Twitter, a bastion of 140-character snippets, photos and short videos, is at once both entertaining, informative, and, as Leslie Jones recently discovered, unruly and abusive.
Jones, one of the stars of the new "Ghostbusters" reboot, announced Tuesday that she was leaving the social media network after experiencing racial and misogynistic abuse she categorized as a "personal hell." The online bullying commenced after the film's premiere last weekend, with Jones finding herself inundated with tweets containing cruel, racially offensive and increasingly deplorable photos and comments.
While Jones both blocked the offending parties and re-posted their tweets in an effort to shame them publicly, the tide against her eventually became too much to deflect.
What Jones experienced is becoming an all-too-common thread on a social network that now has more than 310 million active users each month. At its core, Twitter is a wonderful way to succinctly express feelings, share events and connect with people. At its worst, especially for those in the spotlight, it reflects the full spectrum of humanity –– from the beautiful to the repugnant. Comments from the latter, as many of us have experienced, don't simply wound; they scar.
As journalist Umair Haque wrote last fall, technologies that devalue us will eventually lose value altogether.
"When the social interactions that it creates are little violences, then we can say that quality has fallen below the level that people will find much benefit in it," he adds in a post on Medium. "Such interactions become toxic."
Twitter has attempted to respond to abusive comments by suspending accounts (in Jones' case, the network finally banned the notorious bigot Milo Yiannopoulos), but the problem is larger than any software can fix. As Umair again points out, the social web offers the darker side of humanity a veiled mouthpiece from which to project abuse.
"The problem of abuse is the greatest challenge the web faces today," he writes. "It is greater than censorship, regulation, or (ugh) monetization. It is a problem of staggering magnitude and epic scale, and worse still, it is expensive: it is a problem that can’t be fixed with the cheap, simple fixes beloved by tech: patching up code, pushing out updates."
Sure, Twitter could hire an army of employees to track down and ban users intent on abusing others, but as Jones' discovered, it's likely a losing battle. Services that allow users to hide behind anonymous accounts will always be subjected to the very worst of humanity. We can block, counter and look to others to assist when the tide turns against us, but in the end, walking away is sometimes the best option.
Leslie Jones did the right thing. There's no value in using a service that comes to represent heartache and humiliation after each login. Her exit should stand as a reminder for all who continue to tweet to do so to celebrate and discuss, and not demean and hurt. The web is a wonderful tool, but we should use it to glorify those traits that make humanity so wonderful, and not vilify each other so as to make our flaws define us.