I almost deleted my Twitter account last week.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh noes, someone who hardly uses Twitter, other than to shamelessly self-promote, is thinking of leaving it: how will Twitter cope?!”

It’s true, too: I am, indeed, a shameless self-promoter. The only reason I still have a Twitter account is because it’s how some of my readers choose to follow my blog. Enough people do this for it to be worth keeping the account running, although it’s almost totally automated these days, because even on the rare occasions when I DO want to post something there, I’m often too scared to:  the atmosphere there often seems so hostile – almost as if people are just waiting for someone to say something mildly controversial, just so they can be outraged by it –  that I find myself over-thinking every one of those 140 characters, and normally not posting them at all.

Here's to love and laughter and happily ever afterNow, I don’t often say anything controversial on Twitter – mild or otherwise. Sometimes, though, you don’t even have to be controversial in order to invoke the ire of the Twitter hive mind. The morning after the Manchester bombing, for instance, I logged onto Twitter, expecting to see people talking about the attack, and expressing their horror at the senseless loss of so many lives. To be fair, there was plenty of that (and also plenty of people offering up spare beds and lifts home, which, in the interests of balance, was really nice to see, and an example of Twitter at its best)… but there were also plenty of people just talking about how other people were talking about the attack – and judging them quite harshly for it.

On Twitter, you see, it was considered NOT APPROPRIATE to post anything not related to the attack that day. If your blog was set to auto-tweet links to your posts (Mine is, but, luckily for me, I’d been awake when the news started to come through, and was able to switch them off…), and you hadn’t instantly put a stop to this, you were the lowest of the low, and deserved to be verbally abused by everyone who happened to see one of those ill-timed tweets. There was no excuse for this. Never mind that the attack happened late at night, and a lot of people didn’t hear about it until the next morning, by which time scheduled blog posts/tweets had already gone out. Never mind that most people’s first thoughts when they did hear about the tragedy probably didn’t revolve around their blogs/Twitter accounts: there was, quite literally NO EXCUSE. If you dared – whether deliberately or not – to tweet about ANYTHING other than the attack, you were utter scum according to the Twitter hive mind, who were all busy mourning much harder, and much more appropriately than you.

It was honestly quite depressing.

As I said, I switched off my scheduled tweets as soon as I knew what had happened (I hate that this WAS the first thing I thought of, but it was purely because I’ve seen people be attacked over auto-tweets so many times now that I knew that if I didn’t, I’d wake up to abuse…), so my reaction to this isn’t a personal one – I was just really saddened to see so much in-fighting and bitchiness over something SO insignificant (Seriously, who cares that someone forgot to switch off their tweet scheduler? Why does it automatically mean that they must be evil and selfish, rather than just meaning they were away from their computer at the time or – shock horror – it just didn’t enter their mind in the horror of that moment?), at a time when it seemed to me that people should be standing together, and supporting each other.

That’s Twitter for you, though: if there’s an opportunity to berate someone for their “insensitivity” in order to prove how much more sensitive YOU are, then why not go for it, without even a shred of irony? Why indeed.

Then came the general election – which made the whole, “Only Evil Nazis Post Scheduled Tweets During a Tragedy,” thing seem really quite reasonable.

It started off innocently enough, with people urging each other to vote: which is admirable, although probably somewhat redundant, given the echo chamber that Twitter is for most of us. Still, voting is important, and if even one person was encouraged to register because of something they read on Twitter, then I’m all for it.

I’m much less in favour of what happened NEXT, however – and which happened in a very short space of time, too. Over the course of just a few short days, I saw the “PLEASE VOTE!” tweets on my timeline change to, “PLEASE VOTE, BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE GOING TO VOTE FOR THE PARTY I TELL YOU TO VOTE FOR!” Or, “PLEASE VOTE… UNLESS YOU’RE PLANNING TO VOTE FOR X PARTY, IN WHICH CASE YOU’RE A MORON.”

I’m honestly not exaggerating here. I literally saw people telling their followers they shouldn’t vote if they weren’t prepared to do as they were told, and vote for the candidate/party the tweeter was endorsing. I saw liberal use of the word “moron” – and various other insults designed to effectively shame people into toeing the line and voting a certain way. It was truly disturbing to witness – and after the election, it only got worse, with people hurling abuse at anyone and everyone who had voted “inappropriately” in their view. At this point, people started to call each other “c*nts” and talk about wanting to punch each other in the face, which was… disturbing.

“I literally saw people telling their followers they shouldn’t vote if they weren’t prepared to do as they were told, and vote for the candidate/party the tweeter was endorsing. I saw liberal use of the word “moron” – and various other insults designed to effectively shame people into toeing the line and voting a certain way.”

 

Ordinarily, I’d say this is the kind of problem that has a very simple solution. I’ve always thought the best thing about social networks like Twitter is that they can be whatever you want them to be: i.e. if you don’t like what someone posts, don’t follow them. I don’t do ‘follow-for-follow’, or believe in following people just to be polite, and, for the most part, that works pretty well for me. I rarely see racist or homophobic tweets, for instance, although I know they exist, because I don’t follow people who are racist or homophobic – it’s as simple as that.

In this case, however, the tweets that have bothered me so much have been coming from people I LIKE. People I respect. People I’ve known for years, and who I would not have imagined ever calling other people “morons” or “c*nts” because they didn’t vote the same way as them. Most confusingly of all, these are the same people who, just a week earlier, had been talking about democracy, and the importance of exercising the right to vote, but who now seemed to hold the very undemocratic view that anyone who’d voted differently from them deserved to be “punched in the face,”  because they were SO OBVIOUSLY EVIL. I mean, seriously?

I find this viewpoint really hard to understand. In “real life” I have several friends and family members who hold very different political views from me (I’m talking about party politics here, not fundamental beliefs…). I don’t share or particularly understand their views, but I can say with 100% certainty that none of those people hold those views because they’re “evil morons” who actively want others to suffer. They’re also not “selfish c*nts” who only care about themselves, and nor are they “uneducated halfwits” who haven’t bothered to think about the issues they’re voting on. (These are all real insults I’ve seen over the past few days, by the way: mostly on Twitter, but also on Facebook.)

Actually, they’re kind, normal people who just happen to have different political views from me – mostly because they have different backgrounds or life experiences. They are not evil, or bad or even wrong – and although I might not agree with their views, I will always defend their right to have them, and to vote however they wish: that’s the very foundation of our democracy, and without it, we have nothing. You can’t have democracy if you’re not prepared to tolerate differences of opinion, or if you’re just going to try to bully people into voting the way YOU say they should: it doesn’t work like that. And yes, everyone has the right to express their opinion, and to discuss the issues that are important to them: there’s a big difference, however, between saying, “This is why I think you should consider voting this way,” and saying, “If you don’t vote this way, you deserve to be slapped.” Obviously.  All week I’ve been seeing people self-righteously explain that people died for the right to vote: yes, they did, and I’m sure they’d die TWICE if they thought that right was being eroded by social media bullies who feel that their opinion is the only one that counts.

“You can’t have democracy if you’re not prepared to tolerate differences of opinion, or if you’re just going to try to bully people into voting the way YOU say they should: it doesn’t work like that.”

 

Just to be clear – and because I know that people are going to read this and make assumptions that aren’t actually true-  I’m not writing this because my own feelings were hurt by any of those tweets. I actually share the political views of most of the people I follow on Twitter (As I said, it’s an echo chamber, and I’m as guilty as anyone else of mostly following like-minded people, who have similar values and beliefs to me): I consider myself to be pretty left wing/liberal, and I completely understand the feelings of hurt and even anger in the country at the moment. I think it’s been obvious for a long time now that there’s a real division in our society right now, and it’s hard not to feel utterly helpless and frustrated in the face of that. I get it: I really do.

While I haven’t taken any of the aggressive, intolerant tweets I’ve seen personally, however, I have been offended by them, because it’s just so far removed from the values of tolerance and democracy that most of us hold dear  – or claim to, at least. I know the answer is to just unfollow the people who say these things, and I normally would: but, in this case, it would mean unfollowing people I generally like and respect – and quite a lot of them, too. So I’m writing this post instead, rather than simply biting my tongue, as I’ve been doing all week.

This is a difficult time for the UK, and for the whole world, really… but attacking each other isn’t the answer, and it doesn’t really work, either: I’ve seen numerous people be attacked on social media for daring to say they might vote in a way not endorsed by the hive mind, but I’ve yet to see a single one of them say, “You know what? Being called a ‘stupid c*nt’ has totally changed my mind on this: THANKS, TWITTER, I SEE THE LIGHT!” As my mum always says, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar: and as everyone’s mum always says, it’s nice to be nice. Or, at least, it’s certainly nicer than being eaten up with hatred.

I’m just going to finish this by noting that obviously NOT EVERYONE ON TWITTER IS LIKE THIS, and if you’re NOT like this on Twitter, then this post is obviously, obviously NOT ABOUT YOU. I feel like this should go without saying, but I’ve noticed that any time I post an opinion piece, I’ll be criticised by people who feel I haven’t done enough to present a balanced view of whatever it is I’m talking about, almost as if they think I’m writing an academic paper or detailed legal analysis or something. This post is neither of those things, obviously: it’s a personal opinion, based on my own, entirely subjective experiences. No, not everyone on Twitter has been going around wishing a painful death on those they feel didn’t vote appropriately in the general election – but enough people HAVE been doing that  for me to have been really quite shocked by it, and to want to speak up about it. Thanks for listening.

27 Comments
  1. This is everything that I thought summed up far better than what I could have. I always wonder what happened to having a balanced debate…. I tend to struggle with having a firm and solid opinion because I can see exactly where people are coming from with opposing or different views, whatever they may be. Like you, I just daren’t put anything or ask a question just in case the online army come crashing down.

    I have to say it’s good to know I’m not the only person who writes, re-writes then ends up deleting posts on social media! Sometimes I think ‘whats the point in adding another voice to this’ and I definitely made liberal use of the Mute button on Twitter over the past few days.

    1. I delete more tweets than I post, I think! Most of them get totally ignored anyway, so I’m not sure why I worry so much, but then again, I’ve never been very good at saying what I mean in just 140 characters

      1. Thats what I keep trying to tell myself – I tried very hard to only share impartial election stuff, mostly Full Fact and still then I ummed and ah’d about posting anything at all! I’m sure my 126 followers on Twitter really don’t care though, but every time I’m like ‘is this okay to write?’

        To be honest, I think this comes from a deep seated worry of what people think of me or how people will react – usually based on things I’ve read that is a ‘not done thing’. Food pictures on Facebook or Instagram? “No-one wants to see peoples lunch, all people do is take pictures of it just eat the thing and stop posting this rubbish that NO-ONE wants to see, urgh”. Selfies? “How self absorbed are they that they post a million pictures of their face, ugh”. A new handbag? “How dare you spend money on a bag that I can’t afford, you stupid & rich, brand loving mindless sheep”

        It may never apply to me but still, I doubt everything when I go to put it online. Sigh….

        1. Oh, I so relate to this! Every time I see a passive-aggressive tweet, I assume it’s about me, even if I haven’t even done the thing the person is complaining about! Also, I’ve noticed that every time I tweet something other than a blog link, I immediately lose a handful of followers, no matter how innocuous the tweet was, so I just assume that everyone over there hates me 😳😳😳

  2. Oh, it’s horrible! Each time there’s a major political event there’s a nasty upheaval on social media. Before it existed there would be a few days fall-out, maybe the odd “how could you?”, and that was that.

    I think the Scottish indy ref was the worst. I was still living in London at the time, didn’t have a vote. I could see both points of view but would probably have voted no. And for their no votes many friends were called all sorts of names by the side that didn’t win, nasty insults too. And there were plenty of insults back! Something positive that engaged people in politics degenerated into playground name-calling.

    Meanwhile, post-last week’s election people on my FB friends list have been quite cutting about anyone who votes for… erm… one particular party who are enjoying renewed success up here in Scotland. While I’ve never voted that way myself, I have friends who have (including my mum!) and guess what? None of them are monsters either. I do wonder at left-leaning friends who assume these people are evil since they’ve never met them. More often than not voters choose the side they’ve always done and on one or two particular issues; in fact, whenever I’ve asked my mum why she votes the way she does she admits it’s because she thinks they’re the least worst!

    I do think that it’s great that politics is engaging people, but I wish we could discuss them like adults.

    1. The Indy Ref was the worst: I was genuinely scared to ‘out’ myself as a no voter, because people were getting so much abuse over it, and everyone I follow on Twitter seemed to be fervently in the ‘yes’ camp, and very vocal about it. There just seemed to be no middle ground, and no willingness to see the other side of it: it was such a depressing time 🙁

  3. So glad to read this post! I have felt exactly the same over the last few weeks. I’ve been shocked at the level of vitriol appearing on my (normally) lovely friends’ posts. I know they wouldn’t say these things in a face to face debate so why is the Internet a forum for people to be uncharacteristically mean?

  4. My tweets go largely ignored – in fact, all my social media and blog goes largely ignored so I don’t feel under any pressure, thankfully, and largely tend to fly under the radar?
    However someone with your presence? My goodness, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the horrible tweets, comments, etc you must receive on the regular. I’ve seen a few rather harsh comments left here for you where people aren’t really that anonymous – so once their completely anonymous, hiding behind a screen? No wonder yourself (and any other social media influencers) have anxiety and stress x

    1. Mine are mostly ignored too, to be honest, which is one of the reasons I don’t really like it – it always makes me feel like the least popular girl in the school again!

  5. Twitter is horrible when something occurs. There’s so much nastiness on it and there really doesn’t need to be.
    I’ve been thinking of not using it anymore because it’s all scheduled posts. To me it seems to have lost its conversations and general chatter. I’m bored of Twitter now.

    Debbie x http://www.hellodeborah.co.uk

  6. The political stuff was just bizarre. As you say, it started off nicely with people prompting others to vote, and then it ended up being some weird gang like situation where people were being told exactly who to vote for and why they were wrong if they voted otherwise. I decided to keep myself completely quiet that day and decided no one needed to know my political views at all, be they positive or negative, as it was probably just easier that way. I also saw tweets complaining about the people who HADN’T prompted others to vote, so of course I was wrong no matter what I did… 🙂

    1. Oh no, seriously?! I didn’t see any of those, but I’m honestly not surprised, given the general mood over there! I didn’t bother urging people to vote, not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I assume my followers are intelligent enough to already know why they should vote – to be honest, I started to feel a bit patronised by being constantly harangued about it, so I really didn’t see the need to add to it!

  7. Exactly why I didn’t log in the day after the election – there’s enough rage on my Facebook right now.

    I posted something trivial on Twitter the morning of the attack, before hearing the news. Nobody criticised it (to my knowledge) but I still spent the whole day feeling defensive in case I was being seen as crass and insensitive. By people who I’ve never met and most likely never will.

    1. I tweeted a photo of my dog during the Bataclan attack in Paris – we’d been watching Netflix all night, so I didn’t see the news until a couple of hours after it had happened, and I’d just picked up my phone, snapped a photo, and then sent it direct to Twitter, without actually looking at my feed. I was absolutely mortified, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to be glued to the news 24/7 either, so these things happen. I’d like to think that if I saw someone do something like that, I’d assume they hadn’t seen the news yet, rather than assuming they must just not care about it, but a lot of people seem to take the opposite view. Luckily, no one said anything about it, but I’m really paranoid about those scheduled tweets now!

  8. I became very unhappy with FB and Twitter around the Independence referendum. I could not – still cannot – understand people falling out with their own family and friends of a lifetime over it. I was even less happy with the depths of abuse inspired by Brexit and I finally gave up on both after seeing people here in the UK calling each other “dumb f***s” over the election of a president IN ANOTHER COUNTRY!!! It’s as if all semblance of manners and self control have skedaddled but I don’t quite know when or where or why.

  9. In America, as both parties became more polarized, it seems the public did also: Right & Wrong, no middle ground, no compromise. I do not know how things are going in the UK, and I am curious about it, but here in the US very harsh and real consequences have happened to real people- – not anonymous figures on the Internet or Twitter. I have not had any friends deported, but the monthly check I depend on to live INDOORS, warm & fed, is threatened. As my health has deteriorated, I have had literal sleepless nights, and bouts of terror, at the specter of my nearly-60-yr-old body* shuffling around a city that experiences -0° weather! Fear can easily lead to anger. I am off Facebook because I, too, can’t handle knowing there are “friends” out there who would gleefully install people/policies that mean great, real, previously experienced harm to me.
    *by the time of the next election

  10. Whenever stuff like this happens, I always think of this quote and believe that many others would do well to remember it too…

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
    ― S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire

  11. Well said, Amber – I thought I was the only one was got sick of being told who to vote for on Twitter, whether I agree with them or not. Luckily I vote by post so do it long before the election comes around. I completely agree with people encouraging others to vote, but telling someone WHO to vote for (unless you’re actually a politician or political party) is just irresponsible… Voting a certain way because of what someone on Twitter told you to do is NOT the right way to use your vote!

    I muted as many accounts as I could who were telling me how to vote. I’ll make up my own mind by doing proper research, thank you very much…!

    THANK YOU for saying this out loud #bigthumbsup

    Catherine x

  12. Twitter is a bit of a train wreck but I can’t look away. I love it and hate it at the same time. I do tend to avoid commenting on the news a lot unless it really stirs my anger but I also sometimes think I should be tweeting about things but I just don’t want to get involved really. I’m not heartless just because I don’t talk at length about the same sad topic and say exactly the same things that everyone else is saying. After the first few statements about love and peace and sadness it’s all a bit redundant

  13. I don’t have Twitter, never will, I just don’t understand it. And guess what ? My life works just fine without it. I agree Amber, the mums have it, ” if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. World wide we need a resurgence of good manners and courtesy. Mother knows best people 😀.

  14. “You can’t have democracy if you’re not prepared to tolerate differences of opinion, or if you’re just going to try to bully people into voting the way YOU say they should: it doesn’t work like that.” So true

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