Eira Tansey

Posts Tagged ‘deeply-personal’

This machine coddles fascists (or, why I’m leaving Twitter)

President Trump has engaged in utterly disturbing verbal threats of nuclear war for months, and on January 2 he escalated it to this:

Despite Twitter’s recent efforts to rein in the hellscape it has created, it still gives a pass to the President because he is noteworthy, because of loopholes created for military and government officials, and because Twitter somehow believes that enabling bellicose threats is part of “necessary discussion.”

If you really want the honest truth of why Twitter will never ban Donald Trump from its service, you don’t need to read their public relations statements. Read what they tell the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Twitter is a company that measures its success by how many active users (measured by both monthly and daily metrics, aka MAUs and DAUs) it has. Looking at their most recent SEC filing, it’s clear that the company is working on increasing daily active user activity – likely because they’ve probably hit saturation points with how many new users are using the system. SEC filings require companies to disclose risks, and Twitter states:

If we fail to grow our user base, or if user engagement or ad engagement on our platform decline, our revenue, business and operating results may be harmed.

The size of our user base and our users’ level of engagement are critical to our success. We had 330 million average MAUs in the three months ended September 30, 2017, representing approximately a 4% increase from 317 million average MAUs in the three months ended September 30, 2016 (see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Note About Our MAU Adjustment” above). DAUs for the three months ended September 30, 2017 increased 14% year over year. Our financial performance has been and will continue to be significantly determined by our success in growing the number of users and increasing their overall level of engagement on our platform as well as the number of ad engagements. We anticipate that our user growth rate will continue to slow over time as the size of our user base increases. […] If people do not perceive our products and services to be useful, reliable and trustworthy, we may not be able to attract users or increase the frequency of their engagement with our platform and the ads that we display.

Twitter then goes on to state the following, something which is so brazen in its denial of the problem it has created, it’s actually kind of amazing (emphasis mine):

“[…]if we are not able to address user concerns regarding the safety and security of our products and services or if we are unable to successfully prevent abusive or other hostile behavior on our platform, the size of our user base and user engagement may decline. We rely on the sale of advertising services for the substantial majority of our revenue and a decline in the number of users, user growth rate, or user engagement, including as a result of the loss of world leaders, government officials, celebrities, athletes, journalists, sports teams, media outlets and brands who generate content on Twitter, advertisers [sic] may deter new advertisers from using our products or services or cause current advertisers to reduce their spending with us or cease doing business with us, which would harm our business and operating results.”

None of this is shocking or surprising for a company that notes the “substantial majority of our revenue is currently generated from third parties advertising on Twitter.” So when I see Twitter banning Next Door Neighbor Nazis and not banning Trump, I see Twitter trying to have it both ways: attempting to show they’re “doing something,” but also doubling-down on the fact that “world leaders and government officials” are the cash cows that keep on driving engagement. In other words, Twitter does not distinguish between any world leaders threatening nuclear annihilation and world leaders attempting to keep us from sliding into the gates of hell. They are simply content generators, like the rest of us, that lead to advertising. Global consequences be damned.

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After the 2016 presidential election, many people implored us to determine where our line was. To identify where angels fear to tread among where there be dragons. To draw a line in the sand. We were cautioned against letting the unthinkable become normalized, that doing so would be to cede the grounds of not only the American democratic process, but our basic humanity.

The problem with this framing is that it conjured up scenes of going up against the barricades, of hoping that the US would suddenly be inspired to go on a general strike when most folks had never marched around and chanted. It set up expectations that America’s citizens would run a marathon when most of us were still learning to walk for the first time.

Over the last year I feel like I’ve been plunged back into being a teenager – when my political baptism was protest against the Iraq War. My country invaded Iraq before I could vote. When I was 17, I somehow convinced my boring west-side-of-Cincinnati Episcopal church to kick in some money to help fund a bus of protesters to go to DC. I spent many dreary afternoons shouting chants on a street corner I can see from the windows of the library that I work at 14 years later.

As the war drums start beating again, there is at least one line that has become increasingly uncomfortable for me over the last several days. I can no longer use a platform serving as a propaganda outlet for normalizing and trivializing the horrors of nuclear war. This is why I’m leaving Twitter, after using it regularly for over seven years.

Twitter is clearly committed to amplifying the voice of a racist demagogue with impulse control and the unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons, and this is in direct conflict with my opposition to war and militarism. The President clearly has many platforms he can use to spread his propaganda besides Twitter – George W. Bush certainly managed to do so well before the advent of social media. By not shutting this down, Twitter is saying is that there is no line in the sand for them; that allowing their service to become a tool of nuclear propaganda is preferable to any possible alternative.

Nuclear proliferation is often discussed in coldly clinical supply-chain terminology. Some state acquired uranium, another is expanding testing of missile delivery systems, etc etc. What gets left out of deterrence game theory bullshit is that banging on the war drums constitutes a form of nuclear proliferation by repeatedly putting the option on the table. As we get further away from the cultural memory of what it means to industrialize war, to efficiently kill thousands (really, millions) of people, joshing about having a nuclear button that is “much bigger,” “more powerful,” and “works” just goes to show that the very person with the unilateral authority to annihilate much of the planet within minutes is treating global holocaust like a fucking game.

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Deciding to leave Twitter is not easy. I’ve taken several breaks from Twitter before, typically during Lent. After a while, I don’t miss it that much. But I’ve always hesitated to cut the cord entirely for two reasons: Twitter has undeniably helped me accumulate a lot of social capital in my profession, and it’s been one of the most efficient and fun methods of professional networking I’ve ever found.

Archivist Twitter is a real thing, and it’s been a huge part of my professional identity formation. I joined Twitter right around the time I decided that being an archivist was the career path I would set out on. I used Twitter to follow archives conferences before I started attending them, and then I used Twitter at my first SAA to network. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations that start “hey I follow you on Twitter…”

On Twitter, I’ve found professional development opportunities, cultivated new collaborations, learned so much about my profession’s history and culture, and forged affirming and wonderful friendships that are the real deal, with people I’ve broken bread with offline, who I know will be in my life for a very long time. I strongly suspect that a lot of the public profile I’ve built within my field has been thanks to my presence on Twitter. Walking away from that is really hard.

I know how silly this must sound to people who haven’t had this experience with Twitter. Even though I’ve received some pretty ugly harassment on Twitter, my good experiences outweigh the bad. And that’s why it’s taken me months now to come to terms with exiting a service that clearly does not give a shit about the safety and stability of the world at large. I don’t know what my career will look like without the networking and informational capabilities of Twitter, or how promoting my work will change without Twitter. That’s scary in a culture that emphasizes rapid engagement, developing a voice (the nice writer word for brand), and being easy to reach for any opportunity that might land in your lap.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Quaker war tax resistance. Not because I think my decision is on the level with tax resistance, but because it’s about withdrawing one’s personal participation in the normalization of war machinery. On and off throughout history, many Quakers refused to pay taxes that fund militarism. This has often been at great cost to their livelihoods, liberty, and economic security.

I find the history of tax resistance refreshing within a current leftist atmosphere that tries to decouple personal individual morality from the political organizing work of dismantling larger systems of oppression. It’s a mistake for us to assume that choices made to reflect a personal moral stance are synonymous with the organizing work that dismantles oppression. Sometimes it’s a good thing just to make a moral choice that allows one to live with an easier conscience, even if the only person it “makes a difference to” is a single individual.

The phrase “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is true. But it’s not an excuse to step away from examining one’s life choices, and too many people treat it as one. You must start somewhere.

We’ve confused Twitter for a commons because it is fantastic at helping us find voices we wouldn’t encounter otherwise, which makes it easy to ignore that Twitter has been enclosed from day one because its only real goal is to make money. To continue to participate in the only form of capital it has – regular participation that drives advertising – is to enable its continuance as a platform that trades in bigotry, undermines democratic processes, and now, reaps money from the proliferation of nuclear threats.

Lord make me an instrument of thy peace

Before going to bed last night I hopped on Twitter, and Twitter was doing what it does best: providing breaking news and commentary about a heart-rending story hours before mainstream news outlet picked it up. It was the mass shooting (which, I hope and pray will be investigated and classed as an act of domestic terrorism) at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect is a young white man, and 9 people have died as I write this.

This story is gutting on many levels. It breaks my heart to see a house of worship, often safe harbors for people sheltering from many of life’s storms, to be the site of such tragedy.

Many people on Twitter were saying many of the hard truths that this country — and specifically white Americans — need to wrap our heads around.

And here we are, repeating everything that much of America would like to think it solved decades ago. In particular, that an attack on a black church is terrifying precisely because it cannot be alienated from its historical context; black churches were routinely targeted during the civil rights movement, with the most horrifying act of white violence against black church-goers culminating in the deaths of four little girls.

It’s worth remembering that what’s happened since Trayvon Martin was killed is a sliver of the staggering amount of contemporary state-sanctioned and societal violence against black Americans since the passage of federal civil rights legislation. In my hometown of Cincinnati, you might know that fatal shootings by police officers happened a lot in the 1990s/early 2000s. But what’s happened in the past year is, without a doubt, a magnifying glass on how insidious and well-established structural and cultural racism continues to embed itself within America, and how saying Black Lives Matter is still heard by many white Americans as a statement, as opposed to a truth.

I think what marks the terrorism in Charleston as a particular zenith of horror is for many people, houses of worship are a bedrock of one’s community and an avenue for renewal. It’s bad enough that black Americans cannot walk down the street, spend time in their community, or be at home without being harassed, abused, and targeted by white and state-sanctioned violence. Targeting a church, a space that people rightfully expect to be safe in, and an important place in the history of black America’s struggle for justice, takes it to a whole new level of evil.

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And yet, as many people point out, if you know your history, a shooting attack on a house of worship is par for the course when hate-fueled people are looking for convenient scapegoats. This is not new, and indeed it’s happened several times in the last 10 years alone.

To recap:

In 2008, a Unitarian Universalist congregation was targeted during a children’s musical performance by a white man with “hatred of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and homosexuals.” Two people died, including “an usher who deliberately stood in front of the gunman to protect others.”

In 2010, abortion provider George Tiller was killed while he was ushering at his church, by a white man who had harassed and intimidated abortion providers since the 1990s. The gunman threatened “two others who tried to prevent his departure.”

In 2012, a Sikh gurdwara was targeted during services, by a noted white supremacist. Six people died, and the government treated the attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The president of the congregation died while trying to prevent the attacker from inflicting any further harm, and his actions helped many of the children get out of harm’s way.

In 2015, as the news develops about the Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston, we are seeing indications that the young man who perpetrated this act of terrorism also identified with white supremacy.

…and this short list doesn’t even begin to include the many acts of vandalism and intimidation against houses of worship, in particular black churches, mosques and synagogues, that are fueled by racism and bigotry.

We know in this country that one of the largest threats of domestic terrorism comes from right-wing extremists. These extremists are overwhelmingly disaffected white men who direct their anger at people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and non-Christian faiths. But what we talk about when we talk about terrorism and community violence does not seem to indicate that we take threats of domestic terrorism carried out by white men seriously. We perpetuate white privilege by treating white gunmen as lone wolves, or people who had “mental issues,” while we hold entire communities responsible to higher standards. The point is, white privilege gives white people the permission to be judged as individuals while it does not afford the same to others:

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I did not quite appreciate the reality of violence at houses of worship until I began dating my now-fiance, who is Jewish. The first time I attended services with his family was during Rosh Hashanah, and law enforcement was very visible walking up to the synagogue. Having grown up attending suburban Episcopal churches, this sight was pretty jarring the first time I saw it (and if I’m being honest, I still haven’t gotten used to it). I have a pretty small sample size, but visible security measures and/or armed law enforcement have appeared at every Jewish congregation I’ve had the privilege to visit so far.

What does it do to people’s spiritual health to have to contemplate their own physical safety while spending time at their congregation?

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I drifted away from any semblance of spiritual practice for most of my late teens and twenties. My parents  married in a UU church, and I grew up Episcopalian. My father  attends a notably progressive Presbyterian church. For years he has been involved with  anti-death penalty activism as an expression of his faith in action. I was involved with anti-war activism when the US invaded Iraq, and many of those I worked with came from a Catholic and mainline Christian social justice background.

For much of my adult life I’ve been a “devout agnostic” — contemplating the existence of God and spiritual matters seemed like a luxury, an unknowable question that distracted from working towards the “real” questions of poverty, war, bigotry, and environmental destruction. Even as I didn’t attend church or cultivate a sense of spirituality, I still silently prayed when ambulances went by, on behalf of whoever they were heading to. I’m guessing that when an ambulance is heading your way, it might be one of the worst days of your life. I have no clue if anyone’s listening, but doing it felt like the right thing to do.

I’m not sure what flipped to inspire a search for spiritual nourishment, but it happened at some point last fall. I think it was in the aftermath of Ferguson and a feeling of growing helpless rage at the trajectory of our country. I was angry so many friends of color were terrified for their own and their children’s futures. I was angry that my fundamental human right to control my own reproductive decisions remain under serious threat. I was angry that the rich were getting richer, that destruction of the planet was a key indicator of economic growth, and how very helpless I felt.

I’m still angry about these things. I show up and do the work of activism when I can, but it still doesn’t address my inner fatigue. I knew I needed to find a way to channel my anger constructively, or else it would consume me and prevent me from being the advocate and compassionate human being I want to be. I knew I needed a community, and something led me to a Quaker meeting. The Quakers were always on my radar because of my college-era anti-war activism. I’ve been attending a meeting for several months now. While I’m not sure yet if it’s a way station or a permanent home, I  recognize it’s filling a vital spiritual need for me, in a way that I never would have anticipated had fury and rage not flung me towards something bigger than my own helplessness.

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So where does this leave us? For those of us who incorporate aspects of faith in our lives, it seems that a universal value is challenging ourselves to bear witness to the suffering of others. The golden rule doesn’t mean shit if you’re willfully blind to the pain and agony of people who don’t look like you or live your life’s circumstances.

One of the most insidious responses you see whenever a national tragedy occurs is a rush to tell people not to politicize it. The problem is that bearing witness — acknowledging other people’s pain and agony — cannot be separated from “politics.” If a central article of faith is to do unto others, you have to square that with recognizing how privilege, systemic bigotry, and structural violence is used over and over to hurt communities who have asked you to recognize injustice time and time again. You cannot do unto others unless you recognize what is being done to others. You cannot bear witness until you learn how to listen as much as you learn how to speak.

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