Monday, 5 August 2013

Why #TwitterSilence is not the solution

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

This past Sunday, in response to the threats received by a number of women, Twitter, that great echo chamber of our age, made an attempt to be silent.

It didn’t work - because silence on these matters is, to put it simply, very divisive. For example - I don't believe in silence on these matters.

And neither does Tracy Clayton of The Root, who wrote an incredible response to the campaign today.

“On the surface, the protest (tagged with #TwitterSilence in discussions) just flat out didn’t make sense, because removing women from public spaces, online and off, is exactly what misogynists want. Speaking up and speaking out against violence against women seems a much more proactive course of action. There was a large outcry among those who argued that urging women to be quiet in the face of suppression is a step backward. As Zora Neale Hurston said, "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it."

But that wasn't the only hiccup in this plan. Aside from the protest not making sense, it alienated and excluded marginalized women -- poor women, transgender women, women of color, etc. -- who don't have the luxury of choosing to fall silent because they don't have much of a voice to begin with. That requesting the silence and invisibility of women who are historically and ritualistically ignored, discarded and dismissed was ever a good idea to anyone is a testament to the fact that this protest was not designed with them in mind. It illustrates the ignorance of intersectionality in mainstream feminism, which leaves out women whose experiences don't mirror those of the white folk running the show. It is the great folly of feminism that only certain kinds of women are seen as worth the trouble of fighting for or listening to.”

Anybody who chooses to use a platform such as Twitter has a right to interact in an environment free of abuse. That is an inarguable moral right in my eyes.

But the nastiness on display there, from people across the gender spectrum, is endemic of a much wider problem.

Twitter is not the cause of the problem. We are - the users. It is not a problem with social media. It is a problem with our society - what we deem 'okay', and what we deem 'not okay'. Going silent for a day does nothing to help this.

Online aggression is fed and created by our external experiences - chemical reactions in us from our surroundings. Twitter as a platform doesn’t create the behaviour - it just provides an outlet. Just like a phone. Just like paper. Just like a pen. It was wrong to not have a ‘report abuse’ button on there - but then again so is Tumblr for allowing pro self-harm, pro-anorexia and underage pornography to flourish on their site, purely because (a) it boosted their user-base, making them more valuable and (b) it would be too much effort to implement these safeguards.

But once again, anorexia, self-harm, underage exploitation and abuse are problems that stem from us as a society.

We are not a ‘sick, sad world’ that is on it’s way to Hell in a hand-cart. I just worry that by fiddling around the edges by having a silent protest on Twitter, a platform that has already complied with our wishes, we are letting ourselves off the hook somewhat as a society.

Let’s get some real world solutions involved (not that easy - I know). Let’s educate people offline as well as online in the way that we should talk to one another (challenging). Lets rely less on television shows about the less well-off in society to make ourselves feel better, because as we all know, it’s easier for us to be lazy and kick downwards than to show initiative and push upwards (bloody hell). Let’s talk about these issues face-to-face, and tackle them head-on. It’s hard, but it needs to happen.

Remember when everybody in the UK was scared of Nick Griffin and the BNP? It turns out, that rather than ban, block or try to silence him, if we brought him into our world, and put him in front of an audience, he’d collapse in on himself like a burning straw-man of hollow, bigoted rhetoric. Griffin’s one appearance on Question Time did more damage to the British National Party than years of unofficial censorship. The same is currently happening with Tommy or Steven Robinson or Lennon of the EDL. His appearances on Newsnight, and countless other current affairs programmes, has further solidified the view held by the majority of the 63 million people living in the UK that he is little more than a f*cking berk.

There are bullies to the left, in the centre and to the right of politics. Look at a number of political bloggers out there. You’ll soon see who they are.

They are at work.

They are in schools.

Sometimes, unfortunately for some, they are at home.

What are we as a society going to do about it? Are we going to stay silent on Twitter for a day in a show of hollow slacktivism - or are we going to do something more tangible?

You can report a troll with an abuse button. That’s a positive step. You can report threats to the police. That’s another positive step, and the right thing to do. But whatever you do - don’t be silent. Speak out.

But please remember: whatever you’re doing - make sure that you’re not silent. Because they want you to be silent. They want you to just sit back and take it. Don’t give them the satisfaction.