I’ve been on Twitter for about a year and a half, and I never blocked anyone but spammers until this week, when I did it twice. It made me think about what it means to be “in public” on Twitter. Sometimes I forget just how public things I say on social media are; reminders that people you don’t think are “there” can see what you’re saying can be unpleasant but salutary. On the other hand, I don’t think being on social media should feel like walking naked down the street. Even “in public,” people deserve a modicum of privacy that others respect. Here’s what happened that made me feel my “public privacy” had been invaded:
Someone who followed none of us responded to an hours-old conversation some friends and I were involved in, aggressively challenging what one of them said and demanding “evidence” for her statement. It’s not clear how the conversation came to his notice (he may have been searching a Bible-related term that came up). He would not disengage even when it was clear we didn’t want to discuss it with him, and he felt his behavior was perfectly justified because our conversation was “public.”
Well, yeah, the way a conversation I have with friends on a sidewalk is public. I generally don’t welcome complete strangers who barge into those to attack me, either. This dude was somewhere between tin-foil hat guy who harangues you about aliens at the bus stop and the kind of harasser who says, “Hey, pretty lady, how about a smile? What, you can’t smile for me? Bitch.” We owed him a response, because we dared to be in public. Uh, no. Obviously there are polite ways to meet and engage strangers in public spaces, virtual or real; that’s part of what they are for (this is one of the subjects in my writing classes, actually). His way is not one of them.
My second block was of someone who is loosely associated with a certain site dedicated to nastiness towards reviewers and others who offend their sensibilities. I’ve observed this guy trolling on various forums as well. I am quite sure he followed me because I interact on Twitter with some people targeted by That Site, and that his reason for doing so was to stir up trouble or look for “evidence” of my bullying/bully-minion ways that he could report on somewhere. That’s clearly his modus operandi elsewhere. Not interested.
There’s no doubt that right now a lot of people in Romancelandia and YA blogging worry that Big Bully is always looking over their shoulders. I do. This is another bad, bad use of the “public” nature of Twitter. Being in public should not mean being under constant surveillance and giving up any expectation of personal privacy, though increasingly it does. How often, when we’re in public places, are we under video surveillance, whether by private or government entities? I don’t agree that “it doesn’t matter if you have nothing to hide.” Being in public does not have to mean giving up all expectation that my actions and words are unobserved and unrecorded.
I don’t want to live in a Soviet-bloc style online state where the secret police are watching me. As far as I’m concerned, the kind of people who will troll others’ Twitter streams looking for “wrong-doing” or reasons to be outraged are aligning themselves with the secret police and their collaborators. Oh sure, I’m over-dramatizing, but it’s at the bottom of the same spectrum topped by the Stasi. Keeping tabs on others in this way is not just “high-schoolish.” It’s wrong. There’s no better way to kill a lively public sphere, and I don’t want that to happen in Romancelandia, a public sphere I’m very fond of. I don’t think it will, because a few bad apples don’t have the power of the Stasi. But we do have to keep resisting it.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need to be told these things. But I just had to get them off my chest. And if you happen to be trolling for “evidence” here, enjoy!
I feel like I blew a semester’s worth of substantive posts in the last couple of weeks and I’ve only got stuff like this left. This observation led to the following conversation with my husband:
Him: You’re writing another post? You should bank some so you don’t burn out.
Me: But if I think of something that interests me, I just have to get it out there and talk about it! I can’t wait.
Him: It’s an illness.
Me (interrupting): It’s just like how I’m always interrupting people in conversations because I get too excited to wait my turn. [It’s a terrible habit, and I can’t always stop myself even when I realize I’m doing it.]
Him (laughing): Yep.
He knows me too well.