Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Using Twitter Politically

Today is an anniversary, my Twitter birthday. No, I can't believe it either. 11 years of mindlessly watching the timeline refresh itself with doses of stupidity and dishonesty. But it never used to be like that, honest! This post has nothing to do with wistful nostalgia mind, it's about setting down what I know about the medium in five easily digestible tips on how to get the most out of Twitter politically. Okay, I'm in no position to give advice as I don't always follow these rules myself, but they are what they are.

1. The most important rule - protect yourself. Richard Seymour has written at length about the mental health costs in his Twittering Machine, and they are real. There are some exceptionally bright folks on Twitter who inform, educate, and entertain to coin a phrase. You can make great friends on the site and find a sense of camaraderie, a digital jouissance in certain shared moments. But what can transmit humour and good times can also disseminate despair. Hitting the feed and getting hit in return with a scrolling wall of depression and defeat is not something I'd recommend anyone. And then there's the constant background of snarking, bad faith, outright lying, and character assassination pervading absolutely everything. On top of that, you might occasionally or permanently attract trolls whose sole raison d'etre range from irritation for attention's sake to wanting to hurt you, and this is especially the case if you're a woman, a person of colour, gay, or trans. If you want to use Twitter politically, you've got to think about ways of dealing with all this. Mute, block, report early and often, and ignore those who are concerned with getting a rise are where you should begin, but don't be afraid of taking extended breaks or not looking in your mentions for a while.

2. Which brings me to the second rule - avoid the slanging matches. I've been in enough of them myself to know how much of a waste they are. Your blood pressure will rise and the crimson mist is bound to descend, but seriously. Save your energy. Likewise, avoid trolling randoms. Mocking the powerful and privileged is fine but if you must, but body swerve tussles by ignoring their supporters and stans. Besides, wouldn't it be better to do something more constructive instead?

3. Stans, oh yes. They're everywhere. Our side has them, and so do they. New tribes come together with much rapidity and mutate and vanish with abandon. See how seamlessly currents of Corbynism and, shudder, FBPE Twitter have fused in the abominable Starmerstandom. It's truly cringe-making and, well, weirdly middle-aged - like most UK political standoms. As a rule though, it's not just the stans who should be avoided but more generally conspiratorial thinking. This is trickier than you might think, because nude-nudge wink-wink who benefits-style tweets are a common place across politics Twitter. But there are those who deploy it as a rhetorical device, and those who really believe. And all too often, we know where it can lead. Steer clear of the freaks, weirdos, conspiracy theoroids - block them if needs be - and not only will your experience be better, you're less likely to disseminate something of theirs and get tainted in the bargain. For Twitter's memory is forever and shaking off past mistakes is difficult.

4. Those are the don'ts, what about the dos? As tweeters, we are all content creators and amplifiers. You do you when it comes to content, and feel free to emulate your twitterly heroes, but you should absolutely amplify the left. If you really think a tweet is pithy, entertaining, or links to something you rate then share it, don't simply like it. Sharing something multiplies the chances of it being seen outside the bubble of left Twitter or whatever, whereas likes sit uselessly and do nothing. It should be common sense, but it's always amazing to see people appreciating viral tweets by not actually passing it on to others to see. Bizarre. Don't be bizarre.

5. Sharing is what we do, but we should do more than inflate the bubble of whichever area of Twitter one resides in. Because we're trying to push out beyond our ghetto, the left - especially men, especially white folks - should try and amplify minority and minoritarian voices. Women's campaigns, trade union battles, black and minority ethnicity takes, solidarity with LGBT issues, we have a duty to bring out and draw attention to struggles that might slip under the radar. Not because it's jolly interesting, but because if it's ever going to be anything the left must strive to be a movement of movements, and following this through in our collective diffuseness can help create new ties and push the process along.

Those are my five pennies worth. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Image Credit


Alan Story said...

Please Phil.

To suggest RLB is leading "a movement of movements" is a bit rich. In a leadership campaign directed by Jon Lansman ..... and funded by Momentum and big Len's Unite?

Phil said...

Someone else eho doesn't understand unions. Sigh.

James Semple said...

Help me out, please.

I can't find a definition of stan. How does it differ from fan?