Scottish Daily Mail
Sorry, but only twits still love Twitter
FOR several years, my love affair with Twitter was intense and meaningful, yet I can pinpoint the exact moment the love finally died. It was reading, last week, that Leah Washington, the young woman who survived the Alton Towers rollercoaster accident, had been targeted by online trolls who claimed they would willingly lose a leg for £1 million in compensation.
Abusive social media users also told Leah, 18, who had her left leg amputated following the crash in June, that they couldn’t wait for the Smiler ride to reopen.
Though Twitter’s takeover by trolls has been under way for a while, this time I stared at the screen in disbelief and thought: ‘Enough!’
When Twitter launched in Britain in 2009, it couldn’t have been better timed for me. I signed up straight away to this ‘really cool, fun, much better than Facebook!’ (as a friend described it) social media forum. But I didn’t do any actual tweeting. Instead I posted a photo and a short biography and started following people such as Stephen Fry and Rachel Johnson.
It was only in 2010, when I went freelance after 15 years in a full-time job, that I started to tweet.
I’d been surprised by how quickly I missed the easy camaraderie of belonging to a team, the casual banter with like-minded grownups that I’d taken for granted.
I felt increasingly cut adrift, yearning for a virtual office watercooler around which people like me — working mums home-working in isolated bubbles — could communicate.
I had gone off Facebook; it had become a bit needy and demanding. I’d started accepting all the friend requests just because it felt rude not to — yet what was the point of having hundreds of ‘friends’ I didn’t actually know?
OR OF posting pictures of my children’s birthday parties if they were going to be viewed by people whom neither the kids nor I had ever met?
Soon I re-set my security so no one could see pictures of my children, mothballed my profile and bailed; Facebook was so over.
I grabbed a metaphorical bottle and headed over to the Twitter party.
It was a lifeline. Any time of day or night, Twitter was there for you — like a Friends box set complete with actual friends.
I could click on Twitter’s blue bird logo on my phone and around the virtual village well we gathered to giggle and exclaim, ponder and inquire, all in pithy 140-character missives.
My home page displayed a stream of tweets from people I’d chosen to follow. Adding a hashtag #LOL (laugh out loud) to amusing stories was fun, too. And the ‘direct message’ option meant that conversations needing to move out of the public domain could carry on.
What’s more, paying jobs could come your way if the right tweet was seen by the right person at the right time.
Meanwhile, whenever people piled into a gripping conversation — which was often — interesting new Twitter friends were invariably acquired.
Refreshingly, Twitter was also a place dominated by women. And it was fun; relentlessly informative and entertaining, expanding the world of its users even as it shrank it to the size of a smartphone. Having watched TV mostly alone for the previous decade, I now enjoyed ‘shouting’ at/about Strictly or MasterChef in the virtual company of mates new and old.
But slowly I grew more uneasy. Some people I knew started grandstanding to their audience. And then, as Twitter increasingly became a forum for shouty self-promotion, the trolls arrived. I’d watch people getting into virtual shouting matches with aggressive strangers and think, no thanks.
Those of us who have been at it for a while agree Twitter’s bubble burst two or three years ago — around the time it became one of the world’s ten most-visited websites. When the feminist Caroline CriadoPerez lobbied for a woman to be included on future bank notes, she was trolled by crazed misogynists.
And Mary Beard, the historian, received a bomb threat for the crime of not conforming to the glamorous model of how older women should look. Since then, any woman with a few thousand followers and an opinion has seemed to be fair game.
I started tweeting less and less, and became ever more cautious about what I typed.
I even sneaked back to Facebook and found to my surprise that I preferred it. Compared with Twitter’s shouty atmosphere, Facebook feels almost cosy and old-fashioned.
Many of my friends are leaving Twitter for Facebook, too.
You could tell the writing was on the wall when, last week, Twitter dumped its star ‘favourites’ button in favour of a ‘heart’ — the logo Facebook uses.
Earlier this year it changed its 140-character limit on direct messages to 10,000. Facebook allows 20,000 characters.
Twitter has peaked. Though it’s still useful for breaking news, as last Friday’s events in Paris underlined, it increasingly feels like a place where brutal ‘Hunger Games’ are played out by attention-seekers who probably couldn’t do their hating in joined-up writing.
A place that’s lost the balance between LOL and the trolls.
KATHRYN FLETT’S second novel, Outstanding, will be published by Quercus in spring.