Thursday August 25, 2022

Harry Styles has got it right about Twitter

Harry Styles has got it right about Twitter

Harry Styles

Harriet Williamson, The Independent

Ah, Twitter. The place for news, humour and views, and more views. A never-ending stream of consciousness, from the mundane to the inane — the carefully constructed jokes that seem so delightfully off the cuff, the inflammatory bad faith arguments, the equally frustrated and supercilious “you must be a bot” responses, and the men (it’s always men) drawling “if I can just play devil’s advocate for one minute”.

Harry Styles, musician, actor, style icon and internet darling, has addressed Twitter in the Rolling Stone profile released on Monday. He’s described as “not the most online person” — he has a Twitter account, not run by him, but still followed by more than 38 million people — and mainly uses Instagram for “plants and architecture posts”. He calls Twitter “a storm of people trying to be awful to people”—  and he’s mostly right.

The context here is the online treatment of his girlfriend and director of Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde.

On the other hand, there is really clear and base misogyny in some of the social media criticism of Wilde, and posts under the hashtag #FreeHarry, which promote a narrative that Styles is some sort of helpless child and not a grown man making his own decisions about who he dates.

Styles is correct about Twitter. It can be a swirling tornado of absolute awfulness, where people are lifted up as hilarious or important visionaries one minute, and ground beneath the heel of collective boots as the worst example of humanity in the next. It can be a place of unfettered horror and abuse, where strangers with anime characters as their profile pictures tell you how stupid and worthless you are, and describe exactly how you deserve to die. If you ever want to feel like your career’s decidedly lacklustre or your observations are deeply unfunny, there’s no better place to be doused in icy water than Twitter. Sometimes it has the feel of being a party of cool-kid commentators and professionally ironic people, that you’ve not actually been invited to but can watch with your breath fogging the glass.

Of course, Twitter isn’t all bad, even if it feels mostly so. The platform is an important tool for activism, and for amplifying the voices of traditionally marginalised communities. Blue ticks aside, there’s something democratic about Twitter – which is in itself a double-edged sword.

For me, Twitter can be a bear trap. The innocuous blue app icon crouches on my home screen, inviting me to drown in what the world is thinking. Yet as a journalist, I can’t afford to disengage. Although I cannot say in all honesty that I was there from the moment of its inception (the platform was launched in 2006, and I joined in 2013), it feels as if the little blue bird has been a constant presence in my adult, working life. As a freelancer, it was the best way of connecting with editors and colleagues, of finding case studies and reaching out to experts, and of self-promotion and building a personal *shudder* brand. Now, it informs commissioning and the topics that our readers are keen to engage with.

I’ve made a conscious decision to tweet less, mainly because of the impact that receiving a deluge of abusive and often misogynistic personal comments has on my mental health. I fell into the trap of pressuring myself to have an immediate take on everything that happens — it’s actually OK to be quiet, to listen and to wait and think more deeply before sharing a view. It’s also taken me nearly a decade of being “very online” to realise that I don’t owe anyone on social media an insight into my life.

Twitter is where nuance and sensitivity go to die. It’s more about shouting than considering, more about expansive performativity and doubling down on entrenched views than pleasure or human connection. It drains emotional energy — and yet its status as an addictive forum of public discourse means I can’t bring myself to delete the app. And as much as I agree with Harry Styles, I probably never will.

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