It’s becoming a thing now – going dark on Twitter. Turning the lights off, parking your profile, deleting the app from your phone, forgetting how it became – in times of heavy use - almost an extension of your subconscious, leaving a digital vapour trail in your wake (a record of the meals you ate, the causes you supported, the arguments you had, the things you thought, the jokes you made, the memes you retweeted).
Sometimes you’ll notice that one of your favourite tweeters hasn’t been popping up in your time line (once they tweeted every four minutes, now they haven’t tweeted since 18 November!), or a user will – incensed by something or another – tweet “I am going off Twitter! It’s horrible. Goodbye”. Some boycott it for a period of time to make a point – see the 24-hour absence from Twitter led by Caitlin Moran (hashtag #twittersilence).
Then there are the people who withdraw. It’s not because they’re too busy or they’ve breached their data cap – it’s the withdrawal that results from being hurt somehow and deciding that although you once loved it, Twitter is a savage playground, and for the sake of your peace of mind, it’s time to leave.
Actor and writer Lena Dunham told Ryan Seacrest at the Golden Globes:
I deleted Twitter because I’m trying to create a safer space for myself emotionally. People threaten my life and tell me what a cow I am, so I decided I was gonna ... I check it occasionally, but it’s not the same co-dependence Twitter and I once shared. It’s the dark side of the internet. There’s a lot of people I love on Twitter, but unfortunately you can’t read those without reading deranged Neocons telling you you should be buried under a pile of rocks.
Dunham still has her Twitter account but deleted the app from her
phone. If she wants to share something she sends the tweet to a
trusted friend to post.
A Cosmopolitan magazine headline today read “Lena Dunham’s New Twitter
Situation Sounds Complicated”.
But I get it. Dunham still wants to connect via Twitter but is
creating various boundaries and checks to keep herself “safe”, as she
99.99% of the time Twitter is wonderful – like interacting with a roving group of the world’s smartest, funniest people. But being kicked about, or abused on Twitter (or any form of social media) is a curious experience. You might have written a piece that others disagree with, or angered a segment of the community. You could be a public figure like Dunham or champion a divisive cause.
Whatever it is – sometimes it’s just the odd user who hates what you tweet and pecks away at you like an angry bird, but other times – the bad times – there’s a call around the Twitterverse to pile on a user like a game of “stacks on”. Being at the bottom of a Twitter “stacks on” – where no one is actually touching you and you are not in corporeal sense under threat – is a lot less fun than playing the game in real life.
Who are these people who are attacking you? Why, when they disagree with your point of view, are they also saying you are grotesquely ugly and should surgically affix a plastic bag to your head AND NEVER REMOVE IT UNTIL YOU DIE? Who is this MsNightmarePantsHo with the Joh Bjelke Petersen avatar who thinks you are the most stupid person in the universe? Who is so offended by you that they have rounded up hundreds of their supporters to “@” you with their disgust and condemnation?
Being the target of a Twitter “stacks on” is an incredibly visceral experience. It’s only happening on your phone, it’s only happening in a space that is not even real – well, not really real – except for the fact that your subconscious has been living on there, and you’ve been sharing stuff that can make you feel vulnerable.
Outside – the real outside – the sun is shining and the beach is sparkling and there are friends who want to meet you (without a bag on your head). There is such a disconnect between the ugliness of what is happening online and the beautiful, civil, warm world IRL that you wonder if Twitter is not some collective fever dream.
Out there in the world we have a deeply evolved social compact about how we treat people: on the street, in the workplace, in our social lives. If people were subjected to the kind of abuse on the street that they are sometimes subjected to on Twitter, the jails would be overflowing. We wouldn’t stand for it.
Social media is like a weird space that we are still getting used to. It’s like we’re pilgrims who’ve arrived in some new land and we’re working out how to be together, how to create some sort of society, establish codes. While vulgar brutality, death threats, savage takedowns, and all the damn ugliness that we wouldn’t accept in real life happens on social media, it’s inevitable that we’ll have to evolve systems – deleting the app, getting others to post for you, going dark, having a break like Dunham has done – to make ourselves feel safe.
This article was written by Brigid Delaney, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13th January 2015 05.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010