Last night, i did a bad thing,
Firing up Twitter, briefly, after what had otherwise been a wonderfully positive day, i saw someone i respect much had tweeted something quite worrying – attacking, even – towards the trans community. I fired back: two or three tweets that, while not exactly rude, did call into question her motives. And i did so publically.
Result? She responded – thankfully – not in kind (that way twitter wars start) but in puzzlement and, i am guessing, a little hurt.
Oh, i thought. That response, in itself, told me what i should have asked about first. She hadn’t meant what i thought she had. I’d shot first, asked second.
We had a bit of a dialogue in dm – Twitter’s private back channel. I apologised. We are, i hope, sorted.
Friends fall out
As exchanges go, that’s not entirely atypical of twitter, which feels to me more and more a tool designed to magnify misunderstandings. But there is an added dimension that i stumbled across at the weekend – in a workshop on feminist activism at the Nine Worlds Geekfest event in London.
More on that later. Here, enough to say that it was a wondrous event, with thousands of people both enjoying themselves in an atmosphere of carnival…and some panels…espesh on the feminism track…that left me reeling with the impact of the insights they gave me.
And one, ironic, given what i did last night, was this: the real problem with twitter is trust. Or more precisely, it requires trust to work across networks of hundreds of people with no real reason to have trust in one another.
What happened in that workshop was that a woman i admire greatly – a friend of many years standing – made a point i’d seen made on twitter within the context of the continuing Great War. You know the one (if you do read twitter regularly): the war to end all wars between some members of the trans community and some people labelled as “terf” (trans exclusionary radical feminists).
That’s one reason i stay away from twitter muchly nowadays. I have better things to do with my time than chip away at my personal mental health with the stress of constant bickering: nor do i in any way relish fighting with people, of any stripe, with whom i agree on more things than i disagree – or putting barriers in the way to working positively with them on issues that are important to women.
So: back to the workshop. This woman made a point there that sent my heart bootwards (well, sandalwards…but its much the same thing). She referenced something i thought was a GOOD thing…and said it was a BAD thing. Not only, but earlier that day she’d chatted to me about her understanding of the word “cis”…and regaled me with a view not a million miles from that explored recently by @boodleoops in her blog.
Horrors! Was i wrong about EVERYTHING?
And did this woman, friend, ally…did she now hate me?
Er, no. Not only, we had a discussion after in which we both clarified our positions. I learnt something from her i hadn’t thought before. I changed my mind a bit about one of the issues involved. I think we are still friends. Phew!
The Twitter effect
But what happened there? And what happened there that couldn’t happen on twitter? The bottom line, i think, is personal closeness…and trust. When i heard this individual saying things that didn’t, initially, compute i was genuinely conflicted. How COULD she say such things!
Yet i trust her enough to know that she wouldn’t be saying them for fight-starting purposes. She was being honest, sans ulterior motive. So we were able to talk and explore and learn.
Twitter, on the other hand, is quite another kettle of worms (eeeyuw!). Some people, maybe not many at all, use it to wind up, to micro-aggress and generally to stir. I think i know the names of a few. But then others, who may be genuinely interested in the issues, ask similar questions and…. i don’t know.
I just don’t know. Because the only evidence i have of their real views and intent is their words written in short 140-character bites.
I hope they are being genuine. I fear they are not. And it would be easy – far too easy, as i found last night – to snap back. To begin yet another stupid war between people who should not be at war.
So there it is. I don’t know the answer. At least not precisely. But i understand the problem better. And i know that part of the solution is building trust OFF twitter. Because twitter is two-faced: useful tool, but also sewer of discord.
A year or so back, i heard it widely praised as enabler for activism. In the end, though, if we can’t find a way to inject some trust into it, then its usefulness is nil…because in the end it takes but a moment for twitter to create strife…hours to undo the results of its vicious influence.