Are We What We Tweet?

Twitter LogoTwitter provides a platform upon which opinions feel safe. We are shielded by a screen, and we Tweet things we might normally not say out loud.

I set up my own Twitter account to follow mostly people who Tweet about Philadelphia sports teams. I like to check this feed while watching games. In a way, my Twitter timeline gives me access to and inclusion in a world of Philly sports fans without fear of judgment or having to hear the guy sitting next to me at the bar tell me, “You know a lot about sports for a girl.”

When I pull up my Twitter timeline, I’d venture to guess that about seventy-five to eighty percent of the tweets I read are about Philadelphia sports teams and sports in general. I shaped a particular community on my Twitter account. I follow or unfollow whomever I choose, and I can tailor what I want to read for the most part. Still, the remaining twenty to twenty-five percent of tweets I read have to do with whatever is “trending” at the moment and sometimes random thoughts of those people I follow – generally to do with what is going on in the world at that particular moment.

PistoriusLast week, #tellafeministthankyou and Oscar Pistorius trended on twitter. (The U.S. Senate had just voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (hence, #tellafeministthankyou), and the South African Olympian and Paralympian was charged with the shooting murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.) Looking through my timeline, I began to notice a disturbing trend.

Tweets with the hashtag #tellafeministthankyou and others about Oscar Pistorius were sent out as jokes to make light of violence against women. According to Twitter, feminists are “nags,” “bitches,” “hoes,” “sluts,” and “pussies.” Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend “must have known he was armed because those are the only limbs he has.” I spent the next hour or so, reading misogynistic, sometimes violent language much like the covers of the New York tabloids the next day.

I am not denouncing Twitter. It offers freedom of speech, freedom of expression. In its own way, its a miraculous development in human communication. Twitter builds community. At any given moment, you can widely broadcast your thoughts on what is happening in the world, connecting you to your followers and the public at large. As a sports fan, it brings me closer to the game and other people who root for the same team. It gives celebrities and stars a way to connect with their fans. It can work to bring people together around good causes. (Check out #healthymasculinity on Friday, February 22 at 3:30.)

At the same time, Twitter just as easily provides access to promote violence, hatred, and ignorance with a certain level of anonymity. I firmly believe it’s every person’s right to Tweet violent, hateful, and ignorant language. It’s the price we pay for freedom of speech. Again, I am not denouncing Twitter. Rather, what is important to remember here is that actual people exist beneath the facade of avatars and words on a screen. Actual fingers type out tweets that actual people formulate in their actual minds.

The point I am trying to make is this: Twitter shows us who we really are and how we treat each other as human beings. It shouldn’t be censored because it’s a valuable way for us to take a look in the mirror. I put forth this question: What do our tweets say about us – both individually and as a society?

I saved some of my searches for “#tellafeministthankyou” on Twitter when it trended this past week. The screenshots below display some of what I found.

Are we what we tweet? I’ll let you decide.

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