if twitter is so toxic

The advent of social media comes with its ups and downs, just like with anything in life in general. I think that the idea that anywhere on the Internet is a safe space, let alone twitter, is an opinion born out of immense privilege. People are online for all kinds of reasons, and just a few years ago, as of August 2009, I refused to join Twitter.com. My microblogging (what are called Tweets) have remained fairly consistent. It’s always been about fandoms, politics, and theology. Essentially, what I write about here on PJ, except in 140 character blurbs.

Twitter has definitely changed things for me. It has made it easier for me to network with persons with my general interests, I have learned new ideas, such as with the emergence of Black Nerdity and Blerd Chats. I still feel that the religious meanings of things like Social Justice and Black Twiitter have yet to be explored. Sure, Twitter has its darkside, like the numbers of parody accounts and reactionary racist hashtags like #SpeakAmerican.

Yet, the overwhelming majority of Trends on Twitter are good, positive messages, support for fallen persons, or just plain ole snarky criticisms of liberals and conservatives. As I noted in a recent Tumblr post:

“As a black man who regularly uses Twitter for discussing theology, racial justice, and geeky fandom talk, I have found Twitter to be more or less pretty safe.  This is what it is to have male privilege online.  Men are allowed to have opinions, even men of colors sometimes.  There have been a few times, however, that I have been the victim of white supremacist trolls. When I wrote a blogpost on the New Apartheid and the Renisha McBride murder, immediately three or four white supremacists trolls jumped into my timeline. Total strangers who had never once glanced at my TL or Bio for that matter.

What I experienced is nothing compared to the harassment that renowned Women of Color on Twitter get on a daily basis.  When a racist hashtag trends on Twitter ( #TT ), it does matter because it means there are groups of people who are intending to make Twitter an unsafe space for People of Color.  As I have written before, white liberals for some reason refuse to take cyber-white supremacy seriously.”

Last week, Michelle Goldberg wrote a piece, Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars [linked is the Do Not Link Version] about the Toxic Twitter Wars perpetuated by savage Maoist Women of Color.  It was declared to be “fair and balanced,” sort of the way Fox News claims for itself.  In reality, it was very much lopsided in its criticism of women of color, but not only that, Goldberg relied on negative stereotypes of Black and Latin@ women to make her case.  My first question is, in what type of world are common tropes levied against WOC acceptable?  The suffering of WOC is deemed as something that is not worthy of empathy.  Is this not the very essence of White Supremacy?

“Going back to the Michelle Goldberg piece, her “Toxic Twitter Wars” post works in the exact same fashion, only with negative stereotypes of Women Of Color added in as well. The anti-racist response to #FemFuture was compared to, oh look another Communist China/tyrannical POC political figure reference as a “Maoist hazing.” As Goldberg reminisces about back in the day, “Just a few years ago, the feminist blogosphere seemed an insouciant, freewheeling place, revivifying women’s liberation for a new generation. “It felt like there was fun and possibility…a momentum or excitement that was building,” says Anna Holmes, who founded Jezebel, Gawker Media’s influential women’s website, in 2007. In 2011, critic Emily Nussbaum celebrated the feminist blogosphere in New York magazine: “Freed from the boundaries of print, writers could blur the lines between formal and casual writing; between a call to arms, a confession, and a stand-up routine—and this new looseness of form in turn emboldened readers to join in, to take risks in the safety of the shared spotlight.” ” Yes, it was a feminist blogopshere prior to the existence of Twitter, and therefore before Black Twitter, and before Social Justice Twitter. Goldberg problem is not with the Women of Color challenging Lean In/Respectability Politics feminism; its the nature of twitter itself she should be taking into consideration. But alas! Women of Color are the scapegoats, and mean ones at that!

Enter Goldberg, once more: “On the phone, Kendall isn’t mean. She seems warm and engaging, but also obsessed” Goldberg even took offense to HuffPo’s rare excellent piece “5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism. because Women of Color are the reason for “an environment of perpetual psychodrama.” In other words, Women of Color, besides the ones that agree with Massa Jezebel and Massa #FemFuture, are incapable of rationality. Of course, it was said in the most progressive, nicest way possible. After all, only whites are capable of being objective, right Dan Savage? The White Supremacist myth that People of Color are by nature intellectually inferior raises its ugly head once more. And once more, because the argument is an apology for the Politics of Respectability, Progressive Whites are okay with that.”

I think the real question about Twitter’s “toxicity” should be, if Twitter is sooooooo hostile a space, why do corporations use it to do product placement?  Why does the media use it as another outlet for news?  Why are so many celebrities willing to spend $11,000 to have verified accounts for a social media space you can have for free? The answer lies in a proper examination of the social location of those proclaiming the “dangers” of Twitter yet go without mentioning any other space online.


If you enjoyed this piece,

You may also like from around the web:

detox: {on twitter wars and who gets to write history]

White Supremacy’s Toxic Twitter Wars

In Defense Of Twitter Feminism

Breathe, Michelle Goldberg, It’ll Be Okay



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0 thoughts on “if twitter is so toxic

  1. Justin Tiemeyer

    Is it possible that Twitter’s “evil ” doesn’t lie in the positive or negative content therein, but in the not-so-easy-to-argue-against suggestion that technology is the bane of spirituality?

    In the Preface to Edward Conze’s Buddhist Thought (written in 1967) Conze writes, “The ideas expounded in this book are only too easily disturbed by the hideous and brutish noises emanating from machines of all kinds, and by the constant interruption of the deep brooding indispensable to their comprehension.” (For extra fun I’ll quote his footnote explaining technology: “The list, at present, comprises cars, motor cycles, lorries, wirelesses, television sets, electric drills, helicopters, and, of course, aeroplanes roaring, whining and screaming overhead. I shudder to think what else will have turned up by 1970.”)

    Conze is coming from a study of a highly individualist, almost escapist, path of spirituality, of course, and it oozes out in his disdain for the modern world, but I’m sure you can see the point remains relevant. While you can practice good theology and good religion while staring at a computer or phone or tablet, can you practice good spirituality with the whirring and the hum and the screen radiation burning into your eyes? Is Twitter’s fault actually that it keeps you away from your spirituality and pursuit of justice?

    Conze suggests that “no authoritative religious work of outstanding genius has been produced since [the 1400s].” I know you and Chad love your early church fathers. Is there a possibility that technology is killing our spirituality and replacing it with addictive rhetoric that often keeps one glued to a chair rather than meditating/praying and doing good and just deeds?

  2. Justin Tiemeyer

    Oh, I recognize that. Twitter, along with many other aspects of technology, allows access to a variety of communities for heightened fellowship. I’m wondering if you could expand (perhaps even in another post) what exactly you understand the influence of fellowship to be on personal spirituality, whether you believe in a so-called cyber-spirituality, and what such a thing would even look like.

    1. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

      OOOOh! Cyber-Spirituality would be a good post idea! I think I feel close to God when I am able to do hash-tags that protest racist events, or when I see statuses of some of my favorite pastors and/or secular bloggers that give me life. It’s this sharing of life that is spiritual, so yes, that’s a cyber-spirituality.

  3. Justin Tiemeyer

    You know, reaching back into my Buddhism studies in India it is easy to conflate spirituality with individual contemplative silence. Thank God for Black Twitter/social justice Twitter for reminding me that the practice of promoting justice/fighting injustice/liberating is itself an act of spirituality.

    And yet I can’t help but to feel that long exposure to the digital world is actually bad for your health. Have you ever felt sick from staring at a screen and had to remedy it by getting analog with a book or record?


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