Last week I had a WordPress-related tweet sort of ‘blow up,’ although I mean that in really the most insignificant and self-deprecating way imaginable. Within the tiny WordPress bubble, my tweet gained enough traction to be repeatedly shared, referenced in industry newsletters and publications (including SearchEngineJournal?), and even earn me a minor wrist-slapping DM from the impenetrable target of my criticism.
The entire situation definitely had me considering the value of posting something like this- or of posting anything really- on Twitter. I’ve only been experimenting with Twitter for less than a year, and there’s so much I enjoy about it. I’ve been able to build relationships with cool people in my industry, learn about new projects and ideas, and engage conversations on the only social media platform for people who seem to prefer linguistic (written and audio) content over visual memes and videos (for the most part). It clearly hits my once-abused, now-neglected dopamine receptors the way it’s designed to.
So I posted a sarcastic tweet highlighting something I found ridiculous, and then my week changed. The wave of incoming notifications (sparse, I’m sure, to someone with a real following) felt a little bit like a runaway train. By resharing and retweeting a critical idea- something I do all the time- we’re not just agreeing with it, we’re amplifying and accelerating it. What feels like solidarity also slides into overwhelming suffocation. There’s really no “off” switch, no way to say “I’m glad this struck a chord, but I’m afraid for it to strike this many chords at once.” It’s only fair that everyone else have a moment to express themselves too. Not to mention, many of the replies were even more astute than my original off-handed quip.
And isn’t this what you ultimately want when you tweet- a wave of random strangers agreeing with you so hard they’ll actually voice it publicly? In some ways, I guess it’s the whole point. Why publish anything on any platform if you aren’t trying to find validation or agreement in others? But like a sugar overdose, the initial sweetness gives way to sickness as you lose control. The monkey’s paw of social virality. Clearly a lot of people felt a similar emotion (embarrassment for our community, mostly) and wanted to take this opportunity to hopefully shift the narrative. Isn’t that a good thing?
No matter how you slice it, almost any specific critique you post on social media ends up being a criticism of an actual human. It’s easy to forget this. Aside from complaints directed at systemic problems or global catastrophes, almost every time we complain about a thing on Twitter, there’s someone on the other side responsible. The target of our ire. In this case, I can’t muster up much pity for a guy with the net worth of a small country who comes around once a month to pick a fight on the internet. I guess I do feel sad about his recent inability to fit in to the wonderful community that he is primarily responsible for, and it does feel feel weird to see your industry heroes sticking around long enough to turn into a minor annoyance (uhhh- apologies on the overdone Nolan reference).
I also have to imagine that a guy who pipes in his own personal blog feed to 43% of the internet’s dashboard really just wants to feel the same validation I want to feel when I click Publish. In fact, anytime you criticize another person, it’s always worth stopping to see if it’s because you actually see yourself in them. So- socially aloof and prone to throwing out potentially true but insulting opinions with no trace of emotional empathy? [Painfully long pause] Nope, can’t relate to that at all.
Mostly, though, I do feel guilt for handful of people around him who had to be human toxicity shields. I have to imagine there’s a group who, by virtue of their employment, are simply absorbing the negative repercussions of the entire situation- answering questions, clarifying values, perhaps dousing small fires. Protecting the valuable asset of his forward momentum at all cost, the pitfalls of obscene wealth and absolute power being more than well-enough documented. I understand that it wasn’t really my doing in any meaningful way- the incivility of his quotes really speaks for itself- but I am wondering if it was worth it. If it leads in any way to a positive change, I guess it would be worth the broken eggs.
The main problem with “calling someone out” is that the change you are typically trying to make is in that person’s behavior. You’re really trying to change their mind… and you just insulted them. And if some jackass with an internet connection called me out, the last thing I’d do is pause to wonder if there’s a valuable lesson to be learned.
Finally, one hopes that they’ll be able to achieve moments of internet visibility with something positive- not negative. Constructive- not simply critical. I don’t mind a little sarcasm or dark humor, especially at my own expense, but I’m also working on imagining the most constructive next steps I can personally take in my life, instead of simply feeding the negative-feedback-loop that is Twitter and ultimately sinking to the same level of callousness that I criticized in the first place.