Monday, August 5, 2013

Currency, Words and the Power of a Collective: Why I Observed #twittersilence

Yesterday an awful lot of people chose to go silent on Twitter.  An awful lot of people chose not to.  I chose to be silent. 

#Twittersilence itself was complicated.  There was no real organization and no clear agenda. Were we being silent to protest the heinous and violent threats that women receive on Twitter? Were we being silent to send a message Twitter, and social media a large, that these threats need to be taken seriously as opposed to being the natural result of being part of the internet.  Was it a show of solidarity to the people, not just women, that they are not alone in their outrage?


I can't speak for others on why they chose to participate but for me, it was a numbers decision. While I like to think that common decency prevails at a corporate level that's not reality. The reality is that until mainstream media got their hooks into the story of Caroline Criado-Perez's ordeal after having the audacity to campaign for a woman to appear on a bank note, Twitter execs pretty much threw up their hands and said there was nothing they could do.  

But once the rumble became a roar and more women started coming forward and more people started talking about it Twitter decided that, whoops, you know what?  Maybe we can do something about it.  That is the power of a collective

But, dear readers, I'm a cynic. Social media sites don't exactly have the best track records when it comes to dealing with threats of violence- usually sexual – against women.  Facebook has tap danced around this issue saying these threats are simply "crude humor".  But do you know what stings? When the bottom line is threatened.  Or, in the case of Facebook, when activists went straight to the money – the advertisers.

Twitter is a little different.  Yes, there are "promoted' tweets but the real currency of Twitter is words.  Twitter is marketplace where users are both the consumers and producers. Twitter provides the infrastructure for this exchange but without the producers and consumer it is just an empty shell.   We ARE the content.

So, I removed my currency for a day.

Do I think some idiot hiding behind his laptop and anonymity saw I wasn't tweeting yesterday and rethought his life choices?  Please.  But you know what? #twittersilence was a trending topic and even if you disagreed with the delivery the message was the same – we (we the "humans", not we the "women", to paraphrase NPR's Linda Holmes) are not simply going to "deal with it".

I read a comment this morning that said if all the reasonable voices leave, Twitter will be no better than 4chan.  


I'm not going to debate how socially relevant you think 4Chan but, is the Library of Congress archiving 4Chan's forums?  Do you see 4Chan messages scrolling across the bottom of your television screen during key broadcast events? Twitter has power and we're the ones who give it that power. 

I don't expect the internet to be filled with puppies and rainbows.  I know people disagree with me, and that's good.  Discourse is what makes the internet a valuable tool.  Name calling?  Puerile but whatever, it happens.  Threats of physical and/or sexual violence?  Not acceptable.  

Yesterday, that was the message I sent.  I hope Twitter follows through on its promises.  I hope social media at-large recognizes that this is unacceptable and these threats should be treated as hate speech and given the same level of consideration.  I hope people look at the message of #twittersilence, whether participants were silent or chose instead to tweet positive messages, and realize that we, the collective, have power.

1 comment:

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