American writer, feminist and ‘fat acceptance movement activist’ Lindy West has stopped using Twitter.
For five years she has provided political commentary, written jokes, shared insights into current affairs – for example what Carrie Fisher might have thought about Steve Martin calling her a “beautiful creature” who “turned out to be witty and bright as well” – all in 140 characters or less.
Twitter has been the “pro bono” work of her career as a journalist.
And, now, she’s logged off.
The breaking point for West was not the trolls: “If I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt,” she wrote for The Guardian.
Had it been the trolls – for example the men telling her they’d rape her if only she wasn’t so fat – she would have logged off long ago. No, West’s skin is thicker than that.
Her breaking point came from something bigger, and much more sinister than a handful of angry white men armed with keyboards.
She found she could no longer associate with – or “lend her name to” – a platform that enables hate the way Twitter does.
Like the schoolyard teens who watch bullies clean up in stolen lunch money, Twitter sits by and does nothing as a whole movement of "neo nazism" is formed.
West says there are communities of "racists, sexists, trans-phobic and anti-feminist isolationists", who having been testing Twitter's boundaries as they send messages of hate and misinformation.
"The 'alt-right' movement has been beta-testing its propaganda and intimidation machine on marginalised Twitter communities for years now – how much hate speech will bystanders ignore? When will Twitter intervene and start protecting its users?," West wrote. "It discovered, to its leering delight, that the limit did not exist. No one cared."
This, both the messages and the lack-of-response from Twitter, set a terrifying precedent: all of a sudden, hearing, seeing, even engaging with such fascist views was almost considered "normal".
Enter: US president elect Donald Trump.
"Twitter abuse was a grand-scale normalisation project, disseminating libel and disinformation," West wrote. "It muddied long-held cultural givens such as 'racism is bad' and 'sexual assault is bad' and 'lying is bad' and 'authoritarianism is bad'."
"Ultimately, it greased the wheels for Donald Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency. Twitter executives did nothing."
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West is not the only one who's frustrated. On December, 29 CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey tweeted: "What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?" Responses called for Twitter to "get rid of the Nazis".
Another writer, Lauren Hoffman, who writes for Vulture and Cosmopolitan, has compared it to meeting friends at the mall: "If the mall became a tacit endorsement of fascism I would keep the friends but stop going to the mall.”
In the end, West says, it simply feels "unconscionable" to be a part of an organisation that is the passive and willing enabler of such dangerous messages.
"If my gynaecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix," she wrote. "If I found out my favourite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether."
"I have to conclude, after half a decade of troubleshooting, that it may simply be impossible to make this platform usable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators."