This may be my longest post ever. Hang in there, it’s worth it. I hope.
Look, I dislike talking politics on my blog. This is where I write about my family and my personal thoughts on all sorts of topics from parenting to special needs to finding long enough shorts for girls to OMG did you see what Lady Gaga wore at that award show! to my own experiences growing up.
I know I have readers who feel differently than I do regarding politics and for many things I’m willing to accept our differences. Many of you know my political views, and either share them or are kind enough to quietly agree to disagree and focus on what we have in common instead. (And in return, I don’t go to anyone else’s blog and tell them they’re wrong, either. It’s just kinda rude.)
In the social media spheres of Twitter and Facebook, though, I’ve often been more forward with my beliefs. As opposed to a blog, which is also public but more of a “this is my home” space, I feel that Twitter and Facebook are more like being out in the community at large. You’ve got lots of ideas and thoughts all converging in one public area, with no single person in control of them (other than the handy block button), and so it’s a space to indulge in our differences as well as our commonalities. It’s fun, and I even learn a few things from time to time.
Usually any political tweets I write are sent out into my small group of followers. I may get a few retweets or responses, and even occasionally a negative response, but usually they don’t get a lot of notice.
I didn’t expect more than that as I tweeted along while watching the Republican National Convention last week. I watched because I believe it’s important to know the views and plans of everyone running for office, even if I disagree with their beliefs.
And during that time, I wrote several tweets that might have angered my more conservative friends, although in criticizing the candidates I made efforts to not lump all who may vote for them in the same criticism. We’re a country with millions of different beliefs when you look at all issues combined, and I recognize that no single candidate represents the exact beliefs of any single person other than the candidate. We’re pretty little snowflakes in our beliefs: all unique.
I was upset by many things said in those speeches, though. And on the last night, with the whole week culminating with Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech, I had reached my “enough” point and decided I didn’t just want to voice my opinion, I wanted to do something else about it, too.
This resulted in my lesson in (insert booming announcer voice here)…
How to start a troll-storm on Twitter without intending to do so:
Step 1: Tweet you’re donating money to Obama after watching Romney’s RNC speech.
Step 2: Um, that’s it. Sit back and watch the hate roll in.
Let me point out, I wrote things that some people could have interpreted to be FAR more offensive in the tweets immediately before that one. I have no idea why that one was singled out. If I knew, I’d have a far more well-read blog because I’d have unlocked the secrets to social media SEO.
A few retweets of that tweet began, then a few more, then my Twitter stream blew up in a jumble of retweets, replies of praise, and a whole lot of mean.
Following the trail of retweets didn’t help me find how I ended up in the tweet cross-hairs of so many who were determined to unleash their venom on me. It might have been a journalist of a liberal magazine (I don’t know it, but clearly a lot of others do) who retweeted my statement, which somehow got it onto the screens of a bunch of people who don’t feel the same as me.
I was in shock as I saw all of the replies and mentions rolling across my Tweetdeck, most filled with negative assumptions about my intelligence, my financial status, my employment status, and just simply a lot of name calling. So much bitterness and contempt, all because I said I really didn’t like Romney’s speech and decided to donate a small amount to Obama?
And then…I decided to reply to nearly every single one.
Some friends noticed and warned me not to go down that path, for that way lies madness. But here’s the thing: I seriously dislike random hostility on the Internet. The disassociation between a username and a human being on the other side of that username is a problem for many people in this society, and sometimes they just need to be reminded of it.
Would you be talking with friends at a large party, hear a stranger nearby say what I wrote in my tweet (not directly to you), and then turn around and immediately yell insults at that person? Probably not.
So why would you launch into a similar attack online, unless you either get a thrill of arguing where you can safely hide behind the anonymity of the Internet (very possible, although probably a mental disorder in need of therapy, too) or you’ve become so polarized that you forget there is another person, another American if you want to get patriotic, on the other side of that username.
So I responded, with the best kindergarten manners I could muster. I was civil in response, courteous even. The worst thing I wrote to anyone was “Well, that’s not a very nice way to say hello to someone for the first time.” Because – let’s face it – it’s not. I don’t generally start a conversation with a stranger by insulting them.
Some immediately assumed that we were living on government assistance or abusing “their” money by donating to a political campaign. That was an easy response: we’re employed. In the private sector, even. All of our money is earned through our work. A few then asked if I thought President Obama was responsible for our jobs. The best reply I had there was, “Well, I sincerely doubt he personally phoned in the favor, but our companies are doing well enough to hire us.”
For those who suggested I was “poor” because of Obama’s policies, I simply responded that in 2008 we were unemployed. We now have jobs we enjoy, we have a house and cars, we can pay our bills, and we even have a little extra for entertainment and to help others. I’d call that a huge improvement over 2008.
If they suggested we’re still not well off because of the president, I countered with the point that we’re content with our lives and asked them if we needed to be incredibly wealthy in order to be consider successful? Can’t success also be defined as a job well done and a happy family? I also reminded a few that if having a house, two cars, and the ability to pay our bills – even if we don’t have a lot of extra money – is considered poor to them, then they might want to re-evaluate their definition of poor. There are so many who are far more in need of help.
A couple of people then accused me of being dishonest in my tweet, trying to make it sound like we were more poor than we were. We had paychecks coming the next day. True, but I think I precisely proved the point that nuance is lost in soundbites.
Side note: Am I right? I hate this culture of soundbites. People need to be given all of the information and allowed to make their own conclusions. Dumbing down politics results in important topics being condensed into 2-3 sentence summaries that end up sounding little like the original, complex idea.
Sometimes a topic can’t be summarized that easily. Theories of astrophysics are complicated. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them or they’re trying to hide something or they’re wrong; it means they’re complex topics that need more than a few sentences to be fully considered. Same goes for economics. Or health care. Or any other number of topics.
Some people then tried to engage me in political debate. I wasn’t looking to debate those who had no intention of considering other points of view and were simply looking for weaknesses to call out. Besides, 140 characters is no way to conduct a debate over political theory. So for them I politely declined, stated neither of us were likely to change our positions and Twitter was a lousy forum for debate, and asked that we agree to disagree.
And then there were those who responded only with name calling or off-topic insults. I did block them without a response. If you can’t stay on topic, then you don’t get to play.
These nasty responses continued through the overnight hours, all day long on Friday, and then slowly tapered off through the weekend. 205 people made that tweet a favorite. I received 1,065 retweets (so far), many kind responses, and well over a hundred negative responses as well. I never took the time to tally them all, but there may have even been 150 or 200. I responded to nearly a hundred. (And blocked several.)
Amusingly, I discovered many of the people who lashed out over my tweet later blocked me. Was it something I said?
Not surprisingly, few people replied to my first response to them. I guess they got their “slam” out, felt better, and proceeded to move on to the next victim.
Several did respond, though, and if they were intelligent responses (whether I agreed with them or not) I usually replied again. A few even apologized after I pointed out their tweet wasn’t a very nice way to say hello. Kindergarten manners for the WIN!
Some people changed their tone with me after their assumptions about my family taking “handouts” were corrected. Suddenly I was an “ok person” because I held a job and paid my bills. I didn’t feel like pointing out that we survived on unemployment, food stamps and WIC for nearly a year when our state government decided to cut Aaron’s job. Without that public assistance, we probably would have lost our home and cars, defaulted on our debt, had our children go hungry, and had a much more difficult time getting back on our feet again.
Should these people have encountered me back in 2008, would I no longer be an “ok person” to them? I’m saddened by their snap judgments.
A few replied with more rhetoric from their beliefs, and when it was clear we simply held different opinions that neither of us would budge on, I asked that we agree to disagree, vote for who we believe, and hope for the best for everyone in our country. Some were willing to agree. Others tried to debate, which then led to the “twitter is not a good forum for debate” response I mentioned above.
There were a handful that stated they were donating to Romney’s campaign in response to my choice to donate to Obama’s campaign. I’m not sure if they were trying to hurt me somehow by doing so? I congratulated them on their freedom to spend their money how they thought best. Besides, I had WAY more people respond to me saying that I had inspired them to donate to Obama, so it’s possible I came out ahead in that one.
And then a teensy-tiny portion of the meanies? They turned into nice people when I defused them with politeness. We had a respectful, short discussion and wished each other well. I would happily interact with them again, despite our differences in politics.
Of course, there were plenty of replies of support and good will, and I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful for every one of them. (I’m grateful. Very grateful. They kept me going even when I had the urge to throw mud back at some people. My nose? Is NOT horrifying.) My friends and even the new-to-me Twitter folks who tweeted support and love back to me are some pretty great people.
So what did I learn?
I had it reaffirmed that human beings are both amazing and frightening creatures. They can reach the greatest heights of humanity and tolerance or the lowest pits of malevolence in a semi-anonymous forum. I can’t say I’m willing to judge a person entirely on how that person behaves towards someone else in a semi-anonymous forum, and I also would hope to never have my entire character based on one thought. We’re human, we do speak in anger sometimes.
I refused to attack any of the people who chose to berate me personally in tweets. (Unless my saying they’re not very nice for starting a conversation with an attack is seen as an attack?) These folks thought that a tweet I wrote, stating that I was strongly against Romney’s platform and choosing to donate money to Obama in response to his speech, was worthy of a personal attack on me.
They were mean, even though I had done nothing to insult them personally. I’ve seen plenty of insults hurled at Obama on Twitter – some of which made me very angry – but none that made me want to hurl personal insults back at someone I know nothing about.
The lack of civility among some people when confronted with someone who doesn’t share their set of beliefs is disturbing, and a trend I’d like to see reversed in society.
Do I regret my tweet? No, I don’t. I could have phrased it a little more nicely, I’ll admit, but I don’t regret posting it and I don’t regret my donation. The response that happened gave me a fantastic view of others and helped me evaluate how I respond to others as well.
Do I regret responding to all of these people? Not at all. It was exhausting, for sure, but as I kept sending out the same message of positivity and reassuring these folks that it’s OK to be content with what you have and enjoy a job that doesn’t make you rich, I started to feel even more happy with my life.
It’s funny, because the truth is we don’t have a lot and there are months when we struggle a little to get by. I’m not always happy. Aaron’s job was cut to part-time at the start of June. We can still pay our bills, but the budget is extra lean at the moment. We did have only $50 left in our account last Thursday night, and I spent part of that evening scheduling bills for the next month based on when paychecks would arrive so we’d stay in the positive.
Would I like more money? Well yeah, of course. Do I need more money? Eh, that depends on what you consider a need. A year ago at this time, Aaron worked full time and I had a different job that payed more than I’d ever made before. We had more money. Were we happier? Not really. We went out to eat more, spent more on entertainment, saved some, gave to charity more…but our lives weren’t significantly better as a result. I saw my family a lot less.
Now I have more stress about making ends meet, but those ends are meeting most of the time and I can appreciate it as I pick my daughters up from school or have dinner with my family.
We have so much more than we did in 2008. Are we better off now than we were four years ago? You bet. Even more than money and jobs, though, I’m happy because I can be a person who, when faced with an onslaught of hate and vitriol from people who don’t know me, but choose to define me by 140 characters, I can respond to them with civility, tolerance, and kindness.
If I have those qualities, and can inspire the same in even a few other people, I’m MUCH better off.
Should you want to know my opinion on politics this year, I can sum up a lot of it based on my experience in the last week: we need to focus less on how much money we can keep tightly clutched in our own fists, and focus more on how we can work together to help and support each other, with benevolence and compassion, so we can all succeed.
This is me placing a daisy in the barrel of the Twitter trolls’ rifle.