I’ve only ever had one tweet that I felt was truly, unacceptably abusive. I had just got in from a long drive on the M25, and I tweeted a comment about it. Clearly ‘M25’ was a trigger word for someone, and I received a tweet that went something like: “You ******* ****, you want it. We will **** you ******* **** until you ******* ****.” I did what I’d imagine most people would do in that situation: I immediately hit the ‘report abuse’ button and blocked the account. (Interestingly, I had a look the other day and the account is still there, although it’s locked now. I was disappointed, since I had assumed that Twitter would ban the user.) I do, on the other hand, receive quite a few tweets that I find rude, or come into contact with tweeters who do nothing but reply to my messages with sarcasm or negativity. In those situations, the ‘mute’ button comes in handy. The person concerned doesn’t need to know that I’m not listening; I don’t have to listen to stuff I’m not interested in hearing. Occasionally a rude or sarcastic message will break through my ‘Wall of Mute’ and in these instances I sometimes use block. After a while it becomes very wearing to hear endless negativity from people you didn’t interact with in the first place.
If you have an opinion online, it is almost inevitable that you will bump up against people who disagree with you, especially if you are considered to be a ‘high profile’ person. But it is possible for people to disagree in a way that is positive, rather than negative. I have regular disagreements with several other Tweeters, but we never seem to come to blows. Jill Berry once told me that she thinks I am ‘brave’. I don’t honestly think that’s true. However, I do think I am good at (a) not caring what people I don’t even know think about me and (b) curating my feed. Yes, I find it frustrating when people are rude to or about me, when they misinterpret what I’ve written, or when they take offence and assume that I am talking about them. But that is part and parcel of being a writer. You cannot control what other people take from your writing – once you’ve published your words, they belong to your readers, not to you. It’s not possible to change the world, only to protect yourself from some of the extremes within it.
The thing to remember about the Internet is that it is not a playground. In a playground you have no choice but to bump into and listen to the other children. If the atmosphere turns nasty, you have nowhere else to go. One of the great things about the Internet is that it allows you to take control of what you want to listen to. This is not the same as silencing other voices, or refusing to listen to alternative views. Occasionally I hear via the grapevine that someone has written something rude about me, or that people are questioning my motives. This is only a problem for me if I decide to take it to heart. Just as I do in the classroom, I can use the tactical ignore and refuse to give attention to the attention seekers. I can mute, or block, or ignore. I do think it would be useful for people to consider how often other tweeters might be thinking things, but deciding not to tweet them. I also think we should tread gently, because we cannot know what other people’s lives are like. I’m not perfect, by any means, but I do my best. In education we are acting as role models for our students, so it’s worth bearing that in mind too. And I think it’s a great shame that people who are not as old and tough as me might get put off from commenting and saying what they think. But in the end, all I can do is curate my own feed, rather than worry about other people’s. And personally, I don’t curate my feed for content, I curate it for tone.