As most of you know, I deactivated my Twitter account earlier this month. It had been a long time coming, for a whole host of reasons, but Twitter’s decision to be the only social network that gives Alex Jones a platform to spew hate, hurt innocent people, and incite violence was the final straw for me. But I haven’t regretted leaving for even one second. Having that endless stream of hate and anger and negativity in my pocket wasn’t good for me (and I don’t think it’s good for anyone, to be honest).
I was on Twitter from just about the very beginning. I think I’m in the first couple thousand accounts. I remember when it was a smallish group of people who wanted to have fun, make jokes, share information and tips on stuff that was interesting, and oh so many pictures of our pets. It was awesome.
It started to get toxic slowly at first, then all at once, starting with the misogynist dipshits who were behing the gate-which-shall-not-be-named. That was clearly a turning point for Twitter, and it never really recovered from it. I watched, in real time, as the site I loved turned into a right wing talk radio shouting match that made YouTube comments and CSPAN call-ins seem scholarly. We tried for a couple of years to fight back, to encourage Twitter to take a stand against bad actors (HA HA LIKE ME BECAUSE I AM A BAD ACTOR RIGHT YOU GOT ME HA HA HA). Twitter doesn’t care about how its users are affected by themselves, though. Twitter cares about growth and staying on the good side of President Shitler’s tantrums.
I mean, honestly, the most lucid and concise indictment I can give Twitter is: it’s the service that Donald Trump uses to communicate with and incite his cultists.
Anyway, enough about how terrible Twitter is. We all know how terrible it is. That’s never going to change, by the way.I know some very good people who are working on making Twitter better, but I honestly don’t think they can overcome the institutional inertia that has allowed it to get to the point its at now. It may get incrementally better, but the fundamental problem of random, mostly-anonymous people being terrible isn’t going to change, because that’s not a Twitter problem. That’s a humanity — and specifically a social media — problem.
I thought that if I left Twitter, I could find a new social network that would give it some competition (Twitter’s monopoly on the social space is a big reason it can ignore people who are abused and harassed, while punishing people for reporting their attackers), so I fired up this account I made at Mastodon a long time ago.
I thought I’d find something different. I thought I’d find a smaller community that was more like Twitter was way back in 2008 or 2009. Cat pictures! Jokes! Links to interesting things that we found in the backwaters of the internet! Interaction with friends we just haven’t met, yet! What I found was … not that.
I found a harsh reality that I’m still trying to process: thousands of people who don’t know me, who have never interacted with me, who internalized a series of lies about me, who were never willing to give me a chance. I was harassed from the minute I made my account, and though I expected the “shut up wesley”s and “go fuck yourself”s to taper off after a day or so, it never did. And even though I never broke any rules on the server I joined (Mastodon is individual “instances” which is like a server, which connects to the “federated timeline”, which is what all the other servers are), one of its admins told me they were suspending my account, because they got 60 (!) reports overnight about my account, and they didn’t want to deal with the drama.
I respect and support that person’s decision, because it’s a private server and it’s run with their time, energy, attention, and (presumably) money. I don’t agree with it at all, and I think it’s deeply unfair, as well as rewarding abuse of a reporting system that’s meant to protect users, but it’s their site and it’s their rules, and I can’t say I blame them. The people going after me were pretty awful, and I can only imagine that an admin would get fed up with them, too.
I want to share the message I posted there when I left (Twitter is called ‘birdsite’ on Mastodon):
I have been notified by an Admin here that they are getting 60 reports a day about my account. As far as I can tell, I’m not breaking any rules, and I’ve done my best to be a good person here. But this admin is going to suspend my account.
It’s the Admin’s instance, so I fully support their choice to eliminate a source of frustration, but something to consider: a person who is doing nothing wrong can be run off one instance by a mob from another instance. That seems … not cool. 1/x
But it’s been made very, very clear to me that I am not welcome in the Fediverse, and I hear you. I hoped to find an alternative to the birdsite where I could find the same fun community that existed over there in the beginning, and it’s clear to me that I won’t be finding that. Before I leave, I want to just make something very clear, because I’ve spent most of my life being yelled at by people who don’t know me at all, and I want the record to be clear. 2/x
During GamerGate, I was dogpiled and mobbed and brigaded and attacked by thousands of accounts. I started using a blocklist that was supposed to help stop that. I did not know that the blocklist I signed up for also had a lot of trans women on it. When I found out, I did everything I could to remove those women from the list I shared. When there were still innocents on the list, I stopped sharing the list entirely. Despite this, a mob has decided that I’m anti-trans. 3/x
This lie that I am anti-trans, or anti-LGBQ, is deeply hurtful to me (I know it’s nothing like the pain LGBTQ people deal with every day, as they simply try to *exist* in a world that treats them so badly, but it is still hurtful in its own way to me). I just want to make it extremely clear: that is a lie, and the people spreading it are misinformed.
So I’m leaving the Fediverse, which has treated me with more cruelty, vitriol, hatred, and contempt than than anyone on the birdsite ever did. 4/x
I know that I’m well-off, well-known, and as a CIS white hetro dude in America, I live life on the lowest difficulty setting. I know that I have very little to complain about. But I still have feelings, and I really do care about the world and the people in it. What I see is a lot of anger and cruelty directed at the IDEA of me, from people who I just hope don’t realize that it really does hurt me, in my heart, to be accused of being someone I am not, and to be the target of a hateful mob. 5/x
Anyway, take your victory lap and collect your prizes. You’ve made it clear that I’m not welcome here, and even though I disagree with the action this Admin is taking (banning me when I didn’t break any rules doesn’t seem right), I respect and support the Admin’s decision to run their instance the way they see fit.
Please do your very best to be kind to each other. The world is a terrible place right now, and that’s largely because it is what we make it.
This isn’t limited to Mastodon.cloud (the worst attacks and dogpiling came from a few other instances before the instance I was on became awful) and it isn’t limited to Twitter.com. I see this in the online space all the time now: mobs of people, acting in bad faith, can make people they don’t know and will likely never meet miserable, or even try to ruin their lives and careers (look at what they did to James Gunn). And those mobs’ bad behaviors are continually rewarded, because it’s honestly easier to just give them what they want. We are ceding the social space to bad people, because they have the most time, the least morals and ethics, and are skilled at relentlessly attacking and harassing their targets. It only takes few seconds for one person to type “fuck off” and hit send. That person probably doesn’t care and doesn’t think about how their one grain of sand quickly becomes a dune, with another person buried beneath it. That’s a huge problem that seems to be baked into social media, and I tried to mitigate it with a blocklist that I never intended to be problematic, but ultimately was. (And for what it’s worth, the part of me that wants to apologize to the people who ended up on it by mistake is overwhelmed by the part of me who was attacked really viciously by a lot of those people and feels like maybe blocking them wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.)
At the end of the day, I’m lucky and privileged as fuck. I can sign off from a website (or multiple websites), and go live my life with my amazing family and our dogs. I’m not a marginalized person who has to fight every moment of every day, just to live my life. So I’m keeping that in mind and keeping that perspective in my heart. Yes, the accusations and the big lie that took hold in remarkably short time about me is hurtful. Yes, it’s upsetting to know that there are a lot of people out there who have decided to take time out of their lives to actively hate me, without knowing anything about me other than a story they were told by someone else who doesn’t know me. But I can sign off and get away from it, so I will. And I will be grateful that I can.
Buuuuuuuuuut … I’m done with social media. Maybe I just don’t fit into whatever the social media world is. I mean, the people who are all over the various Mastodon instances made it really clear that I wasn’t welcome there (with a handful of notable, joyful, exceptions, mostly related to my first baby steps into painting), and it seems as if I was just unwelcome because … I’m me? I guess? Like, I know that I’m not a transphobe, but holy shit that lie just won’t die, and right now as I am writing this, someone at Mastodon is telling me that I am, because people said so, and I should apologize to them. I mean, how am I supposed to respond to that, when it happens over and over and over again? “You’ve been lied to about me. Please give me a chance” just doesn’t seem like a viable way forward with people who are, for whatever reason, very, very angry. And these people seem to have an idea of me in their head that doesn’t fit with the idea of myself that I have in my head. It’s honestly caused me to rethink a lot of stuff. Like, am I really the terrible person they say I am? I don’t think I am, but I’m doing my best to listen, and when I say, “please stop yelling at me and let’s have a conversation that I can grow from” I get yelled at for “tone policing” and honestly I just get exhausted and throw up my hands. Maybe I’m not this person they tell me I am, but I represent that person in their heads, and they treat me accordingly? This is one of those times when my mental illness makes it very hard for me to know what’s objective reality and what’s just in my head.
But I don’t deserve to be treated so terribly by so many random people, so I’m not going to put myself in a place where I am subjected to it all day long. As the saying goes, I’m too old for this shit. What we used to call microblogging isn’t worth the headache for me. I’m gonna focus my time and my energy on the things that I love, that make me happy, that support my family.
Please do your best to be kind, and make an effort to make the world less terrible. Thanks for listening.