All journalists have complicated relationships with Twitter. For black journalists, the relationship is particularly full. For black female journalists, it’s really treacherous.
Journalists are involved in disseminating information. Some of it they find themselves. Other information they simply find interesting. As an opinion journalist, I place extra emphasis on analysis and interpretation.
We can disseminate this information through our media companies, but there we must direct our thoughts through the editorial architecture of the publication we work for.
Social media offers an extra, instant outlet for short shots and hot shots. It’s a way of keeping track of what other journalists, news producers, and news organizations are publishing.
People who are interested in what we have to say can follow us individually without having to subscribe to our publications. Twitter was for me a direct contact to readers and viewers. And it was useful in many ways. I could try out a thought or crowdsource editing process. Eagle-eyed readers occasionally caught something – a typo or even a factual error – that I had overlooked.
Social media also gave me the opportunity to follow friends, to follow their lives in a way that was not possible before. I was now reminded of more birthdays, so more wedding photos and could send more condolences.
For some people, including activists and members of marginalized groups, social media is where they found their community, their tribes, and it was here that they organized themselves to fight back. It is hard to imagine the success of recent protest movements without social media there to publish videos of state violence and abuse that help their content spread and ignite justified indignation and indignation.
There were clear positive sides. But the negatives were genuine and abrasive.
Social media is full of hate speech, bots, vitriol, attacking armies, screaming and people living for the opportunity to get angry.
For people like me, that meant spending half my time on Twitter on any given day blocking and ignoring accounts. It is not because I am fragile or dismissive of opposing views, but rather that much of what I saw clearly turned into hostility and sometimes harassment. I can not even count the number of racist slanders that have been directed at me, or attacks on my sexuality or allusions to my family. And of course, there is the occasional threat of violence.
For black female journalists, it’s even worse. A survey of 778 female journalists and politicians posted a few years ago by Amnesty International found that they received “abusive” or “problematic” tweets once every 30 seconds, and that “black women were disproportionately targeted, “84 percent were more likely than white women to be mentioned in offensive or problematic tweets.”
As a journalist, you need to start weighing the pros and cons of this very abuse. You will not let anyone believe they are driving you away from a platform, but there is also a bigger idea, a bigger idea: Your right to live and work in peace – or at least an approximation of peace – is valuable and deserved of protection.
A few years ago, I withdrew from Facebook. I started using it primarily as a place to post my columns and TV appearances and to promote upcoming speeches or come up with career announcements.
I made the decision not to produce new content for the site. It was not as definitive as deleting the app, but it was my way of letting go.
(This, of course, was not entirely consistent; I still use Instagram, which is owned by Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, the same company that owns Facebook.)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about retiring from Twitter. And I’m not the only one. Other journalists have tried to find their own ways to withdraw from the page. In 2020, the Poynter Institute wrote that “a growing group of journalists have cut back on Twitter or completely abandoned it.” The institute described one of these journalists as being “motivated by a long-standing feeling that it was not compatible with his emotional and intellectual well-being.”
In 2016, I reported a troubling tweet to Twitter moderators. I had interpreted it as a threat to shoot myself. Twitter responded with a form letter saying“We have reviewed the content and determined that it was not in violation of Twitter rules.”
So at the beginning of last month, guidance came from management at The Times to “reset” our approach to Twitter. In it, they acknowledged that “for many of you, your experience of Twitter is shaped by harassment and attacks.”
Now it is “purely optional” for any Times journalist to maintain a presence on Twitter and other social media.
Then came word of Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter and the possibility that the app could become even more of a drain. That was enough for me. I decided to put Twitter in my Facebook category: to stop producing original content for it and only use it for content announcements I produced elsewhere.
It’s my way of retiring. And I like it. I’m still recording my thoughts, but what would have been tweets are now notes, notes that I can think through more thoroughly, notes that can turn into a column or a book, or a commentary on television.
It feels better to me, more clarified, more thoughtful. I no longer feel so strongly the addiction that social media generates. I slowly return to me, the person, and away from the persona.