Much like Mark Zuckerberg, in a quest to defend his utopian vision of friends sharing birthday candle photos with friends, has struggled to accept that he now runs the world's biggest group-think and propaganda enterprise, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey either doesn't get or can't grapple with the enormity of the monster den his platform has created. And the exodus of smart and witty super-users continues this week with writer Lindy West, author of the recent book Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, who wrote a piece about her decision to leave Twitter for The Guardian. Despite all the time she's invested in cultivating friends and engaging others on the platform, "after a half decade of troubleshooting," she writes, "it may simply be impossible to make this platform usable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators."
West gained national attention both for engaging her Stranger colleague Dan Savage in an argument about body shaming, and for a piece she did on This American Life two years ago about personally confronting one of her worst trolls on Twitter, a man who began impersonating her late father in order to harass her, and who ultimately she got on the phone to apologize.
Twitter, that ten-year-old "honeypot for assholes," has made multiple belated pledges in the last six to twelve months to curb abuses, or at least allow you to better tune out the trolls, and once again last week Dorsey said that dealing with abuse and harassment is an ongoing priority along with a few other things, like being able to edit tweets after posting. But also in the last two weeks we saw a developing legal case that could end up being the first to be prosecuted arguing the use of Twitter as a method of bodily harm the case of political journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who is epileptic, and who was sent a strobe-like GIF by a pro-Trump troll that induced a seizure.
West notes Dorsey's attempt to sidestep when a user, responding to his open call for what Twitter should do to enhance the platform in 2017, suggested a "Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis." "We’ve been working on our policies and controls. What’s the next most critical thing?" Dorsey replied, solidifying that the curbing of abuse and the civilizing of Twitter as a whole is far from the company's top priority, when it probably should be.
"That's censorship!" many will cry, and certainly Twitter has thrived on being a mechanism for extremely fast call-and-response when it comes to the sharing of ideas, news, humor, and hate. Alt-right hero/champion troll Milo Yiannopolous declared his ban from the platform last summer the "beginning of the end" for Twitter, because of what he saw as a degradation of free speech.
But West is one of many people most of whom are not white men who have borne the brunt of Twitter's uncontrollable mob mentality, which itself is an unfortunate byproduct of "free speech" unencumbered by strict policing of harassment.
I hate to disappoint anyone, but the breaking point for me wasn’t the trolls themselves (if I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt) - it was the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them. The white supremacist, anti-feminist, isolationist, transphobic “alt-right” movement has been beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalized Twitter communities for years now - [it implicitly asked] how much hate speech will bystanders ignore? When will Twitter intervene and start protecting its users? - and discovered, to its leering delight, that the limit did not exist. No one cared. Twitter abuse was a grand-scale normalization project, disseminating libel and disinformation, muddying long-held cultural givens such as “racism is bad” and “sexual assault is bad” and “lying is bad” and “authoritarianism is bad”, and ultimately greasing the wheels for Donald Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency. Twitter executives did nothing.
And while Twitter may still be a tool for good, given the enormous population of users who still use it for good, West is done "teaching Feminism 101" and writing jokes for free on the platform that's given an open soap box to our President-elect, and she concludes with a few metaphors. "If I found out my favorite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would - bare minimum - switch coffee shops." And she repeats one from writer friend Lauren Hoffman, "I guess if I met all my friends working at, like, the mall and the mall became a tacit endorsement of fascism I would keep the friends but stop going to the mall."
Previously: Twitter Is Not Shutting Down Over Cyberbullying, But Also Can't Do Much About Cyberbullying
Epileptic Reporter Comes After Twitter Over Troll Who Sent Him Tweet Designed To Induce A Seizure