Here we are, on Twitter Silence Day. And that’s a significant part of the point, as far as I am concerned. Yesterday I saw a lot of opposition to this idea on the grounds that it was letting the trolls win by default, with people being silenced. Er, no, see here, this piece you’re reading, this is me being not in the least silenced. Because Twitter is by no means the only place on the Net to share opinions and enthusiasms, discuss differing points of view and generally communicate in a civilised and enjoyable fashion.
So that’s something Twitter might like to bear in mind. If enough people decide that Twitter’s particular corner of the Net is becoming a place it’s no longer fun to be, on account of the trolls, then Twitter is finished. So they might like to take some action – some more effective action than a ‘Report Abuse’ button which is itself open to all manner of abuse and in any case leads to a form for the target to fill in, for each and every vile tweet. How practical is that for an answer, when those who are targets of what increasingly seem to be co-ordinated attacks are getting threats and insults on a minute by minute basis?
What else will Twitter Silence achieve? I’ve also seen it dismissed as a ‘pointless gesture’. It’s certainly a gesture but I don’t see that it’s pointless. When you are the target of an unjustified and unpleasant online attack, no amount of other people muttering between themselves about how it’s appalling is worth anything at all to you unless those people also make some public show of professional respect and/or personal sympathy and solidarity. Otherwise the tacit statement is ‘well, since it’s actually not my problem, you’re on your own and it’s up to you to deal with it as best you can’. And yes, I am talking from personal experience here. So as far as I am concerned, joining Twitter Silence to make that statement to those who’ve been abused is very well worth doing.
But isn’t it just some ego-trip? That was another of the accusations being levelled at people when I signed out of Twitter last night. Oh, right, you think that you’re so important people’s lives will be empty if they can’t read about what you had for breakfast? Er, once again, no. There are certainly some people whose absence will be noted and noteworthy – and I was very heartened to see the likes of Val McDermid, Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Balding, to mention only a few, signing off around the same time as me last night. People with that level of public profile making a stand does send a message.
For the rest of us, this is about collective action and that’s what makes Twitter Silence not in the least about individuals being silenced or the trolls winning or anything of the kind. Collective action works in ways that individuals trying to fight back on their own does not. Ask Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Look at the effectiveness of shunning in pacifist communities. One person making a stand by staying away from Twitter as a means of saying online misogyny is not acceptable can easily be ignored. Hundreds, hopefully thousands, ideally hundreds of thousands are much less easy to dismiss.
Maybe that will encourage people to be bolder in shutting down trolls online and demanding properly moderated websites rather than simply muttering about how it’s appalling but hey, what can you do? Maybe it will give someone pause for thought before they launch into posting about how something or someone is WRONG and being sucked into the online equivalent of shouting the same thing over and over again because they’ve come to believe the way to WIN at THE INTERNET is having everyone saying they are RIGHT. The road to trolldom is paved with such knee-jerk reactions.
And lastly, no, this isn’t about blaming Twitter alone for all the online misogyny there is out there. It’s about using Twitter to make a stand against online abuse, whatever its target, wherever it can be found. Because Twitter is supposed to be about communication, isn’t it?