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Opinion Why I’m not leaving Twitter

Photo illustration of Elon Musk and Twitter logos. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

To leave or not to leave Elon Musk’s Twitter — that is the question.

Ever since the megabillionaire took over the social media network, advertisers have bolted, and high-profile users have said they’re going to quit. It’s easy to understand why. Like an underworld god releasing monsters from the pits of Tartarus, Musk has reactivated the accounts of racists and antisemites including Donald Trump and Kanye West. And Musk himself regularly promotes conspiracy theories and far-right views under the guise of free speech.

One Twitter quitter is Jelani Cobb, a New Yorker staff writer and dean of the Columbia Journalism School, who recently made the case for why he was leaving the platform after 14 years.

Musk’s “reinstatement of Donald Trump’s account made remaining completely untenable,” Cobb declared. Furthermore, he argued, now that Twitter is a private company, anyone who tweets is essentially an employee. “Twitter is what it always was: a money-making venture — just more nakedly so,” Cobb wrote. “And it now subsidizes a billionaire who understands free speech to be synonymous with the right to abuse others.”

I’ve talked to many well-meaning liberal friends who, like Cobb, want to protest Musk with their feet. So they’re leaving what they believe is a deepening cesspool for the safe, gated digital suburbs of Mastodon or Post.News.

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I’m happy to set up accounts there, too. But I’m not leaving Twitter.

If there’s a group that should be fleeing Twitter, one would think it would be Black women. An analysis by Amnesty International and Element AI found that Black women were 84 percent more likely than White women to receive abusive and hateful tweets. At this point in my career, I’ve been threatened with rape and called the n-word more times than I can count. I’ve had authoritarian and supposedly liberal governments attack me online. And that doesn’t include the tweets from professional, blue-check-marked figures who have condescended to me and belittled my work or expertise.

Twitter has always been a snake pit catering to the worst of human impulses. It rewards the most extreme viewpoints. And it has reinforced our society’s race and gender caste divides, making the space safest for White people at the top (especially men) and more brutal for Black, Brown and LGBTQ people at the bottom.

Yet lately, it is mostly White Twitter migrants who have flocked to places such as Mastodon to escape Musk.

Here’s the thing: In real life, Black women have not had the privilege of retreating every time things get tough or our spaces get taken over by rich, obnoxious White men. For years, via Twitter, Black women have been sounding the alarm about having targets on our backs. We’ve protested, we’ve resisted. Yet it took Musk, the rise of blatant antisemitism and elite men feeling uncomfortable to finally prompt more widespread protests and, now, an exodus.

I agree that staying on Twitter to engage in battles with trolls isn’t “resistance.” But building community and mobilizing resources are.

Twitter is probably the only global digital platform where elite institutions and powerful individuals share space with marginalized people, including the working and lower classes. It has the power to quickly focus enormous amounts of attention on crucial issues.

I’ve seen people use Twitter to raise funds for mutual aid groups and disaster recovery. Disabled people have called Twitter a lifeline of networking and support. And just recently, the case of Shanquella Robinson, who was killed in Mexico while on a trip with friends, would not have gotten mainstream attention if it weren’t for Black Twitter.

Twitter hashtags have been used to help organize, mobilize and amplify the biggest peaceful resistance movements on the planet — movements that, by the numbers, have dwarfed white supremacist rallies and the raging crowd at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Twitter has also been a powerful tool for accountability, especially for Black voices challenging harmful narratives out of major media institutions. And on a small, personal scale, it can be revolutionary, allowing individuals to form life-giving relationships with people they otherwise never would have met.

I know Twitter is no substitute for on-the-ground activism and deep engagement with weighty problems. And it’s always risky to become dependent on a platform one doesn’t own. But as the times ahead get more challenging, the last thing liberals should do is abandon the potent tools at their disposal — even if those tools aren’t perfect.

People on the right know well how to exploit every instrument of social and cultural power. Sadly, the left seems not to have figured this out. Liberal inaction and retreat do not bode well for anti-racist allyship or “resistance.”

So yes, I will go down with the Twitter ship. I’m not interested in hyperfocusing on the antics of one rich man. Instead, I’ll train my attention on the energy, creativity and beauty of the communities that have made Twitter my digital home for the past decade. The racists, fascists and trolls haven’t stopped me before. We shouldn’t let them stop us now.

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