Due to the incessant trolling and abuse that’s been taking place against women on Twitter recently, today has been earmarked as a day to stay off the social network.
The initial idea was Caitlin Moran’s (see tweet above) and I respect her greatly as she has dealt with a vast amount of social media abuse herself. You can read more about the idea of today’s #TwitterSilence or #Trolliday as it’s being called, here.
Lots of Tweeters, including many high profile folks, have agreed to join in. I think we all feel desperate for a way to reach out and support each other in what for many women has been a horrendous week, or few weeks. #Twittersilence provides a way that people can offer a physical token of support. I resonate with the reasons why people would want to.
// Respect for all
When Caitlin announced it and it gathered momentum, I felt torn.
I hugely respect everyone taking part: surely that has to be the underlying sentiment for any response to abuse; everyone needs to respond to it as they feel is appropriate. On that basis, know that I’m cheering you on if you are doing #Twittersilence. I’ve been very touched by the wave of messages I’ve had today saying many of you are doing it to stand with me after my Lads Mags trolling and I’m really moved by that support.
// Fix silence with – more silence?
For many of us who have been trolled, it’s felt like the goal of the attacks has been to scare us into silence. The whole reason many of us have been targeted is because we ARE women who speak up; who choose to put our heads above the parapet and make a noise about things that need to change. So when you feel like you’re trying to be silenced, the solution to that (in my personal opinion) is not more silence.
// Twitter staff: it’s not “us vs them”
Some are doing #TwitterSilence today to take a stand against Twitter’s staff; to show them we can boycott their platform if they fail to help police it.
I have several good friends working for Twitter UK and I know they are doing their very best to listen to our complaints and improve their service. So I’m not sure creating a ‘them and us’ is helpful. We all need to work together; Twitter’s staff are listening (as Del Harvey, Head of Trust and Safety, has promised) and they have apologised (as Tony Wang, UK General Manager has). Us working WITH them rather than making them the target is important. The real target are the trolls. They, not Twitter’s staff, are the major problem.
// Broken Binary
On a more philosophical level, I think “switching off” a social network has interesting ethical implications.
From my academic research in technology and its ethics (PhD slowly in process!) I’ve written a lot on this topic. It’s what I’d refer to as the ‘broken binary’ of the way we often handle technology.
Turning off is frequently reached for as a “solution” to our technological struggles. In no way is this behaviour restricted to religious people but, just as an example, many Christian demonstrate this at Lent (the time of the year when it’s traditional to give things up as a fast). “Staying off Facebook for Lent” was a huge campaign a few years ago among church-goers. I informally interviewed many of them and was told “I’m just need to get this distraction out of my life”, or “I need to focus on the real world a lot more and my real relationships”. Or worse still: “God deserves my full attention and I shouldn’t be using my gadgets if I’m fully worshiping him”.
The broken binary is:
1). That “switching off ” is a solution.
2). That “switching off” is morally better than “switching on”.
3). That offline is “real life” and online is “not real life”.
// Neutral tool
Technology is a tool; it’s largely a neutral one. Social media can’t be blamed for the troubles it is throwing up. The neutral tool is in OUR hands and we get to choose what we do with it. It’s like the invention of the printing press; people said it would cause the destruction of society, such were its “evils”. It’s like the invention of the wheel; we get to choose whether we drive safely and enhance life, or drive recklessly and kill people. The moral onus is not on the tool, it’s on US. Putting the tool down doesn’t really fix anything; but learning to handle the tool well, day in day out, does. Putting the tool down can imply the the moral responsibility is on the tool, not us, to become the solution.
//The future is cyborg
Yes, I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so blame it on that. But part of my PhD is looking at ‘transhumanism’. This is the merging of human and machine. You might say “that’s never going to happen”, but based on our current behaviour toward technology and our dependence on it, I believe we’ll see embedded technology for personal enhancement purposes within our life time.
We already have prosthetic limbs; the line between human and machine is rapidly blurring. In the Matrix we see Neo ‘downloading’ the ability to perform Kung Fu. A computer is plugged in to the back of his head and enhances his natural abilities. It may all seems ‘way out’ to many! But from the tiny smartphones we clutch all day, it’s comprehensible that we’ll gradually get used to the idea of embedding chips in our bodies – even if many wince at the idea for ethical or physical reasons now.
The blurring line between human and machine means that in future the broken binary of “on” and “off” related to technology will seem laughable. It will simply be part of us. Hence the need for us to learn to handle it well now.
// Digital Kids
Many parents are struggling to help their children handle technology; many of them simply reach for the “right then, turn that thing off!” option.
Instead of always using this broken binary as the solution, parents need to teach their kids how to develop good boundaries with the technology ON or the kids won’t be ready for the always-on culture that they are likely to inhabit as adults. They may well live in a world where transhumanism and cyborgism is the norm, so we need to train them to be ready for that. (You may laugh at me now…but wait and see!).
// Final thoughts
- Once again, let me express my deep gratitude for the support many of you have shown me this week regarding the trolling I’ve experienced.
- Once again, I totally respect all who are observing #TwitterSilence and I ‘get’ why you are doing it and cheer you on.
- Personally on the basis of it being odd to combat women being silenced by using more silence, I can’t sign up to it.
- Philosophically it also doesn’t mesh with my research into technology’s ethics and the consistent trend of “switching off” as a solution. Rather we need to learn to live well in with our technology “on”; to develop an online community with enough safety yet enough freedom of speech. It’s a tricky goal but I don’t think abandoning the social network for a day gets us any closer to a solution. It will only come by standing our ground within the online sphere and patiently working to make it a better place.