Lena Dunham was on Twitter. She had a couple of million followers; she'd posted nearly ten thousand tweets. And then she gave it up, telling Ryan Seacrest:
"I deleted Twitter because I'm trying to create a safer space for myself emotionally. People like, threatened my life and told me what a cow I am so I decided I was gonna cut it out."
There may be some question as to how threatening a death threat via Twitter really is; there doesn't seem to be much doubt that Twitter doesn't police them with any vigor. From their help files:
We've all seen something on the Internet we disagree with or have received unwanted communication. Such behavior does not necessarily constitute online abuse. If you see or receive an @reply you don't like, unfollow and end any communication with that user.
And if you have some reason to believe said user is serious:
If you believe you are in physical danger, contact the local law enforcement authorities who have the tools to address the issue.
Not being a follower of Dunham's, I can't speak to whether she might actually have been in physical danger; my own online experience, thirty years' worth, suggests that the vast majority of loudmouths are, in my father's phrase, "blowing off head steam." Still, "vast majority" does not equal "all," and I don't think I have some unique ability to identify a single psychopath in the midst of scores of trolls. And some tweets to Dunham that were copied to my tweetstream I follow a rather wide variety of folks made me indignant; I am no fan of Dunham or of her quarter-baked ("half-baked" minus fifty percent) philosophy, but nobody should have to put up with crap like that.
Over the years I've been on Twitter since mid-2009 I have become persuaded that the actual dynamic of the place is not well understood. I once proposed that the workplace take on a Twitter account, to pass on stuff related to our particular mission. The first thing they wanted to know was "Can it be automated?" Well, yes, some of it surely can be; heck, part of my account, the part that tweets new blog posts five times a day or thereabouts, is a simple WordPress plugin. "But," I said, "we can't really automate the responses."
You could have heard a feather drop. "Responses?"
"Do you think anyone's going to follow us if we don't respond?"
They thought it over, and decided that maybe we didn't need a Twitter account after all.
Now I'm pretty good, I think, at responding on my own. Then again, I have only about a thousand followers to deal with, which technically is a lot by Twitter standards but in real life is not so much as to overwhelm me. More to the point, I don't view Twitter as a vantage point from which to assault people; it's a conversation, mostly with actual people I routinely purge the follower list of obvious bots and such and nothing forecloses on a conversation quite as effectively as being an asshat. (This is something else I've learned in the last thirty years.) If I have some reason genuinely to dislike someone, I know how to close the door. And if anyone has blocked me on Twitter, well, I don't know about it, and Twitter doesn't send notifications anyway.
I would argue, though, that there are better ways to deal with unfriendly tweets than simply to exit the arena and be done with it. One of my favorites is the simple retweet by the attackee, a method that seems to be favored by individuals perceived as being on the right (as distinguished from "left") side of the political spectrum. Actress and recent Fox News contributor Stacey Dash seems particularly fond of this routine, and she often has occasion to put it to use, since rather a lot of characters think her a traitor to her race, or some such nonsense. I wouldn't swear to it, but I think she actually enjoys it.
And truth be told, I think Lena Dunham kind of likes the place in some ways: her exile lasted just long enough for her to say that "I deleted Twitter from my phone and sometimes send a tweet to a friend I trust to post if I'm out and about and wanna share". She followed with a hint of almost-snark:
We gotta create systems that make us feel safe. Sorry I confused you aka who cares
Followed by the sour-grapes emoji. Oh, well, she's young yet; she'll adjust.
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