I have been on Twitter for a while now, long enough to feel both the addictive exhilaration of being connected to a hive of ever-present activity, and the insidious anxiety inherent in walking on eggshells, knowing that even the smallest disagreement can erupt uncontrollably and without apparent warning.
I have been blocked by people simply for favoriting an unpopular Tweet. I have lost followers in an argument over cake. (Well, technically, it wasn’t really about cake — it was about equal treatment for all — but that is another story).
What I am trying to say is Twitter is a very fragile ecosystem. Tentative alliances form, based on seemingly shared interests/ideas, only to be shattered irreparably by inevitably bitter misunderstandings and disagreements.
Someone suggested that we all should just mute (or block, a harsher “punishment”) everyone that we find annoying or offensive. And sure, those are always possible options.
But, really, how wise is that, looking at the big picture? Just because we mute or block someone doesn’t mean they or their opinions change; it just means we now have blinded ourselves to opposing viewpoints. We become further entrenched in our own opinions, which we then talk about ad nauseam to the very people who already hold the same opinion. This is the very definition of group-think at it’s finest; also known as “preaching to the choir”. Pretending that the world is a safe, encapsulated bubble free from the peskiness of other peoples’ perceived idiocy.
Twitter-balance isn’t easy, it is often like walking a tightrope in stilettos. For example, I was criticized last night for not aggressively engaging in an argument regarding butches wearing dresses (correct answer: they don’t!). I thought I had stated my opinion clearly, but I was accused, in no uncertain terms, of “always wimping out” when it comes to arguing on Twitter.
The accusation really stung, but after consideration, I have to admit there is truth to it. I am a shy, reserved, quiet person by nature. Arguing in any form is neither my preference nor my forte. So, while I will consistently state and maintain my stance, it is a very rare occurrence for me to all-out fight or to be what I would consider unnecessarily rude to others. “Pick your battles” is my motto.
Some battles are worth fighting, of course. And some people (those who are abusive, threatening, etc.) certainly do deserve to be muted or blocked.
The trick is discerning the difference between discussing and attacking, between assertiveness and aggression, and between listening and dismissing, in an ever-changing, fast-paced, highly-emotionally-charged environment.
Here’s the thing: why are we on Twitter anyway? I would like to think it is to communicate, to connect, to learn from each other. The only way to truly do that is to be open to actually listening to each other, rather than immediately and universally dismissing, annihilating, muting, and/or blocking.
If our only actions to conflicting opinions are dismissing, annihilating, arguing, muting and/or blocking, how can any of us really ever hear each other?
Are we all just talking to ourselves?
Updated to Add: 06/28/2017: Since this post, I have updated my own policy on blocking on Twitter. I used to reserve blocking for only the most serious of circumstances (threats, perverts, etc.); however, now, I do block when someone is outright rude/disrespectful, and/or when it becomes obvious that the person has absolutely no interest in actually having a reciprocal discussion (if he/she only wants to lecture/accuse/berate/argue and refuses to listen to what I am saying). I will also block those who have blocked me now, for the simple reason of “back at ya!”. There are other instances where I may block, but those are the basics. I have learned that sometimes it is best to just get rid of the negativity and to pick my battles even more carefully than I typically do. I am also more willing/likely to get into an all-out brawl and I have been rude on much more than one occasion now. I have mixed feelings about these updates, but I have sadly learned that there is a limit to my patience, and that my patience grows thinner each day.