Lately, I’ve seen a lot of authors migrating their presence from twitter onto other social media platforms. Toxicity, doom-scrolling, mental health, and time-wasting are cited among the reasons. This raises the troubling question that if we, writers, find ourselves escaping a platform built for writing, then what does that indicate for and of the platform as a whole?
This is what I hope to partially unpack here, through the lens of existentialism.
I wrote my postgraduate thesis on Kierkegaardian and Sartrean existentialism. Kierkegaard and Sartre would’ve been all over today’s social media if they could. Social media is all about existentialism. About being perceived. It prays on your identity.
Existentialism understands identity as a process, as something that changes and develops according to the choices you make in life. On social media, groupthink robs you of your choices. Robs you of your identity. It leaves you in despair, as Kierkegaard would say. Despair arises when the self is unable to confirm itself. In order to become yourself, you must first conquer the negativity of not being yourself. You must face what you are not in order to acknowledge what you are. Otherwise, you end up in despair.
To me, this is often the nature of twitter’s toxicity.
Your choice, your identity, is robbed from you by groupthink.
In the writing community, there are specific accounts dedicated to spilling the tea and keeping you updated on the latest problematic discourse. You know, the thing that perforates your timeline, but you have no idea what it’s really about because it’s all subtweeting? Yeah, that thing.
That very unhealthy expectation, right there.
The writing community expects you to comment on every discourse that blows up. If you don’t, you’re an enabler, or a silencer, or a whole slew of other things. Now, there’s no doubt that enabling cruel behavior and that staying silent in the face of inhumanity is wrong (and I won’t go into what constitutes inhumanity because that should be obvious to everyone), but despite what the community expects, you can be on twitter without inserting yourself in every discourse that blows up. It’s okay to be on twitter and mind your own beeswax.
In an ideal world, you should be able to step away from a single discourse rather than stepping away from twitter as a whole to escape this despair. In an ideal world, groupthink should not result in a despairing self.
Lastly, we also shouldn’t discount how the pandemic has forced everyone to be online for different reasons than before. We’ve been forcefully overexposed to groupthink as a cultural consequence of the pandemic, so the toxicity has grown exponentially. The potential for our selves to despair has grown. I think we’re all feeling this, which means we need to be ever more vigilant about it.
So, don’t feel bad.
Don’t feel forced.
Don’t favor the group to the detriment of your own despair.
Don’t feel that you have to leave because you’re not “vocal enough” online. You can be vocal without doing it online, but let’s leave that discussion for a different day. Bottom line is this: avoiding toxicity in general is about building an awareness of how the toxicity works, so it can’t victimize you.
Build your awareness and you’ll build your defense.
You can start by engaging in critical thinking of online behavioral patterns, both your own and those of others.