Freestyle Friday: Twitter is the new comments section

Lately I’ve been avoiding Twitter. Just after the horrible 2016 elections and for a year or so after that, I checked in frequently to see how my fellow liberals were handling things. It made me feel like I always had a finger on the pulse, so to speak, and I felt comforted by hanging out online with like-minded folk, but around the middle of this year I started to feel weary. Not only did the circus peanut and his tribe manage to hit a new low every day, the fighters I followed just seemed to keep…tweeting. The snark factor increased, which still occasionally brought me a great guffaw, but overall it just all started to sound the same, and then it got increasingly meaner. I also realized that my furious liking and retweeting wasn’t really accomplishing anything at all. I felt more frustrated than ever.

I’ve been checking in periodically, and things seem to be growing steadily worse. Some people who used to tweet about all sorts of things and have a smart sense of humor have grown  humorless, even almost vicious, especially if people who reply don’t just automatically agree with them. I have in mind a particular Popular Author (PA). I’ve been following PA for about five years, long before PA had really become P (and I do think the P is rightfully granted; PA is clearly very talented and intelligent). PA used to tweet funny and insightful things about books and writing and pop culture and cooking. But over the last year or so, PA seems to have started to look for insults and wrongdoing everywhere. Yesterday I decided I’d had enough, and I unfollowed PA (along with about 200 other accounts that seemed to have gone the same course). Here’s why: PA was traveling to an event. When PA boarded the plane, someone was sitting in PA’s seat. PA said, “That’s my seat,” and person said, “No, this is my seat. You are in that seat.” So then PA gets out the boarding pass and shows it is most definitely PA’s seat. The mix up? The person was assigned that seat—but for the next leg of the flight. For the current flight, the person had the same seat one row up. Now really, this isn’t a big deal, but PA made a thing about sticking it to this person who thought he was in the right seat, and then here come the replies about all the fucking stupid idiots who sit in the wrong seat and then act all smug and WHAT A BUNCH OF FUCKING JERKS OH YEAH TAKE THEM DOWN. And all I could think was, here’s a person with two boarding passes, who has a long flight home or to wherever, who maybe had a shit day or a sleepless night for all you know, and who was handed the boarding passes at the gate and saw the one on top and looked only at the seat and not the flight number and said, Okay, that’s my seat. And so when PA came along, the person felt fairly confident he was in the right seat. Because, let’s face it, the opposite also happens. You’re in your correctly assigned seat and along comes someone looking at the ticket upside down or with an old boarding pass and they’re like, That’s my seat! And it isn’t. It isn’t their seat at all. This is a common misunderstanding and a moment where most of us who fly (or go anywhere with assigned seating) have been on either side. I have been in the wrong seat, and I have been in the right seat and been accused of being in the wrong. But in neither case did I feel the need to take to social media and act like a jerk, like I’d won the day, like I’d done humankind a solid because I GOT THE PERSON OUT OF MY SEAT GODDAMNIT. It was so self-righteous and icky, and the responses were just as bad. Seriously, when did everybody start looking for a fight?

And then, later in the day, I had a moment when I had to check myself. Another author I follow (and am still following) tweeted about an article on CNBC profiling someone who voted for the circus peanut and now feels left out in the cold. Said author went on a little rant, posting a thread along the lines of WAKE UP WHAT DID YOU EXPECT. There were a lot of responses along the lines of WE NEED TO STOP WITH THESE PEOPLE ALREADY, and I was all prepared to jump in and agree when it hit me (forgive me, I’m slow): really, these people are not at fault. I mean, yes, they voted for the circus peanut and his minions, but hear me out. I’m talking very specifically about the (economically) poor white people who have been on the side of the GOP for a long time. And the GOP has been quietly gutting education, removing federal funds and services from their states, and using fear and religion to maintain a vise grip on this population. We are talking about people who’ve grown up hearing the same message everywhere they go—church, work, school: Trust the Big Man! Show your faith! You will reap the rewards! They believe this with their whole hearts—if they align with power, they will be rewarded either in this life or the next. It’s a lie they’ve been sold time and again, and they simply, through no fault of their own, are not smart enough to figure out the truth. They are not equipped. To paraphrase Anne Lamott, it’s like they’ve been handed a can of soup and a hairbrush and been expected to figure things out from there. And the truth is, telling them to WAKE UP is the lefty equivalent of those right-wing assholes telling people on welfare that they could get out of poverty if they only wanted it badly enough. It simply isn’t true, because the system is (very purposely) stacked against them. Not the government, like they often think, but THE WHOLE FUCKING SYSTEM. And with this last election, the GOP pulled off the biggest and best trick of all: it finally got liberals to hate poor people, or at least white poor people. And don’t come at me with the idea that white people can more easily get out of poverty. I used to believe that was true, too, but after living in the deep South, I don’t think so anymore. There are a lot of white people interested in keeping the white man down, if you get what I’m saying. Lots of poor whites feel like the ones who want out are a bunch of traitors who’ve gotten high and mighty and will do what they can to make sure Billy Bob doesn’t get too far above his station; lots of rich whites would rather just keep what they have for themselves so you can just stay right where you are Billy Bob thanks very much and no, I don’t want to pay for your healthcare or school lunch, either (not that Billy Bob would ever accept such charity; he’s been trained not to). We are all complicit in furthering this right-wing mess, even us liberals, and we need to stop acting like this is a GOP problem and not an American problem. I don’t know what we can do, but maybe realizing our own hypocrisy is a start?

So I have decided not to dump Twitter, but to try, one tweet at a time, to make it a better place to be. And I know that a lot of people are using Twitter to really fight the good fight. Let’s focus our attention on these areas, shall we? (Maybe you already are!) Happy Friday, everyone.


11 thoughts on “Freestyle Friday: Twitter is the new comments section

  1. Lee Hillhouse says:

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time, a very interesting perspective about the Trump voters.

  2. An excellent goal! I agree, it’s so easy on Twitter or any other social media app to jump to conclusions about people, dehumanize people, be condescending. Our problems demand complex solutions and we won’t get them pitted against one another.

  3. What a great post Priscilla – Twitter can often be a vicious place. I try to fill my timeline with bookish people, but even then it can all get nasty. I am though, dying to know who the PA is!!

  4. Thank you, Lee. I was a little worried about posting it because I know a lot of people who just want to dismiss these people as hopeless–and I admit I have felt that way myself. Maybe they are, but being dismissive does not solve the problem for the next generation(s).

  5. Laila, so true. And it can be so tempting to fling zingers and seem clever or to just let out frustration all the time, but ultimately the real problem gets farther and farther away the more people focus on preaching to the choir and getting likes.

  6. Cathy, it really can be. I kept a lot of bookish people on my list, but they are also following a lot of the accounts I dropped, so every time they like or retweet something I still see it. I’ve muted or blocked most of the accounts I really don’t want to see. Ah, the PA–I’ll never tell! 🙂

  7. I knew exactly who the PA was and stopped following her for pretty much the same reason a while ago. I’ve always been picky about who I follow, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep Twitter from becoming a constant rage machine. Of course, there’s plenty to be enraged about, but Twitter seems to be a lot of spinning with rage and not so much action. So I’m spending less time there, but I miss the conversation. And it sometimes feels like you have to be on there all the time to get good conversation going. Oh well.

    I get what you’re saying about those orange peanut voters. I went to the African American History Museum last week, and several displays talked about how rich slave owners drove a wedge between poor whites/indentured servants and black slaves because they had power when they banded together. It seems like we’re still living with that today.

  8. Teresa, that’s interesting you know who it is! I wondered if it was just me. I was just shocked to see that person get meaner and meaner as popularity grew. I completely agree about Twitter sinning with rage and also miss the conversation–I find myself afraid to reply too often these days. It also feels more cliquey.

    About the voters, today I saw another thread on rural white voters, and why economic and social programs don’t resonate with them or help to win votes. We are definitely still living with that wedge (and in Texas, where I grew up, you can just sub in Mexican for African American, because even as a child I can recall people talking about Mexicans coming across the border and stealing jobs). The only answer I can think of is education, starting from the ground up, but that’s hardly an easy answer. 😦

  9. >>>And don’t come at me with the idea that white people can more easily get out of poverty. I used to believe that was true, too, but after living in the deep South, I don’t think so anymore.

    Listen, I….have to come at you with the idea that white people can more easily get out of poverty. The idea that they can’t isn’t borne out by available data. Here’s one link you could look at, which examines Census and income data for the last thirty years to get a sense of social mobility broken down by race.

    Black Americans have much, much lower rates of upward mobility than white Americans and much higher rates of downward mobility. You don’t have to feel any particular way about Trump supporters, but I don’t think the answer to a divisive country can be that we downplay the race-specific challenges that persist because of a racist national history.

  10. Jenny, I am well aware that black Americans have it much, much harder. I am not trying to downplay race-specific challenges at all. But I am saying that this same racist system also requires that poor white people remain poorly educated and fearful and poverty-stricken. I agree they absolutely have more opportunities available to them when they want help, as data does show, but if they can’t even figure out they need the help because they can’t work the problem, then what good does it do? That was my point. I have little love/sympathy for these people, but I don’t believe yelling WAKE UP, which was the basis of the Twitter thread I mentioned, will help. We see article after article showing these people refusing the help they need out of ignorant pride. The ignorant part is key there. To fix the entire system, this must be addressed, but it is most certainly to the GOP’s advantage that this doesn’t happen.

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