As soon as Trump had the Presidency within arm’s reach, Twitter was officially ruined. You can’t have the leader of the most powerful country in the world CAPS LOCKING HIS WAY through the first hundred days of his presidency and still think that the platform isn’t a digital hellscape.
I know I complain about Twitter a lot. I have deactivated and reactivated and argued with trolls and hid from abusive accounts. Whining about a broken platform that no one is obligated to use is mundane at best, and I’m notably biased because Twitter has been—and continues to be—so deeply toxic to me. But after a decade of existing as the epicentre for internet communications (and memes! God, love those memes), it’s still a barely usable platform for most women, people of colour, trans people, queer people, or virtually anyone who is not a white dude languishing in comfortable mediocrity.
But hey, they’re trying. Twitter recently launched additional functionalities for reporting abusive users who harass people based off of things like gender or race. They’re trying to stop these trolls from creating new accounts, collapsing “low quality” tweets and introducing “safe search” to prevent tweets from blocked and muted accounts from showing up in your own search results.
They’ve also banned some high-profile pieces of shit who long had it coming. Months ago, Milo Yiannopoulos was finally, finally permanently banned from Twitter after trying to incite hate towards actress Leslie Jones. (People are still being ruthless to her on Twitter, predictably.) Then, last month Martin Shkreli, a plastic bag filled with loose hairs that aren’t even yours pulled from a shower drain, was suspended after harassing Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca. Still, the victory is so shallow because it’s taken this long for Twitter to even act like they care about their most frequently harassed constituency.
If you only police the behaviours of abusers when it comes to white women—well-known, well-connected white women—it’s not exactly an effective remedy. This is true about so many public spaces, but seemingly the only way to get anyone to give a shit about your mental or physical safety is to be privileged and white. Men get to eat first, then women. Everyone else has to wait in line for their turn.
Even then, you’re not guaranteed much in the ways of protection. Women like Alexandra Brodsky are themselves getting suspending from using Twitter after making waves about racist or sexist or, in her case, anti-semitic abuse. At the beginning of January, writer Lindy West left Twitter, calling it “unusable” for people like her. Losing voices like West’s—strident, powerful, inclusive, funny, incisive, feminist and unflinching—hurts everyone and makes Twitter have even less value than it did before.
So forgive me if I’m not shooting confetti cannons in the air to celebrate Twitter’s recent gestures towards basic human decency. They’ve done remarkably little work until the last year when it comes to harassment—CEO Jack Dorsey had to apologize recently for allowing a white supremacist to advertise on the platform. The attempts to fix the site have come too late for anyone to sincerely trust them.
There are still hundreds of thousands of abusive users who range from your garden variety troll misusing Pepe to people who are actively inciting violence and encouraging physical assault. I know the President is fine with former Imperial Wizard of the KKK David Duke celebrating his victory, but why does he still get to have a Twitter account?
Nothing is bound to get better from here; we’re at the least destructive place in political and public discourse, at least for the next four (eight?) years. The very least a platform like Twitter can do is try to land on the right side of history. It’s five, seven, maybe 10 years too late, but it’s either fix it now—and fast—or we’re all going to end up on Tumblr. And trust me, none of those sweet Tumblr teens want us fucking up their space too.
Scaachi Koul is the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter, coming March 7 from Doubleday Canada.
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