Like many people, I started a Twitter account in late 2015 in the lead up to the 2016 election in anticipation of the first female elected to the highest office. Ouch. That didn’t happen.
What I loved, and still find addicting about Twitter, is the minute-by-minute political news updates. The biggest news story trends at number one for a good part of the day and then drops when another story breaks. You can see what is happening by simply looking at what is trending at number one. But hitting that cute, little, white birdy on your iPhone and constantly checking what is trending comes with a price.
Mostly: time, productivity, living in the moment, and your sanity goes out the window. The whole thing is designed to put you into a reactive state.
I took to tweeting right away
For a writer, staying within 280 characters is a good exercise in writing concisely with clarity and style.
When Twitter allowed for a maximum of 140 characters, it was even more of a challenge. I preferred it then.
To get your point across in 140 characters meant you had to write something interesting with humor and directness — that also hit a nerve.
Say something interesting and meaningful and witty in 140 characters. Not an easy task. But I like challenges and writing limits.
Within a month — and hardly any followers — I tweeted something about the then-Republican candidate which was re-tweeted swiftly and got over 2,500 likes within minutes. My phone was blowing up with comments and re-tweets coming so rapidly my phone couldn’t load them in real-time.
I was hooked.
Soon, I was on Twitter all the time. Checking it constantly. Like an addict. Following thought leaders and celebrities who were on my ‘political side of the aisle’.
I received a lot of responses and likes especially when it came to defending my candidate, and that was pretty much all I did — defend the Democratic candidate — so much so, people (on the other ‘side’) accused me of being paid to defend her. I was trolled a lot. Harassed. As many others were.
The nastiness increased month after month in the lead up to the election. I read the most horrible, vile, threatening comments to positive tweets about my candidate written by me and others. In retrospect, we know now some of these tweets were coming from Russian trolls with the sole aim to intimidate. But some, were coming from average Twitter users.
It hit an all-time high after the first Podesta email dump. #Podestaemail would trend. I would immediately tweet something to the effect of “who cares,” attached with a GIF of some hot woman rolling her eyes. Russian trolls would pounce on my tweets each time.
The attacks were eerily swift, exact, mean, and one-note.
Any time I wrote some pointed quip with just the right emphasis using the apt-est GIF or image I could find, bots and trolls would pile on with nasty comments and a lot of name-calling, there were even some comments of a threatening nature in an attempt to scare me from voicing my opinion. It just made me dig in my heels more.
While I did not read any of the hate filled comments, my partner did. I discerned from his pissed-off reaction to them (he is not one to react), and his stern “get off twitter, it’s toxic” warning, that the comments must be pretty awful.
I didn’t listen. I kept tweeting.
But then I recognized my perspective on the world became darker and more cynical.
I was short-tempered with my friends and family. I became anxious and down and angry. I was more reactive to daily occurrences in my life that would normally glide by me. I was angry, over things that never made me angry before my tweeting days.
I often thought, Why am I participating in this world of Twitter. This angry, shout-into-the-void-culture-to-see-what-sticks.
So, I quit.
I didn’t want to be a part of people’s misdirected anger and hatred. It isn’t productive.
Eventually, tweeting was no longer fun or challenging and was causing me nothing but anxiety, distracting me from my real writing – writing over 140 characters.
Tweeting had gotten me back into the game of negative, unhealthy reaction, something I’d already wrestled with and thought I was on the other side of conquering.
I thought I had mastered non-reaction
I do not like being in a reactive state.
Getting a reaction on Twitter is the main point of a tweet; people, via tweet, actively try to push people’s buttons to get as large of a response as possible.
It makes cracking the success of Twitter (getting a lot of comments, re-tweets, and likes) reasonably easy.
The recipe is simple; see what’s trending, have a strong opinion, write a clear and concise tweet at the right time, and you can get thousands of likes, especially if you are attacking an idea or stance that a large number of people feel the need to correct (react to).
On Twitter, emotional buttons get pushed continuously. That’s the point for many.
With sites like Twitter and Facebook in conjuction with the political divisiveness brought on by the 2016 election, we are seeing the height of the shame culture play out before us online in real time.
Far too often, some on social media, will take one thing a person has said and distort it entirely, and then, turn that person into a caricature (which is another way of dehumanizing that person). Instead of embracing complexity and nuance and engaging healthily and respectfully, they annihilate and trash that person for merely having a different opinion than they hold.
I don’t want to participate in that culture.
Twitter was a huge lesson for me.
Tweeting took me from the moment. I thought it was giving me insight and skill, but it was only taking from me; my time, my energy, my peace, my moments, and putting me in a reactive and defensive mode where I don’t want to live.