Yesterday I was asked what lessons I have learned from my four years of tweeting about Donald Trump, replying to his tweets, suing him for blocking me on the platform, and using Twitter almost solely as a means to engage with the President.
It was a great question. After giving it some thought, here are the lessons I learned:
1. Many people are genuinely afraid of saying anything negative to elected officials and other public figures via social media. This fear seems to come from one of two places:
Fear of sounding foolish
Fear of retribution
Lacking both of these fears, I had no idea that people felt this way, but there is also nothing wrong with fearing either of these things. Both are perfectly rational. But it made me realize how much your words can mean to others who feel silenced. The unexpected blessing in my ongoing Twitter exchange with the President was the enormous number of Americans expressing constant appreciation for my willingness to speak up.
2. Tweeting truth to power feels good. Elysha, the kids, and I marched participated in The Women’s March and Black Lives Matter marches during Trump’s Presidency, and that felt fantastic. We are card carrying members of the ACLU, and we call our lawmakers with great frequency. That also feels good. But knowing that the President uses Twitter personally and reads replies incessantly made me feel good when tweeting at him. He may have only seen the one tweet that led to him blocking me over the course of his Presidency, but there was always a chance – every time that I tweeted – that he would see my words.
That felt good. It made me feel better.
The silent scream is utterly unsatisfying. Knowing that you might be heard made all the difference.
3. When you tweet at a public figure, and especially Donald Trump, many people see that tweet. Since I almost never read the replies to other people’s tweets, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would read the replies to Trump’s tweets, but they do. My tweets would often be liked and retweeted thousands of times by people who supported my comments, and I would also receive scathing replies from his supporters. My tweets also appeared in several national newspapers, magazines, and online publications over the years in articles detailing American’s responses to Trump’s more inflammatory statements. It turns out that tweeting a reply to a public figure is an exceptionally public act as well.
4. If you take a position online, you must be prepared for negative feedback, and it’s almost never offered constructively. This goes for all online platforms. I occasionally get scathing rebukes in response to blog posts and my column with Slate magazine. Review of my books are not always kind. Just yesterday I was called disgusting on Facebook, and implications were made that I was stupid and unethical in my profession.
You must be prepared for this if you’re going to take a stand online.
But Twitter is the cesspool when it comes to these kinds of remarks.
Threats and name-calling are commonplace on Twitter for anyone daring to take a stand. I’ve trained myself to ignore them completely, never even looking to see what others are saying about me, and when I accidentally see a negative comment, I genuinely laugh at how I am stealing time and energy from the opposition. Oftentimes the harshest critics are also the dumbest critics, misspelling words, unable to capitalize and punctuate properly, and lacking a fundamental understand of logic, reason, and the Constitution. They say inaccurate and generally stupid things that I find utterly amusing.
Let’s face it:
If you’re trolling the President’s account in order to fire off insults at his detractors, you have a sad, little life, and you’re probably not that bright.
Keeping this in mind on all social media is very helpful. There are thoughtful, constructive critics who suggest that I look at an issue differently, but those people are few and far between. Most of the feedback comes in the form of purposeless, name-calling, hyperbolic comments that I almost always ignore, knowing the source, and often finding them sad and amusing.
5. Never engage with the trolls., Ever. If my goal is to tweet at Trump or Donald Trump Jr. or Ted Cruz or Mike Pence, those are my targets. Not the utterly irrelevant human beings and Russian bots who are lurking in the replies and retweets of these public figures, hoping to “own a lib” or “melt a snowflake” or demonstrate their rhetorical prowess.
Ignore these losers, for they are losers.
6. You must bend social media to your own needs and never allow it to bend you. This is the most important lesson I have for anyone engaging in social media in any way. For the past four years, I have tweeted in anger and outrage at Donald Trump hundreds of times, but always on my terms. Never when playing with my kids. Never when working on a novel. Never when I was inside the walls of my school or preparing lessons at home. Never when my wife and I were sitting side by side on the couch, watching a movie.
Trump received my attention when it was good for me. When it did not steal from meaningful time with others. When I needed to reply in order to feel better about myself as an American.
Tweeting at Trump happened while standing in line at the grocery store. Preparing breakfast for sleeping children. Walking my dog and feeding my cats. Idling in a drive-thru lane. Waiting for Elysha to purchase honey butter at the farmer’s market. Riding my exercise bike.
I always tweeted on my terms.
I never looked to see who may have replied to me or what they may have said. I never tweeted in hopes of likes or retweets. I made no attempt to garner followers. I carefully curate my Twitter feed to only include the Twitter users who are helpful to me:
Journalists who I trust. Economic reporters who I reply upon. Amusing people who make me smile. Authors who say interesting things. Scientists who offer the latest news on the pandemic. Reporters from my favorite sports teams. Friends who I love.
I do not allow Twitter or any other social media to consume me. I do not allow positive or negative feedback to reach me. I control the way that I engage with it, and I constantly evaluate to ensure that I am not allowing it to steal precious time or alter my mood in a negative way.
Social media is a powerful tool, but for many, it is a drug. A dopamine-reinforced, mainlined -to-the-brain drug that consumes so much of their life.
My suggestion is that you constantly evaluate your relationship to social media.
How much time am I spending? When am I spending that time? What do I stop doing to engage? How does it make me feel?
It’s easy to slip into a spiral of wasted time and negative emotions. It’s easy for these platforms to bend you to their will instead of the other way around. Objectively examine your social media habits and decide if the time spent is good and productive.
For me, the question is now what?
With Trump now permanently and legally banned from the platform, I find myself with nothing to tweet.
Do I simply use Twitter as the valuable news source that it has become over the years? Stop tweeting altogether?
Or do I transform my Twitter account into something more productive?
I’m considering using my account to offer storytelling tips.
Maybe provide advice and ideas for educators.
Perhaps become a resource for writers.
Or maybe present myself as a productivity, creativity, and happiness guru, which seems to slowly be becoming my brand.
Or something else? Maybe it could serve as an outlet for the standup comedy that I am unable to do during this pandemic. Or a place for parenting tips. Maybe I could live-tweet an entire novel.
I have many ideas but no certainty about the direction to take now. But the lesson here is a good one, too:
Be thoughtful about your purpose for social media. Make it work for you. Consider your options carefully before engaging. Be sure that social media is the tool and not the other way around.
Thoughts on what I should do? Suggestions on how to proceed? I would love to hear them. I’m all ears.
Unless, of course, you’re offering a scathing, illogical, misspelled rebuke. Then I’ll either ignore you or find amusement in your stupidity.