Apr 26 • 11M

I'm Not Leaving Twitter

The war on disinformation isn't going away.

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Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: charlotteclymer.substack.com
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By now, you’ve probably heard that the Board of Directors for Twitter, Inc. have accepted Elon Musk’s offer to buy the company for $44 billion at $54.20 per share.

When it was first reported yesterday morning that Twitter’s brass would imminently accept Musk’s offer, there was, as you can imagine, a great deal of concern about the future of the site.

Two weeks ago, Musk gave an interview at the TED2022 conference, in which he framed his interest in Twitter around the concept of “free speech”, saying that Twitter was the “de facto town square” and he envisioned a platform in which no content is ever removed, no matter how offensive.

To many people, I’d imagine this sounds quite wonderful on the surface. What could possibly be wrong with allowing the “marketplace of ideas” to flourish and resolve itself?

I’m a big believer in holding space for good faith dialogue, especially when I fundamentally disagree with the other party. Disagreement provides an opportunity for better understanding each other. But that concept—a conversation built upon trust that both parties are engaging each other thoughtfully and with the same goal in mind of mutual understanding—is exceedingly rare in practice.

There are social conservatives who lean heavily into that “diversity of thought” framework—which, again, sounds great on the surface—before showing their hand: that they, in fact, have no interest in recognizing basic facts that undermine their position.

That’s not good faith dialogue, and it leads to exchanges that struggle to maintain an appearance of good faith while being anything otherwise.

For example, there is a firm consensus among every major medical organization that trans and non-binary people are valid and consistent with scientific understanding. From the American Medical Association to the National Institutes of Health, every one of these orgs has maintained that gender-affirming care is essential and lifesaving.

In response, the Republican Party has done things like parrot “there are only two genders”, purposely confusing the social construct of gender identity with the assignation of sex-at-birth, which is also not true because scientists have long acknowledged there are more than two sexes in human beings.

To them, that doesn’t matter. They use that inaccurate and cruel reasoning as a basis to deny health care and other basic civil liberties to trans and non-binary people, particularly children, who have been the focal point of horrific propaganda.

The problem with “free speech absolutists” like Musk is that accountability of misleading and irresponsible and dangerous and hateful speech—almost all of which is intentional—is bargained away as simply the price that needs to be paid for the ability to say anything one wants in the public square.

There doesn’t seem to be a line that can’t be crossed.

Republican lawmakers referring to LGBTQ people and their supporters as “groomers” who are preying on children? No problem, apparently.

Black employees at Tesla being called the n-word on the assembly line by supervisors? Not a big deal, I guess.

It’s gotten to the point where I’ll see something like “free speech advocate” in someone’s bio and immediately assume they’re a massive asshole who, at best, doesn’t give a single damn about marginalized communities and at worst, openly enables hatred against them.

I don’t like making that assumption. It doesn’t feel good. If I don’t know someone, there should be an expectation of good faith, but like most folks in marginalized communities, having that good faith thrown back in your face with vile bigotry gets tiresome, and you quickly learn to protect yourself by avoiding these situations.

As recently as last week, Musk stated on Twitter: “The woke mind virus is making Netflix unwatchable.”

That’s the thing about so-called “free speech” champions: even content that doesn’t outright criticize bigotry is branded as “woke” for something as simple as enhanced representation of marginalized communities.

Simply having an LGBTQ character or storyline, never mind its political thesis, is enough to earn a program that derisive label of “woke”.

That brings us back to yesterday. Following Twitter’s announcement, countless users openly spoke of leaving the platform if the sale becomes finalized later this year, as expected.

Indeed, thousands of users have already deactivated their accounts. Over the course of the day, larger accounts like writer Molly Jong-Fast, activist Shannon Watts, and White House Senior Advisor Neera Tanden all reported similar drops in followers, suggesting that at least thousands of progressives have moved away from the platform.

Last night, on her program, popular MSNBC host Joy Ann Reid touted the website Counter Social as an alternative to Twitter. Her account, opened in the hours after the Musk deal was reportedly finalized, was quickly followed by thousands of new users. I am also on Counter Social (you can follow me there: @charlotteclymer), though I’m taking it slow because there have been concerns over the safety of the site.

In progressive circles, the question of whether or not to leave Twitter has become quite contentious.

Proponents of exiting Twitter point to Musk’s own history as the biggest warning sign of what’s to come: extreme volatility, no moderation over hate speech, and unchecked mass harassment of marginalized people.

Even if Musk’s goal would be an inclusive website for all communities—and let’s be clear, that doesn’t seem to be the case—his primary objective (so-called “free speech”) will almost certainly lead to a proliferation of harassment, doxxing, death threats, etc. against marginalized people on Twitter.

Yesterday, in a taste of what’s to come, bigots on the platform, seemingly emboldened by Musk’s purchase, quite openly swarmed activist accounts, particularly trans and non-binary people, posting hateful and violent images and daring them to report it as hate speech to Twitter.

I believe it will only get worse, but I also want to be clear about this: I’m not leaving.

Twitter is a front line in the war on disinformation. I completely understand why folks would deactivate their accounts in response to the news, but there's a need on that site for rational adults to push back against the vile and relentless propaganda. I believe it’s worth the fight.

Speaking only as one trans woman here, I believe that unaccountable propaganda will continue to have an incredibly damaging effect on the safety and wellbeing of my community.

I think we need as many reasonable adults as possible pushing back against that disinformation, especially when it comes to LGBTQ rights. For so many, that space can't be ceded. It must be held.

If someone feels unsafe on Twitter or that their health is impacted, it’s entirely valid to leave. No one should feel pressured to stay.

People have good reasons for leaving. People have good reasons for staying. It’s important to give folks the space and respect to make that decision for themselves. There's a lot of room here for different approaches. It’s unhelpful to make someone else's choice a judgment on your own.

Some of you reading this have already left the site, and some of you are currently considering it. You should do what’s best for your health.

But I’m staying. I personally feel I have a responsibility to hold that space.

If you’re leaving Twitter, you can connect with me on Instagram (@charlotte.clymer) and, of course, keep up with my work here at Charlotte’s Web Thoughts.

It goes without saying that we’re about to see a lot of activists take a hit to their reach by the exodus from Twitter. It is what it is. People have to make choices for themselves, and those choices should be respected.

As those of us who do this work adjust to yesterday’s news, you’ll likely see us spend more time on other platforms. If you’re leaving, the best thing you can do is support us on those platforms.

Although this blog has always been free to read—and will remain so—I will not be shy in asking that you support my work with a paid subscription. It’s a modest sum, and it goes a long way toward supporting myself.

We’re living in a tough time, folks. We’re gonna have more hard days, and it’s good that we prepare ourselves for that reality.

But let’s also keep this in mind: our country—our society—has seen some pretty damn bleak chapters in the past. Somehow, someway, we have endured.

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the knowledge that past generations chose to fight the good fight so that future generations would benefit.

We all should reflect on our responsibility, in whatever way that looks, to carry it forward.

Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.