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Attempting to understand why Twitter is so uniquely awful

What began as a digital salon has turned into an actual viper’s nest

Credit: Getty Images

Remember Justice Sacco? She’s ancient history, internet-wise. Way back in 2013, the PR executive Tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!” Clearly sarcastic, Sacco, to put it technically, got destroyed.

Now, these incidents wouldn’t make the news. They probably wouldn’t even make your feed. Twitter, far from containing the odd spat, has become the place to quibble. These are not polite remonstrations, however. More viper’s pit than 19th century salon, the platform seems to bring out the absolute worst in people, myself included.

Though I’ll start with an illustrative tale of someone else being a bitch: American writer ‘X’ (at the time of writing this, her Twitter following was 28,800). When I innocently posed a question in response to her tweet about skincare, she viciously swiped at me. When I asked her why she was being such an unnecessary hater, she followed with a one-two punch. Unfortunately, when you unfollow someone on Twitter, all communications between you and them are wiped (its defensive strategy?), so I don’t have proof. But believe me, it happened.

Proof — of sorts. A text to my boyfriend dated 6.10.18

A day post-biff, she announced she was joining The Atlantic as a staff writer. My heart sank. Clearly its editors didn’t know how mean she was? Worse still — maybe they didn't care either way.

I shared the news with my mother. She gave me the verbal equivalent of a sturdy hug: “she’s obviously insecure.” I nodded. Obviously.

X, of nasty tweet, now The Atlantic fame

“I think my Twitter sparring habit is envy-induced,” I told my boyfriend on our regular walk from the train station to my house after work one day. He said the opposite of what I wanted to hear: “I think you’re right.” Turns out I gave it, but I couldn’t receive it.

So, me and X — both insecure? Me because of my lack of followers? Her because of her erstwhile, seeming lack of full-time work? Perhaps. Also, unlike Facebook or Instagram, on Twitter, everything’s out there for everyone to see. This encourages a kind of professional exhibitionism or one-upmanship. Case in point: X’s response. Although my comment was completely innocuous, even flattering as it engaged with her original Tweet, she used it as an excuse to broadcast her ‘superior’ knowledge.

But does narcissism necessarily denote meanness? Frequently. When a narcissist feels threatened, they brutally retaliate. Narcissist or not, when I unintentionally chipped away at X’s ego, she smashed me. I was looking for Ma’s ‘community’. Instead, I found hatred.

I remain fractured, yet wiser, shrouded in cold comfort. I’ve realised people like X aren’t the real bitch. Twitter is.

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