When Twitter Went From a Safe Haven to a Prison

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

I’ve been feeling really anxious with Twitter lately.

Over the last 5 years I’ve curated and carved out a place where I can be myself, talk honestly and share what I love. It sounds absurd to someone who doesn’t have an internet community, but it’s when I’m sharing my thoughts with carefully selected strangers that I feel most comfortable. But then just how “carefully selected” can it be when you have a public profile? The answer you’re all probably shouting at me is “Not very, Rach”.

I don’t know when I shifted from loving Twitter to feeling uncomfortable if I spend too long on it, but I can guess that it was some time between November 9th and January 20th. After the election and in the time leading up to the inauguration I watched Twitter with horror, as I did the whole world. The space that once felt like it belonged to me and my friends turned against us- but of course this discourse and hatred has been happening for a long time. Safe in my echo chamber with my other liberal friends I was blind to the darker side of twitter, the one that only seeped in when I spoke of feminist issues and would occasionally scream GET RAPED at me, before I blocked them.

Despite being a bisexual, disabled woman I still hold quite a lot of privilege; I’m white, cisgender, reasonably well educated and in a relationship with a man (I’m not naive to the fact that this means I pass as straight). This means I escape a lot of specific abuse on Twitter and instead I fall under the standard catch all “women are fuck receptacles or not good enough to fuck” banner of online hate. And while being call a c*nt or being threatened was bad, I can speak about it almost nonchalantly because it was a rare occurrence. Most of my time on Twitter was fun.

It has however steadily gotten worse over the last year. There was a fortnight I remember maybe in September where I didn’t go a single day without a man on the internet calling me an obscenity, telling me how wrong I was or threatening me. The threats became expected. But never at the same volume as they were after the election.

For those on the left it was hard for us to stay silent, but it was also hard for us to speak. It was hard to put into words how we felt, when the overlying feeling was fear. Creeping into everything. There’s one day I think will stay with me for a long time.

I tweeted about Marine Le Pen being a fascist and put my phone down, got ready, had lunch with my boyfriend before letting him drive me home. There was a diversion and I had to direct him, something I’m terrible at in the best of circumstances. Absentmindedly as we hummed along to whatever was on radio 2, I checked Twitter. I was immediately confronted by over 100 replies telling me I’m going to be raped by Muslim men without a leader like Marine Le Pen.

This was the first time I’d privated my Twitter in 5 years. I unlocked it again a few hours later when I’d stopped crying, full of anger but still more cautious than before.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I lock and unlock my account on a regular basis at the minute, the last was because me and a pal were having a debate about a celebrities genitals and we wanted opinions. That in itself completely personifies my experience of Twitter, dodging abuse whilst being mildly (cough very) inappropriate with my friends. But it’s all I can do to keep it a fun part of my life and not delete the whole thing on a stupid whim.

My relationship with Twitter has always been a strange one. It’s something that simultaneously makes me feel sick and i hate going on, but at the same time can sit endlessly scrolling or will close then reopen again. I think the weirdest thing is how many feelings I have about a fucking website, why am I so connected and obsessed with a social media platform?!

I’m currently reading Girl On The Net’s book How A Bad Girl Fell In Love, if you’re familiar with her blog you’ll expect the vast amounts of filth but maybe not so much the battle with having an online life and a private one. As revealed in her book, the constant struggle to keep both lives separate led to her eventual breakdown. For me, the anonymity boat has long since sailed- I’ve been using my real name on the internet like some chump for nearly a decade now. But I can still identify with the anxiety side.

I became obsessed with follower counts, felt like I was never doing enough and was constantly checking twitter. If I’m not writing or tweeting or sharing images I feel anxious, but the fear of actually doing those things is even worse. I’ve been feeling my anxiety creep back in over the past couple of weeks. More and more I wake up in inexplicable panic that I’m not doing anything, but so paralysed by fear that I can’t.

I’ve found writing increasingly tougher since November, I feel like everything I’m writing is just silly and doesn’t matter when the world is coming apart at the seams. My once fun hobby blog Happy Little Syllables lies dormant for months at a time as it all just seems trivial.

This post was intended to be a nice lighthearted thing about my DIY cinema light box. But then I started on why I bought it. What seemed like a lovely story about picking myself up with a Treat Yoself on bad mental health day, that stemmed from me being told I wont get a hysterectomy until at least April and culminated in me crying about being called a cunt by a stranger on internet, again, became a massive feelings dump about life. That’s one thing I will always love about writing I guess. It helps me say the things I can’t actually physically say. (I did still publish a post about the light box. which is a lot funner than this)

As the world becomes more and more of a trash fire, social media has gone from being my safe haven to something I dread. It feels like every time I refresh my feed something worse has happened. Something more terrifying seems to have to been announced in the hour I was away.

I now find myself making a conscious effort to take time out from Twitter, on the weekends when I have more distractions and less time to mess around not working. When I can spend time away in the little bubble I’ve created, selfishly ignore the world for a tiny amount of time.

Before I have to refresh again.

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