A few weeks ago, I made a couple thousand men on the internet very angry; angry enough to bombard my Twitter account with hundreds of angry replies an hour. I tried to block the most toxic accounts at first, but figuring out who to block and who not to block meant reading each tweet. After a handful of particularly unsettling threats on my life, I decided the best method to protect myself was to delete Twitter off my phone. Saying goodbye to the network was the best decision I'd made for my mental health in years. That I recently reinstalled the app is confounding.
I understand the following might sound like the rant of a public figure, but I'm barely that. Compared to even the least popular reality star, my Twitter following is a percentage of a percentage. And in a world where everyone on the internet gets their 15 minutes of fame, if you're accessible on Twitter, everyone becomes a potential target.
I don't smoke, but I do tweet. Whenever stress nips at my neck, I unsheathe my iPhone, open Tweetbot, and scroll through the timeline. In the early days, I only needed a Twitter break a couple times a day. I can't place when the habit became a full-on addiction, but earlier this year I found I couldn't get through a commercial break without checking in on the world inside my smartphone.
I don't smoke, but I do tweet
I was proud of myself for deleting the app, but I also felt sick. I fidgeted like a child who no longer had his security blanket. The first night, I woke up to use the restroom and became irritated and confused when I couldn't find Twitter on the phone. Who had deleted it? Oh yeah, I had.
For a couple days, I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about how I would do my job without constant updates about the rest of the world. Without Twitter I felt disconnected, but with Twitter I hated myself.
As happens in most stories about quitting an addiction, things eventually got better. By the third day, I no longer turned to my phone in moments of stress. I realized I'd often turned to Twitter to make me feel good, but the app actually worked more like emotional roulette: maybe I'd win big and learn about some brilliant new animated movie from Germany, or maybe I'd lose it all and get an anonymous message threatening to force a tire iron down my throat.
Without Twitter, I regained some control of who and what affected my daily life. Looking up from my phone, I remembered how apathetic the thousands of New Yorkers I see on a daily basis are about my existence. After being attacked every day of every week for almost six months, I'm perversely grateful for the opportunity to disappear.
Using Twitter is like emotional roulette
After a day or two, I returned to Twitter on my computer. I began loading Twitter at work and once or twice in the evening on my laptop, surfing past cruel comments and chatting with the many colleagues and friends I've made through the platform. That communication is what eventually inspired me to reinstall Tweetbot on my phone. In the past couple weeks, the angry tweets have slowed. The game of Twitter roulette changed, and my odds of taking away something positive from a quick glance felt pretty darn good. Tweetbot returned to my phone.
As they had before, commercial breaks disappeared, but so did coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, and entire lunch breaks that were just excuses to read about the weather in San Francisco or learn about the Golden Globe nominees at the exact moment of their announcement. My wife noted how I became distant in conversations again, but this time I could feel it, like my body was at the dinner table, but an invisible hand had wrapped around my ankle and was slowly, but powerfully tugging me away.
I believed the worst of Twitter to be enduring its most hateful members, but for me the problem is even broader. Good or bad, what happens on my phone changed how I behave away from my phone. If someone attacks me, I shut down. And if someone says something funny, shares an interesting link, or posts a GIF, it pleases me — but only me. While I'm supposed to be on the level of the people around me, I'm often riding an emotional roller coaster thousands of miles away. "What's so funny," my wife asked while she was making dinner and I was scrolling through Twitter. "Oh it's this thing," I said, "I can't really explain it."
And yet I didn't delete the app again. Not right away. Not until today. Honestly, I didn't delete the app until I jotted down the first line of this piece, which I'm writing for you, but also for myself and my well-being.
I know I need to be on Twitter for work, and I would hate to lose contact with the wonderful people it has introduced me to. But I no longer feel safe when I'm on Twitter. I am convinced Twitter has no interest in my safety. Every attack I've reported has been met with the corporate-speak equivalent of a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. And I'm not the only one who Twitter doesn't seem to feel the need to protect. I'm one of many. The company made a big show of its improved tools for reporting harassment, but when wishing someone's wife and family die doesn't count as harassment, what's the use of the tools?
And even if Twitter was the happy paradise it pretends to be, it's still distracting me from the paradise I've too often ignored: the musicians on the subway, the co-workers in the break room, and my wife and friends at the dinner table.