At approximately 6:43 p.m. on Sunday night, a begowned Lena Dunham told E!’s Ryan Seacrest that she had deleted Twitter off her phone in order to “create a safer space for myself emotionally.” It’s a fancy way of expressing a well-trod sentiment: Twitter is, not infrequently, a quicksand of venom, hostility and general excrement — you’re better off walking around it than stepping in and struggling.
Consider Exhibits A, B and C: three tweets sent directly to Dunham mere minutes before she made her little anti-Twitter speech. They’re not menacing, by any means. They don’t rise to the level of threats or abuse that Dunham also described. (“People threaten my life and tell me what a cow I am,” she said. “… deranged neocons [say I] should be buried under a pile of rocks.”) But they are, simply put, not nice.
We spend a lot of time talking about Twitter’s abuse problems, which are both well-documented and widely decried. Discourse around women and Twitter, or people and Twitter more generally, usually revolves around the hot topics: rape threats, death threats, slurs, doxing, SWATing, what have you.
But focusing on extremes misses the middle; we forget, in other words, the daily drone of social media negativity that we — women, men, celebrities, normals — have long just accepted as par for the course. Social media can be amazing, as Dunham herself said on the red carpet. But these platforms, just by virtue of their openness and anonymity, also seeth with knee-jerk name-calling, with split-second outrage, with undeserved contrariness and critique. With people being plain old mean.
It’s a level of background spitefulness that falls well under the level of actual abuse — but still manages, on repeat exposure, to hurt.
There’s a sense that people, particularly famous people, are somehow obliged to make themselves available online; that we, the public, are entitled to their presence. Many members of the Twitter peanut gallery (and indeed, Seacrest himself) have responded to Dunham along those lines: toughen up, get over it, you should see what they say to me.
But — why? Dunham makes a striking statement here, I think: The social media hordes are entitled to say mean things about you. But no one is actually entitled to you, on social media or anywhere else. There is no need to “be tough” or “get over” Twitter, which is, for Dunham at least, a largely recreational thing.
At some point, she argues, it’s worth asking: Why are we here? What do we gain?