the offline aspect of my life, my work and some of my friends exist in an annoying, microaggressive and at times an abusive and violent world. Social media is real life with a real impact on both comfort in the lightest sense and safety in the most serious sense. I love the wonderful people that I encounter on Twitter; they are so special. Smart, funny, insightful — many of them utterly brilliant Black women — caring, and a delight to speak to everyday. However, their existence on Twitter does not erase the simultaneously occurring burden of using Twitter.
I genuinely tire of the fact that so many people are so heartily committed to making Twitter as unpleasant as possible. I spend so much time maneuvering through the cesspool replies just to get to the people that I really care about. I do not want to make my mentions only reflect the responses of people that I follow (this is actually an option in Twitter for iOS) because at times young Black women reach out to me or other people who do not bear the responsibility of the disgusting people with terrible behaviors, and they are at times people that I do not happen to follow. This is also why at times I have my direct messages set to receive them from anyone, not only people that I follow, but people started exploiting that space as well; no rest for the weary. I remember when Twitter was my social media refuge from Facebook, which I deleted in 2010. Now I wonder how long before Instagram — my last moderately reasonable social network — will be a living hell too? Earlier adopters (i.e. people who joined Twitter between 2006–2009) often lament when a social network goes “bad” and most people do not care about those lamentations, I know. Even so, the by the minute nonsense — let alone the more serious online abuse — that I have to mitigate is tiring and yes, it ruins Twitter for me. I do not like the ways that most people use Twitter. I know that they are not going to stop and consider their actions, especially not when someone they deem “beneath” them or someone they deem a “concept” with followers and not an actual person is the one asking for that consideration.