On February 14th, 2018 when news of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting broke, my immediate reaction wasn’t to continually check the updates or to phone a loved one. I cried. And then I logged onto Twitter. And why? Because I’m a good millennial. But, more seriously, because whenever tragedy strikes, my Twitter feed fills with poems to cope, poems on the subject matter, and poems from victims, both current and previous. Through this work, I’m able to transcend the current context and feel hopeful about what might come from this, whatever this may be. The possibility for art within spaces of tragedy becomes clear and, on some level, we are just trying to make it through—some more so than others.
Just recently I had a conversation at a dinner party with friends who expressed their dislike of Twitter. I felt—well—personally attacked. Okay, okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but it did later make me consider the strong visceral reaction I had to their statements about the site. They communicated the uselessness of it and I raised my voice and crossed my arms. I called bullshit and felt myself clenching my teeth, trying to swallow the rising fuck off. I then went silent as if in childish cold-shoulder protest. What do you mean you hate Twitter? How? When did this start? Why?
Why did I urgently feel this need to come to Twitter’s defense? As I reflect, I suppose I did, and do, understand where they were coming from. In the past, Twitter has actually sat idle and permitted my own harassment. I’ve seen them remove photos of female menstruation and breastfeeding but happily conserve racist threats. I’ve seen teenagers be told to end their lives from total strangers. I’ve seen transphobic hate speech. Twitter does, after all, actively contain and maintain the same evils of performativity and trolling present in most social media.
The day after that dinner disagreement, I felt uneasy. embarrassed—Was my reaction too strong? What did it really matter? So, I decided to consult the Internet. I found Maya Kosoff’s piece in Vanity Fair, “Just An Ass-Backward Tech Company”: How Twitter Lost The Internet War,” which detailed the vast complications of Twitter, the violence committed regularly on the site, and what’s been done (or rather, not done) about it. Comedian and SNL repertory player Leslie Jones essentially got chased off by a bunch of white nationalist trolls’ racist vitriol surrounding her part in the most recent Ghostbusters film. At any moment scrolling through comments one might see someone receive anything from sexually violent threats to unsolicited dieting advice. Maybe I did over-react in my own quick confrontation? After years of objections of the continued abuse on the app, Twitter higher-ups countered with increasing the character count per tweet, essentially giving trolls more space per post to utter their hatred and ignorance. The site often officially verifies self-proclaimed Nazis and repeatedly ignores hate speech. Sigh. Still, I couldn’t rationalize the incredulous reaction I had to their opposition of Twitter in that moment. It was as if they had insulted my own livelihood and hadn’t just critiqued an app I use.
Perhaps I responded as I did because like so many other poets and writers I know, I rely on Twitter to feel supported and occasionally revived in the never-ending hellscape of the Trump presidency. I’m often greeted with screenshots and shared links of reminders of what other artists are putting out into the world. And, when I’m feeling dissatisfied with my own writing, teaching, reading, and the chaos of Everyday Life—I suddenly feel as though it’s possible to create within structures that are regularly seeking to obstruct artistic consumption and production. I am living in a kind of echo chamber—one that celebrates art and good humor, social justice and reproductive rights, underrepresented voices, tiny political wins and killer line breaks. It’s the same echo chamber that made the news of a 2016 Republican victory even more alarming because I couldn’t have possibly predicted it given the material I had come to expect in my feed that essentially just agreed or aligned with my own interpretations and outlooks. As someone I know always says: It’s dialectical.
I’ve cultivated a feed I look forward to logging in to—poets, writers, artists, comedians, left-leaning politician and activists—and these voices reassure me, daily, that EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY. They write, resist, post, repeat. Those friends had made claims that Twitter was where their peers and non-peers alike used the platform to perform or push agendas. But I frequently log onto praise and promotion, publicity and appreciation, shouting-from-the-rooftop excitement toward and of my comrades’ art. And this, I now realize, isn’t something inherently virtuous about Twitter itself—au contraire. I have no doubt that these poets and writers, artists and activists, would and could carve out these spaces anywhere they needed to.
And this is all to say: I get it. I also resent the site’s lack of acknowledgement of its own severe harms. I now realize that when I jumped to Twitter’s defense, I was actually defending the artists and writers I feel I’ve come to know and not defending the site itself. Twitter is, at large, often painful. But, for some of us, it’s a means of day-to-day survival. I now realize I had been conflating the online apparatus with all the voices, known and unknown, who greet me daily in my feed. I am thankful for those who make it all less painful and cultivate online presences that encourage, promote, and shape positive artistic discourses. Dear voices of resistance, I’m so thankful for you.
- Guest Post, Caroline Chavatel: Dear Voices of Resistance - April 7, 2018