When a social media space becomes a weapon of hate and trolling, is it time to leave? Actor and politician Khushbuleaving Twitter has raised many questions about the microblogging site…
If you scroll Twitter regularly, you couldn’t have failed to notice what a noxious space it can be. I must confess I spend a couple of hours on Twitter every day. But, most often, I just scroll, click on links to articles that interest me, watch dog videos and share them, and ‘like’ tweets. I barely interact or engage on political posts; even if I want to comment, I restrain myself.
Why? Because of the lack of nuance. And this lack of nuance cuts across most spectrums be it right or left. It’s tough to stay centrist or put forward any opinion. If your opinion offends the right, you are trolled, if your opinion offends the left, you are trolled. Yes, intolerance runs high on Twitter, even amongst the so-called ‘liberals’. For most of the opinionated souls in the Twitter biosphere, there’s only one rule of engagement – it’s my way or the highway. No opinions that do not resonate with theirs are accepted. I often wonder, would these people talk face to face with someone in this rude, abusive manner? God help you if you put forward your humble opinion. Be prepared to be trolled! And labelled. Depending on who you have offended you will be labelled a bhakt, sickular, anti-national, and so on and so forth. I even had one right-wing fanatic offended by my reply to another handle where I had commiserated with all the stray animals and birds during Diwali. He told me to send my dogs to Pakistan!
For women, Twitter can be even more toxic. Most female journalists, celebrities and activists face the worst form of abuse on Twitter because they are seen as soft targets. If you want to see the ugly face of patriarchy in its most virulent form, go to Twitter and read the comments section of tweets put up by these women. They get rape threats, murder threats and have people commenting on their appearance as well. It takes a brave woman to put herself out there, tweet her opinions and then have to deal with all the backlash.
It’s no wonder then that actress and politician Khushbu has quit Twitter thanks to that toxic broth of patriarchy and abuse. A recent article in Times of India quotes Khushbu as saying, “I did not quit Twitter because of trolls. I quit because I was turning into someone I could not recognize. I often found myself embroiled in disproportionate negativism on various platforms.”
Add negativity to the pernicious Twitter ecosystem. It’s everywhere. I observe it in how people celebrate when someone they don’t like, or someone who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum they believe in, is in trouble. They don’t care that a person is going through troubled times. For them it’scomeuppance and they make sure they troll the concerned individual and make his/her life even more miserable than it already is. Take the case of Tavleen Singh. Her son AatishTaseer has been stripped of his Indian citizenship. As a mother, she is distraught and anguished and wrote an article about it. Did the left-leaning liberals empathize with her? No. They tweeted nasty stuff about how she deserved it, it was karma, what goes around comes back, etc. At no point did they think of her as a mother, a human being, a person who, like all of us, is made up of black and white and plenty of shades of gray in between.
The most frustrating part of Twitter is that there are no checks. Anyone can open an anonymous account. And this, to me, is one of the main reasons why people feel they can say what they want. Because these anonymous cowards, who do not put their profile pictures, and many of whom tweet under false identities, can say anything and get away with it. They use the foulest of language, issue rape and death threats, are complete misogynists but they are safe within their cloak of anonymity. Civility has been buried under all that toxicity.
After the suspension of Sanjay Hegde on Twitter, there has been a mass movement to another platform, Mastodon. I have not personally tried it, but many people I follow on Twitter claim it is a less toxic environment where people can engage in civil debates. And, if any user gets abusive, he or she can be reported. Apparently, the admin acts swiftly to remove these obnoxious accounts. Twitter could learn a thing or two from Mastodon.
Ultimately, most of us get onto social media to engage with others meaningfully. Sadly, Twitter has become a place where people engage with abuse, threats and schadenfreude. It is no longer a safe space where you can participate meaningfully without the trauma of abuse, because of a lack of nuance, a tendency for people to immediately want to bracket you, and the savage packs of anonymous, venomous cowards who inhabit the space. Khushbu sums it up when she says, “…I must say this platform has viciousness written all over.” It’s time Twitter got its act together; otherwise most sane voices will leave it for a less toxic space where they can interact with civility.