My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Twitter Week
Recently I had a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Twitter Week.
Within just 48 hours I found myself both on the receiving end of some pretty awful Twitter trolling, and I was mistaken for engaging in some pretty awful Twitter trolling myself.
The first of these was mainly just irritating and so left me somewhat emotionally unscarred. The second of these proved much more troubling to me personally and so resulted in a degree of emotional angst. This was no doubt due to my pathological fear of having my intentions and actions misinterpreted. (Yes. It’s a thing for me. Yes. I’m working on it.)
And so, the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Twitter Week left me doing some soul-searching. Or rather, it left me doing some intentional thinking about how I might be more committed to using Twitter both carefully and caringly (I think I just made that word up, but the alliteration was too good to resist).
Essentially, I wanted to think hard about how I could stop myself from being a Twit on Twitter.
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Twitter Week made me realise just complex this whole Twitter thing really is.
Take my tweet that was interpreted by some to be an act of trolling for example. It was actually a Quote Tweet from someone who I’d had very limited interaction with until that point. I drafted and edited that tweet for a good 10 minutes before I published it. (Did I mention my pathological fear of being misunderstood?). I really had tried hard to get the tone and content right—all within Twitter’s character limitations (a source of eternal consternation for this naturally verbose writer).
I wanted my words to demonstrate appreciation for the meaning of the original tweet while also indicating that it had sparked a related thought for me that I thought was significant. And so I was genuinely taken aback when the author of the original tweet had a very adverse reaction to my Quote Tweet and immediately blocked me.
As I dwelt on what had unfolded and my contribution to it, I realised (at least) two things:
This kind of written communication on this kind of platform is always going to be open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The risk of that happening is undoubtedly heightened if you don’t have a personal relationship with the reader. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to try and mitigate this from occurring. But, if I’m going to Tweet, then I need to be willing to wear the cost of being misinterpreted. Time to (wo)man up, Dani.
There have been times when I’ve been naïve, thoughtless, both, or worse in my Twitter etiquette. I joined Twitter back in 2012, immediately found it incredibly discombobulating and promptly logged off. I didn’t really log back on with any intent to engage on the platform until a few years ago. Even now, I’m still trying to understand its strange, fast-paced, sometimes scary blue landscape. I’m still making some blunders and mistakes along the way. While I can’t be responsible for the way others engage with me on Twitter, I am responsible for ensuring that my engagement (both in intent and practice) is genuine, loving, gracious and kind.
With all of this in mind, I set about developing my Commitment to Not Being a Twit on Twitter.
My Commitment to Not Being a Twit on Twitter
Putting this commitment out there into the world provides me with some measure of motivation to stick to it. But it also gives those of you who follow me on Twitter both the permission and opportunity to hold me accountable to it should you choose to do so (and I hope you will). So, here we go…
First some foundational principles (in no particular order):
Public comment invites public comment. Any of us who post our thoughts on Twitter (or indeed any other platform) must be ready to accept that other people may want to engage with them—both constructively and critically—whether we like that or not. As I engage, however, my commitment will be to steel-man (rather than straw-man) other people’s arguments.
As a Christian my (online) speech is to be both gracious and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Salty doesn’t equal snarky. There is to be no place for snark in my (online) speech. That hasn’t always been true of me in the past, but I am committing to making it so in the future. Of course, it is quite possible that there will be occasions where some will mistake my saltiness for snarkiness, and so ultimately this needs to be a commitment I honour before God who sees and knows my heart.
My goal is to build others up (1 Thess 5:11; Eph 4:29; Rom 14:19; 1 Cor 10:23). This is something that Twitter is most definitely known not to naturally facilitate. And so, I want to intentionally commit to engaging in ways designed to build up, and never tear down. Ultimately I want my tweets to glorify God, point people to Christ and reflect the Spirit’s work in my life.
With that in mind, here are my anti-twit operational principles (again, in no particular order):
I won’t reply to or otherwise engage with anonymous accounts (unless the author is known to me personally or I am aware they are engaging anonymously in good faith or for good reason). I will unapologetically block anonymous accounts that are trolling me or others.
Interacting directly with the author of an argument in their own thread (rather than Quote Tweeting) can be an excellent and respectful thing to do. I want to try and do that more often. Having said that, there are some people on Twitter who have amply demonstrated that they are not interested in good-faith engagement. Because I choose not to engage with such individuals directly, this might mean I occasionally Quote Tweet—or Screenshot Tweet—them instead. But always with the above principles in mind.
When a Tweet sparks something for me (either positively or critically) that I am eager to consider in dialogue with my own followers, I may Quote Tweet it. My intention in doing that will be because I want to explore that further with those who have chosen to follow me, rather than with the original author and their followers. However, whenever I do this, I need to do my best to avoid the thread becoming a “pile on” of the original author. The goal is dialogue and discussion aimed at building up. Never rallying the troops in order to tear down.
When I do Quote Tweet someone, then I’ll give careful consideration to whether what might be a long-form thread on Twitter might instead be better as a Substack piece. Having said that, I’m aware that writing a more comprehensive piece here on my Substack may itself be misinterpreted as being a passive-aggressive move. I’m going to have to live with the possibility that my intentions may be misperceived in this way.
Sometimes I’ll Quote Tweet in the same way that I Retweet—that is to simply draw the attention of my followers to a tweet that I simply think is helpful, encouraging, humorous or otherwise engaging.
When someone Quote Tweets me, I’ll think carefully about whether it is helpful and constructive for me to engage or to otherwise just let it be.
What did I miss? What did I get wrong? What did I overlook?
If there are other things I should take into consideration when it comes to not being a Twit on Twitter, let me know in the comments below.
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