Jesus what a day.
Apparently, a couple of exceptionally popular YouTube creators were talking on Twitter about being blocked by me. Their fans grabbed their jump to conclusions mats, torches and pitchforks in hand, and went on a rampage through my mentions.
So I guess it’s time for the obligatory blog post that I don’t want to write but need to write, about how I use social media.
First off: I think I know what happened in this case. A couple months (or maybe it was weeks; in 2018, hours can feel like days) ago, a toxic YouTube personality with a large and unsurprisingly toxic following just went after me one day, without provocation. Over the years, people have tried to create the illusion of a feud with me, in an effort to get my attention and grab some free publicity to drive up views and subscriptions. I always ignore these things, because they are childish at best, and they invite a kind of negativity and vitriol that I would prefer not to have in my life. (As a side note, if someone claiming to be a social media expert pitches the fake feud idea to you, fire them and burn their contact information to the ground. That person is an idiot.)
Anyway. This person already had a following that eclipsed mine by several a factor of at least ten, so they weren’t going to gain anything if I gave them the attention they were looking for. It honestly felt like a young person who was feeling powerful and wanted to use the power of their following to make my life miserable, to entertain the shitty people who follow them. In my efforts to be empathetic to this person, I will freely admit that, when I was in my teens or early twenties, I probably would have thought that what they were doing was harmless, and that the person who was being attacked and dogpiled probably deserved it for some reason, and that they shouldn’t take everything so seriously. Thankfully, I grew up and out of that mentality.
So awhile ago, when this person turned my Twitter mentions into a goddamn Nazi rally, I did a little work to track down patient zero. I found this person, blocked their account, and then blocked their followers, so they would lose one of their attack vectors. I freely accept that a lot of innocent people were caught up in this massive blocking, and many of them are YouTube personalities (because it appears that, at some point, an explicit or implicit agreement was made among YouTubers that a lot of them would follow each other on social media. I wonder why good and decent people would follow this toxic person, but that’s on them, not on me.) In the aftermath, a lot of these YouTube personalities have, at some point, made a bunch of noise about being blocked by me. “Oh why did this happen,” they wonder, “I’ve never interacted with this guy. Please tell me, dear followers who worship me, whatever did I do to deserve this great injustice.”
Real quick: In this example, I present the imagined locutor as acting in bad faith, but can sincerely relate to that feeling. From time to time, someone I know and like RTs someone, but I can’t see it because I’ve been blocked by that person. I usually a have a little bit of a sad, because most of the time that person who has blocked me is someone I would like to see on Twitter, but I don’t pitch a fit about it, because I am a goddamn adult, and they don’t owe me anything.
I have said this on Twitter in a thread before, but I don’t think I’ve said it here: if you think you were wrongly or inadvertently blocked by me on Twitter, I’m painfully easy to get in touch with so you can ask about it and get it removed. Like, you certainly don’t have to, but you can if you want to. If you throw a fit about it and send your followers after me, you’ve made me feel like I don’t regret blocking you by accident. If you do this thing that people do where they are just asking about it and don’t really mean anything wink wink (sealioning), I don’t regret blocking you by accident. I want everyone to understand that Twitter is a mess, because Jack is a terrible CEO and doesn’t act like he cares at all about limiting Nazis, trolls, Russian bots, and other bad people. I believe that he doesn’t care because every single time someone or some group of people work hard to solve his problem (which is all of our problem) for him, he treats it like a public relations problem, not a systemic problem on the platform he runs, that is making the world a worse place due to his inaction. Because Twitter does not make it easy to manage and reduce attacks and other bad acts, we have to rely on imperfect tools like shared blocklists, extensions that help us identify and block trolls and bots, and tools that do mass blockings of an account’s followers. I’ve said many times, it’s a blunt and messy and imperfect instrument. It’s a nuclear bomb where what’s really needed is a rapier, but we go to war with the tools we have. Thanks for nothing, Jack. I hope you believe that the money you are earning is worth the damage you are inflicting on the world, and I hope you sleep really well at night.
Back to this morning. My mentions turn into this morass of anime avatars, poor grammar and racist, bigoted attacks. So, as I said above, I felt like I didn’t particularly care that I blocked these people, if this is the way the people they attract behave. If you attract a lot of bigots and trolls, you may just be a bigot and a troll, goes the math.
But that’s where I think, hey, maybe things are a little more complex than that. Because when multiple millions of people follow a person, that person can’t be reasonably held to account for everything every one of those followers does. Sure, there’s the glaring and profound exception of people who encourage and condone terrible behavior because they engage in it themselves, but most of us who have large audiences are going to end up with a few bad folks in that audience, because of math and human psychology. A few people who follow and/or know these guys reached out and said, essentially, “hey, these guys are good people and knowing what I know about you, I think you’d probably get along in regular circumstances. Please don’t let a small representation of their audience affect the way you feel about them.” I will admit and own that I can intellectually agree with that statement entirely, while emotionally struggling to be as graceful as I’d like to be in my idealized self.
Part of me really wants to unblock these people, because they seem like genuinely good people who exercised poor judgment. Another part of me doesn’t want to reward bad behavior. The biggest part of me believes that in about 18 hours nobody will care about this and they’ll go back to rolling in towers of YouTube cash, forgetting that I ever existed.
So I don’t know what I’m going to do in this instance, but since I’m spending the time writing about it, I want to make the following points very clear, so I have something to point to the next time this happens:
- I actually use Twitter and other social platforms the way people use them. I’m not a hashtag brand who doesn’t care. I’m a real person who really looks at mentions and stuff. I’ve said it before: if you cut me, I will bleed.
- Nobody is entitled to my time and attention. Yes, I block thousands of people on Twitter, because it’s that bad for me on Twitter. Yes, I block lots of people who I’ve never talked to and never will talk to. Usually, that’s because they’ve announced to the world that they’re garbage by following a garbage account that trolls and bullies and attacks people. Occasionally, it’s a mistake, and when that mistake is brought to my attention in a mature and respectful way, I do my best to correct it.
- Chris Hardwick gave me great advice that I’m going to paraphrase here. He said that when you’re interacting with a person, and your first reaction is GO FUCK YOURSELF, think about all the times you’ve wanted to unleash Hell on someone, but three or four or seven messages later, you can talk like people and move on with your lives. Hardwick says that he does his best to start out at that seventh message, so he doesn’t blow up at someone in a way he’ll regret. I do my best to follow this advice, but I admit and own that when something like tearing children away from their parents is the issue at hand, I don’t have any patience or understanding or acceptance of someone who is anything other than sickened and outraged and horrified by it. There’s never gonna be a seventh message with that person, because that person holds beliefs that are reprehensible to me. But when someone is pissed about a joke they didn’t like on Big Bang Theory or thinks I ruined tabletop gaming by making it more accessible, or has taken a friendly sports rivalry too far, it’s a lot easier to get to that seventh message.
- When Twitter treats abuse as a serious, systemic, societal issue with real consequences, and not as a public relations challenge, all of this will change. Until then, I will continue to use clumsy and blunt instruments to make my experience on the platform as nontoxic as possible. In other words, I’d love to use a lightsaber, but right now, I only have a blaster at my side.
- Remember that there’s a real person on the other side of your social media interactions. This is especially important for young people, because there is not a person alive who can hurt and be hurt like a teenager. I promise you that you’re going to get older, and you’re going to be mortified by the terrible things you did when you know that you should have known better. If I blocked SuperYouTube6969 and you think they’re the greatest thing since memes, don’t take it personally. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with you.
- Let’s all do our best to start out at the seventh message.
- If you’re a creator with a large audience, whether you like it or not you have a tremendous responsibility, and you have an incredible opportunity to decide if you’re going to use that audience to enrich yourself, or if you’re going to use the privilege you have to make the world a better place. How do you want to be remembered?
- As always, don’t be a dick.
I know there’s more I want to say, but I have a raging headache right now and what I really want to be doing is working on my novel, so that’s where I’m going. Feel free to discuss this in a non-shitty way in comments here. And if you’re one of those people who was inadvertently blocked by me, let me know so I can take a look.
Thanks for listening.