It was Jack who advised me to get a Twitter to help share my blog articles with a wider audience, and it was also Jack who advised me that Twitter was one of the darkest places on the internet. I took his advice and set up the account, but I didn’t really listen to his warning.
It took me all of about five minutes to realise that he was right.
On paper, Twitter sounds great. You can connect with the world, write short but sweet messages, contact your favourite celebrities, engage with authors, follow hashtags you’re interested in, get the news as it is happening… you can also be trolled or read vile comments sent to people. You can see people set up fake accounts purely to spout hatred to another person. You can report sick, twisted comments and be told that they don’t violate the terms and conditions. People will shout you down, tell you you are wrong, insult you and belittle you just for having a belief that is different to their own. You see how much people like the sound of their own voice and to disagree with others purely for the sake of disagreeing. You can see the best of humanity, sure, but a hell of a lot of the time you see the worst.
My own personal experience of Twitter has been mixed. I mostly find that we are all just shouting at the top of our voices, hoping that someone will pick up on what we say and run with it.
I did get a bit of negative Twitter action, though. I shared an article that I wrote on the abortion bans in America (click here to read it if you missed it) and got my first ‘hate’. I was called sexist for writing about womens health (?!?!?!) and, after commenting on a tweet about Busy Phillips opening up about having an abortion when she was 15, became embroiled in an exchange with a woman who said that women having an abortion is a way to express their ‘irresponsibility and immaturity’. I counter argued and her response to me was to say that if a woman has sex then she alone must carry any consequence forever.
I typed out a response. I wrote that the woman was basically saying that women who got pregnant should be forced to have the child and raise a child as a form of punishment for having sex. What a happy life for that child. I also wanted to point out that there was no mention of men owning up to their actions in her response, but that’s another argument altogether.
I was going to send my reply, to engage, to spend my day furiously counter arguing every point this stranger made… but I didn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to get into a ‘Twitter war’ with someone who was never going to agree with me and who would never change my mind, who was just going to keep going on and on and leave us going around in circles. Neither of us would sway, so what was the point? I was going away for the weekend for my anniversary and I felt a rage simmering away inside that would never let me switch off and just enjoy myself. I was letting a message on a computer from a faceless stranger dictate my real life.
So I ignored it, went away for the weekend and had a wonderful time. I barely picked up my phone and I didn’t look at Twitter until I got home. The compulsion to reply, to engage in a war of words that would get nowhere was gone. It simply was better for my wellbeing to just let it go.
Letting it go isn’t always weakness. To some people not replying is giving up, but giving up on what? A Twitter battle with a stranger I would never meet, whose life and opinion had no bearing on my own and who was as powerless to change things as I was? It wasn’t a debate we were having – her mind was set, I was wrong, I was to take the shots. My mindset was also set – I think women should be allowed access to abortions. I understand that sometimes birth control fails, sometimes you get ill and your birth control doesn’t work as effectively, that sometimes you might not be on birth control at all and get pregnant at a time of the month you didn’t think you could and then not be in a position to raise a child. My opinion was more liberal than hers and would never become less than that. If I was fighting against someone who could make a difference or someone who was willing to hear me out then I’d have stood my ground, but we were two fixed positions. Arguing with a brick wall won’t get anyone anywhere.
My counter arguer was entitled to her opinion just as much as I am entitled to say ‘we will never agree, let’s just leave it at that’. I’m 25. I know when to pick my battles. I know my article was liked and retweeted way more times than it was picked apart by people with a different opinion. I also know that the people who want to argue with you on Twitter are people you will never change. Their opinion is fixed – why else would they purposely take time from their day to call someone a famous a dickhead for disagreeing with them or send them threats? You only go in for a fight if you think you’re right, think you will win or think there is no responsibility or repercussion that could come from what you say. Engaging with people determined to disagree with you only adds fuel to the fire and makes them think they’re more important in your life than they are.
I know that abortions bans are a topical issue right now and I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinion. Twitter is great for allowing people with different ideas to express their side of the story, but it is also an arena where no one wins. If anything, it just creates a bigger gulf between both sides. No one listens to each other anymore. They just tweet, angrier and more aggressively each time until one of them feels like they have silenced the other.
I’m not silenced, though. I’ll engage when I need to, when I want to. Maybe doing a Ricky Gervais and learning to pick your battles, when to reply to someone’s negativity like it’s a sport and to spend most of your time engaging with the positive is how we should all use Twitter.
Twitter should not be a platform for hate or to argue on. If you don’t like that Love Island contestant or that footballer who missed a vital goal, don’t send them abuse. Walk away. Stay silent. Engage with someone you do like. Surely there’s enough negativity in the world without you adding a little more to it?