Last night twitter had the hysteria of a bunch of secondary school kids on Mufti day. Why? Well, twitter was changing the rules. Each account would be given 280 characters, double the usual length. And it was significant in the twittersphere because the short sentence commutation style of the social media platform had defined it - for better or worse; hilarious one liners, single-word memes, huge political statements suffocated, endless rows because nobody could actually say everything they wanted to say. If you’re on twitter, it’s big news.
But perhaps all of us enjoying the frenzy, (myself included - the tweeter who started writing out War and Peace was my favorite reaction) had missed the point.
As Signe Johansen, the American -Swedish author tweeted, “Please don’t. Tackle the nazis, misogynists, trolls and Trump before you expand the character limit, FFS”.
Twitter isn’t just where pompous righteousness lives and reasoned argument dies; it’s laced with a hellish underworld, a dark, nasty community that threaten rape, that threaten raping decepatied women’s heads
It was a sobering thought in our giggling silliness. Ever since the social media platform launched in 2006 by a group of techbros in Silicon Valley, it has been home to a culture of hate, of harassment, of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism. It has a been a place of hostility, of mob mentality and online bullying. And now, Donald Trump uses it to announce foreign policy and provoke nuclear war. Women such as Lindy West and Leslie Jones have been forced off the platform because of the amount of abuse they have received. Campaigners such as Caroline Criado-Perez and MPs such as Stella Creasy and Luciana Berger have faced such torrents of trolling that the perpetrators have been jailed. Time and time again, the platform has failed to support victims of the vile, lecherous creatures that came flying out of Pandora’s box, once people realised they can take aim at the object of their fears and prejudices, safely behind their computer screens. Twitter isn’t just where pompous righteousness lives and reasoned argument dies; it’s laced with a hellish underworld, a dark, nasty community that threaten rape, that threaten raping decepatied women’s heads (as Munroe Bergdorf told me). It’s where people leak the personal details of outspoken women to silence and undermine them. It’s where extreme terrorists recruit young, vulnerable people. It's the birthplace of modern fascism, slyly called the “alt-right”. It is a mouthpiece for white supremacy.
Of course - there is a flip side. And I’m not just talking about Ed Balls day. I’m talking about #Everydaysexsim and #Metoo. I’m talking about the shared news of the first openly transgender delegate in Virginia (and possibly the US), Danica Roem, that whipped around twitter this morning with a sense of victory, a feeling of commonality, a message of hope. But these things do not rule out the “nazis, the misogyny, the trolls and Trump”. Twitter has just extended these people's megaphones, too, and without any signs of what their doing to stop the flood of hate speech and abuse. Twitter has not yet made clear if it sees it has any responsibility in relation to the rise of, and the actions of, Donald Trump.
Twitter is the wild west of our divided times. Tweets don’t need to be elongated; twitter needs to take responsibility for the language of hate it helps transmit to the world, day in, day out.