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Let's talk about #twittersilence

If you weren't paying attention (as I wasn't), an interesting thing happened over the weekend. A lot of Twitter accounts went silent to raise awareness about online abuse (specifically of women) and Twitter's official response to it, and a lot of people got angry about this... but not for the usual reasons.

Quick recap: After successfully campaigning to have Jane Austen put on the £10 note, Caroline Criado-Perez received a flood of rape and death threats, prompting many Twitter feminists to complain about the way Twitter regularly fails to respond appropriately to such situations. One response to this came from Caitlin Moran, who suggested that for 24 hours, people stop tweeting entirely to demonstrate what it would be like if the trolls and abuse-slingers had their way. Thus, #twittersilence was born.

There was... a lot of backlash against it. Just skim the top tweets. There were a lot of people talking about how we need less silencing of women, not more. There were also some people in favor of it for all the wrong reasons. (Actually, don't click that link.) In fact, even Criado-Perez decided not to participate, saying, "I have no problem with it, but not for me"—she prefers to "#shoutback".


There was a lot of talk about privilege: about how women of color and trans women have been dealing with this kind of abuse even more than most women, but their voices are routinely ignored by Twitter and by white cis feminists alike. Some (understandably) say that the solutions proposed by white feminists are likely to hurt those who receive the most abuse.

And a lot of that talk of privilege came back to Moran. I probably don't need to explain to you that her brand of feminism is focused pretty exclusively on white, cis, able-bodied women. (And moderately well-off ones, judging from her suggestion of how to fix Twitter.)

But there were also some decent arguments in favor of Twittersilence. There's definitely something to be said about the difference between being silenced and choosing to be silent as a form of protest, and how when being loud doesn't get attention, maybe being quiet will.


My favorite piece to come out of this so far is from Maureen Johnson (who is also the reason I knew this was happening). I particularly appreciated this:

It is IMPOSSIBLE for a few people voluntarily not tweeting for 24 hours to break feminism or the internet. Call it dumb, if you want. Call it pointless. Say it’s the wrong approach. All valid things to say. BUT IT WILL NOT BREAK FEMINISM. Feminism is not a piece of delicate porcelain. It runs deep in the bone and the blood. And the internet is like an ocean, and this ripple will be swallowed up by the movements and the waves. Being silent forever, or for an extended time, that would be bad. But being silent for a short, specific time could potentially amplify a message.


(It's worth reading the whole piece, in which she looks at a lot of the arguments against Twittersilence, including many about privilege and silencing. She also admits that she could have been wrong in participating, which I think is wonderful.)

There are a lot more things out there about this, and more being written I'm sure. The whole series of tweets leading up to the creation of Twittersilence, as well as Criado-Perez's response to it, is here.


So... thoughts? I'm not totally sure how I feel about it yet, personally. I like that it got attention as something out-of-the-ordinary (much like the SOPA/PIPA blackout did). But I also see the arguments about privilege and exclusion, particularly in something spearheaded by Moran.

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