Monday, December 13, 2021

A Tale of Two Twitters, or Into the Twitter-verse

I've been working on my presence on social media as a writer, to try to boost my brand and connect with more readers. This is not something I like to do, connecting with people, that is. Up until this past year, my footprint on social media has been pretty small, limited to mainly Facebook with some forays into Twitter. If social media were a party, I was definitely not the life of it. I wasn't even the guy who gets dragged into karaoke and then knocks it out of the park. I was the guy hiding under the stairs, peeking through the slats to see what all the cool people are doing. 

But now I have to engage people, so I started working on Instagram and posting more frequently on Twitter, and I'm starting to realize that each medium has its value and niche market. Twitter is mainly where I follow religious and political discussions and connect with other professional writers. Instagram is where I follow artists, preachers, fitness experts, and bookstagram accounts to get ideas for all of my different passions. And Facebook is where I post pictures of the kids so my Mom can see them, at least until I can teach her how to save a photo from a text thread.

I'm also very aware of the algorithms that determine what we see through our social media lenses. It's so easy to get stuck in our internet bubbles and forget that we aren't seeing a full and varied range of ideas and opinions. That's one reason why I still have two Twitter accounts, and through those lenses I'm able to see into two completely different universes, like the darkest timeline or the Mirror Universe in Star Trek.

I've always had my main account that I use regularly, probably too much, but I also have an account that I started in 2015 as a Trump parody account. I meant for it to be a lighthearted jab at some of the inconsistencies of that group, by pretending to be a Trump fan. I kept it up for a few months during the election of that year, but then I dropped it because it became less and less funny, and more and more alarming. But I still get emails from both accounts recommending tweets and accounts that I (or my Bizarro World alter ego) might be interested in. The differences could not be more dramatic.

Still, I keep the other account active as a way of keeping track on what some of my friends and relatives might see in their timelines, and why they might think the way they do. I rarely ever interact with those tweets or threads, choosing instead to lurk in the background and observe.

Until recently.

It happened twice in the last month. I saw an argument unfolding and felt the urge to put in a word or two, and soon realized that I had wandered through the back of the cabinet into strange and dangerous world. Previously, I had heard so many people say that there really are separate Twitters that rarely, if ever overlap, but I suppose it's something you really have to see for yourself. The truth is, there's a whole Twitterverse out there to get lost in.

When I stay in my Twitter lane, I can get into all kinds of heated debates, but they do generally stay respectful. Emotions sometimes run high, but there's generally good intent, and you can always block someone if they really cross a line of civility.

In the Mirror Twitterverse, however, it's all out Battleworld. I followed one of the suggested tweets to the alternate account and made the mistake of responding to thread about the Rittenhouse trial (I know). Immediately, the locals descended on me with pitchforks and torches. Very little of what they had to say made sense, but it was all forceful, to say the least, and used the most colorful language. The namecalling was both outrageous and predictable. I got called everything from a Communist to a Marxist by every self-proclaimed patriot on the web, for making the mistake of pointing out the inconsistency of railing against people coming from out of state to protest the trial of a person who came from out of state to patrol a protest and ended up shooting people. They introduced me to all kinds of emojis I had never seen before, and I even learned about several white supremacist groups and their interesting mascots.

Then, as the discussion was heating up and I, wisely, refrained from further posts, the craziest thing happened. A couple of the trolls mentioned how state lines were a non-issue, and the crowd immediately divided and attacked each other. State-liners and federalists started lobbing grenades at each other, and, as far as I could tell from following the name-calling, it seemed as if they were all Communists, every single one, on both sides.

Then, about a week later, the urge to jump into the fray resurfaced, and I commented on a thread about the Jan. 6 trial (I KNOW, I KNOW). The same thing happened, but far worse in terms of the vitriol and the name-calling. And that's really all it was. Very little argument or substance, and a whole lot of hatred.

The scariest thing about it was the education that it gave me into who these people are. There were accounts with Confederate flags and other hateful or backwards imagery to identify the user's beliefs, but there were a lot more that went under the radar for me. I must have spent an hour or more looking up what an upside down American flag means and what a Groyper is. These people have their own underground system of signs and symbols by which they can identify each other, and, while it might look like gibberish to the rest of us, it is pretty frightening to think that they walk among us. A year ago, I might have dismissed them as wackos and keyboard warriors, but then the January 6 insurrection happened, and I realized that it really doesn't take much to mobilize them into violence. 

So, now I've seen the light. In the before times, when the world was young, goddesses still graced the earth. A trio of divine women, prophetesses who could see through the veil of time, gave sage advice to any men who would listen to their revelations. Sadly, most men ignored them, but their messages, sometimes cryptic, but always true, still light our way today. One such message comes to my mind now in this situation. The three women once said, "Don't go chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to." From now on, I vow to heed their warning and avoid the dark and merciless corners of the Twitterverse. Lurk and observe, perhaps, but do not interact. That way lies madness.