This morning I was reminded of how Twitter, like it or not, is just as manipulative as all other forms of social media. That’s not the fault of the platform, has very little if anything to do with the people who use it. What the above graphic reminds me is that how we as individuals perceive ourselves is often radically different to the view others hold. This ‘meme’ above doing the rounds right now is a case in point: you know how much I like a decent .GIF, but I’d NEVER ask other people to use one to describe me.
That’s because I understand that if I did, there’s the chance someone’s going to tell me the truth.
The main reason why ‘abuse’ is categorised as such by people is the level of hurt it is able to inflict. If you’re Twitter, for instance, for every 1000 ‘shut up and fuck off’ account abuse reports received there’s probably one that will be considered as a credible threat. The difference between casual abuse and a potential court case will also depend on the type of person being threatened, and I suspect it will take a high profile Twitter stalking (plus fatality) of a ‘normal’ person for that to change, if it does at all. The issue is simple: what you will class as an insult someone else might regard as funny. If you’re stalked obsessively for months, only then is it likely anyone might care. However, if you want it to stop? Evidence will have to stand up in court, and that could take years.
What has all this got to do with a harmless meme, I hear you ask? It is potentially more damaging when someone you trust posts something you don’t understand, or more significantly doesn’t post anything at all to a participative event like the Meme Game. You hope someone will, and then if that response is not what you’d hoped or wanted then BOOM it all goes Pete Tong in short order. I realised quite quickly as this meme gained traction that I couldn’t get away with just posting the .GIFs I wanted without explaining them to people who I know, after extended periods of interaction, don’t think the same way I do. I’m very big on .GIF use, but also like the moral ambiguity an image can bring, subtlety involved in being able to ‘read’ the visual in different ways. As soon as I realised the images I wanted to use could end up being considered as less than flattering?
Here is the inherent issue that has existed back since Usenet opened up the World to ‘group’ discussion: ambiguity. It will also have a lot to do with the intelligence of the person you’re posting to, their current mental status… and a ton of other stuff that you’ll never be able to understand until you’ve been a victim of abuse. That could be as simple as complimenting your breast size to threatening to set fire to your car. When those are the extremes of what is considered casual abuse on the Internet? You can see why a simple image suddenly gains a great deal of power. It is also undoubtedly true that however ‘good’ a friend on the Internet says they are, however close you might feel the connection, everybody has the potential to wake up and fundamentally change forever. Yes, this happens, people, and more often than you might believe.
Everybody has the potential to become a toxic maniac that stalks you.
There are an awful lot of assumptions about how you control what appears in Twitter, and many of them are not sound. This is not a place where you get to pick and choose what goes on unless there’s a lock on your account. The only means to ensure true privacy is by removing yourself from mainstream/public eye completely. Sure, you can choose to ignore people who don’t provide a phone number, but most victims know their attackers. Random is very rarely the problem. If you have to ask people to explain why they do things, it could well be that your actions also require assessment, and that’s a blog post for another day. In short, shit like this might start innocently enough, but in the end somebody always gets hurt.
If you really want people to describe what you are, just ask them up front.