In his article on Twitter and the obstacles that it faces, my colleague Robinson Meyer persuasively argues that many people are alienated by the notion of speaking conversationally to their followers, only to have their words scrutinized in far-flung circles they never anticipated reaching, perhaps provoking an angry backlash.
He draws on the stellar work of Bonnie Stewart, whose keen insights I look forward to following in the future. But I want to disagree with one of her claims:
Twitter, dead or no, is still a powerful and as yet unsurpassed platform for raising issues and calling out uncomfortable truths, as shown in its amplification of the #Ferguson protests to media visibility (in a way Facebook absolutely failed to do thanks to the aforementioned algorithmic filters). Twitter is, as my research continues to show, a path to voice.
At the same time, Twitter is also a free soapbox for all kinds of shitty and hateful statements that minimize or reinforce marginalization, as any woman or person of colour who’s dared to speak openly about the raw deal of power relations in society will likely attest. And calls for civility will do nothing except reinforce a respectability politics of victim-blaming within networks.
It’s just that very last sentence that I wanted to flag: “...calls for civility will do nothing except reinforce a respectability politics of victim-blaming within networks.”
I have a high tolerance for rough-and-tumble debate. The norms I'd prefer on Twitter would accomodate plenty of heated exchanges. But observing the platform these days, I’m very much of the opinion that informally pushing back against the most virulent incivility would be good for Twitter, its users, and digital culture. And I don’t understand the presumption that “victim-blaming” is sure to follow, especially if disproportionate incivility is, in fact, aimed at “any woman or person of colour who’s dared to speak openly about the raw deal of power relations.”