In a way this post is long overdue. In the time it’s taken me to get settled into my new house, online feminism has been having a relative shit storm. You probably know this storm by its brand name – Twitter.
Oh Twitter…. In the realm of social media, twitter has always held a special place in my heart. I love twitter. Unlike Facebook, it’s not considered a social insult to abstain from following people you know in real life. In fact, it’s almost weird to solely follow those people you went to high school with but no longer talk to. You don’t have to listen to the inane statuses that tell you about their latest new born, or how their latest gym session went. You can follow proper people, people you want to listen to like journalists, writers and certain celebrities (you know, the non-crazy ones).
Of course, you can follow the crazy ones. You can follow Stacy from down the road and read tweets from Britney Spears’ press team that tell you she’s having a ‘great time’ in whatever part of the world her tour takes her. You can do all of that, or you cannot. Twitter can be what you want it to be.
Twitter can also offer a great sense of community. You build up a small group of people that you enjoy engaging with online. You reply to each other’s tweets, you share links you think they will like and you can even engage in thought provoking discussions. It can be like a little online family.
But having discussions is very problematic online. You see the internet isn’t really made for calm, intellectual discussions. The whole anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in people. Suddenly the calm turns to rage. Suddenly people don’t think they have to listen to another person, it becomes all about their thoughts, their opinions and their feelings. Face to face you have to listen, you have to at least try to understand, otherwise you risk getting a fist put in your face or you might actually see the tears in the other persons face as you tell them to ‘shut up you dumb cunt’.
But on the internet, these visual consequences that pull on our moral fibres are hidden away. And this can be strangely liberating. I imagine the feeling is similar to that feeling you get when you take a wee in the shower, or walk around naked when your house is empty. Trolls probably reveal a lot about human nature, I bet there’s a whole field of psychological research dedicated to their existence.
However, lately this trolling behaviour has been in the headlines for reasons outside of science. Death threats, threats to rape, to gang rape, to bomb – the women of twitter have been bombarded with abuse. Caroline Criado-Perez has been the face of these twitter abuse stories. You may remember her from her victory over the Bank of England. There have also been other women involved such as Mary Beard, Helen Lewis, Grace Dent and the controversial figure of Suzanne Moore.
Before many of these women left, Caitlin Moran set about trying to tackle this mess with her campaign #TwitterSilence. The premise was simple – a boycott of twitter for one whole day.
Now I have to admit, the idea of a twitter silence had me torn. On the one hand, I like the idea of people being able to easily band together and stick it to the man. It was an easy protest to show support, just loads of people abstaining from twitter for one day. Yet on the other hand, the idea of silence being the weapon of choice against bullies seemed… well, wrong. You don’t tell victims to stay silent.
These sentiments many other people shared and Moran made it very clear that it was okay. In fact, she encouraged it. She didn’t believe hers was the one and only way of fighting the abuse. If people wanted to spend the day shouting back at the abusers – GREAT! In the end, I believe Moran just wanted to get people talking about the issue at hand and to try and inspire some camaraderie. This I liked, so when Sunday rolled around I was torn about what form of protest I should take.
However, twitter quickly made my mind up for me. Logging onto twitter on #twittersilence was like entering a warzone. From my point of view, the people who claimed to be team ‘shouting back’ weren’t actually shouting back to the trolls who had been abusing the likes of Caroline, but were focusing all their energy on attacking Caitlin Moran.
Some of the tweets that were abusing Moran were understandable, and by that I mean they came from the kind of people who were probably in the troll camp which Moran was fighting against. Yet the ones that really angered me came from the online feminist camp. Apparently Moran wasn’t doing feminism the right way and this therefore justified a day of mocking her for her perceived feminist failures.
At this point, can I just point out that there is no definite ‘right’ way to be a feminist? There are many different camps of the feminist sphere, not all of these camps have the same ideas, but I would think support of one another wouldn’t be too hard a task. Sure, you don’t like twitter silence but it was undertaken with good intentions. Instead of spending your time denouncing it, why not come up with your own way of showing support for the cause?
In the end I tweeted #TwitterSilence and left the site because of fatigue. It was tiring to watch feminism tear itself apart and argue with people who were supposed to be allies. Was that the right reason to join twitter silence? Probably not, but I really wanted to show that sometimes we can pull together and unite under one banner. Of course, twitter silence was a massive failure, with or without my participation it would have been doomed. In the end, rather than get rid of the trolls, twitter silence just made trolls of the feminist movement. It made some people look as bad as the people everyone was against.
And even now, I wonder if my silence was the right thing. Did I join to support or to deny what I was seeing? Should I have shouted back against the trolls or the feminists? Who was in the right and who was in the wrong? Ironically, trying to answer these questions has left me speechless.