In The News

The good, the bad and the Twitter

This week, the 10th anniversary of the founding of the social network, we’re asking our contributors for their tweeting experiences – good, bad and proper weird. Today, Gabby Hutchinson Crouch on how, for her, it’s been a place of fun and opportunity.

media-998990_1920The month was February 2009 and I was an avid LiveJournal user getting active in the Star Trek TNG fandom, and enjoying Wil ‘Shut Up Wesley’ Wheaton’s blog. He was talking a lot about Twitter, which I had been resisting up until that point because you couldn’t just ramble on the way you could on LJ.

But… but on Twitter people off the telly seemed to be just chatting. Wil posted bits of jokey chat between himself and Brent ‘Data’ Spiner. Stephen Fry was in the news for live tweeting almost dying in a lift, causing naysayers to sneer at Twitter as the refuge of the mentally ill.

“Hey,” I thought – “I’m mentally ill! And I do like jokey small talk between people off telly from the 80s. Perhaps this is for me after all.” And that is how I became a part of the great 2009 LJ To Twitter Exodus.

I know that there is an abuse problem on Twitter. People have the luxury of anonymity and a ready audience; Dickhead Behaviour is guaranteed to follow. I’ve seen people taking pride in how many celebrities they can upset with horrible insults sent straight into that person’s mentions. I’ve also seen celebrities get their huge numbers of eager-to-please fans to pile on to an unsuspecting user who dares to tweet their name in vain – neither is a good look.

“I recently ended up with TV’s Dan Tetsell and I having a minor row with the official account for CBeebies’ Grandpa in My Pocket after they vanity searched and discovered us complaining about how aggressively they vanity search.”

We’ve also seen various people become very rich and famous simply by being as unpleasant and bullying as possible on social media, which encourages other hacks with little discernible talent to attempt the same route, leaving Twitter with a surplus of sort-of journalists and sort-of telly pundits in a race to be as horrible as possible about anything they can, in the hope of that sweet, sweet Daily Mail column in reward.

I get some grief on Twitter – everyone does. The strangers angry at me almost always have a flag as their avatar, or a picture of a middle-aged white guy in a hat. I upset a random middle-aged white guy in a hat about once a fortnight. It’s nowhere near the levels of vitriol some people get on here, so for me it’s pretty easy to ignore.

I mute fast, leaving them to whinge into the void about naughty women and lefties with our ‘rape is bad’, ‘racism isn’t nice’ and ‘pockets are good’ agendas (yes, I genuinely once had a man angry at me for a full day for tweeting that I wanted more proper pockets in women’s clothes).

I have also discovered after seven years of different avatars that I get a huge drop-off in the amount of aggro I get from strangers if my avatar and profile don’t immediately identify me as female. Which is handy to know, but very not good in terms of Twitter’s misogyny problem as a whole.

That said, my experience of Twitter has been an almost entirely positive one. I came for the chat between Star Trek actors and stayed for so much more. In the early days, hashtag games were my thing – silly, themed punning sessions like an extended I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue round.

I started making new online friends that way and talking to proper comedians like off the telly and that. Those early games increased my confidence hugely, as did reactions to my posting any old joke that came into my head.

Without that confidence, I don’t know if I’d have started submitting material to BBC Open Door shows and getting in to my career. Without Twitter it would also be harder for me to tell as a topical comedy writer which news stories are capturing public imagination, which jokes everybody’s already doing about said stories and generally which jokes of mine fly and which don’t.

I’ve won my husband two T-shirts and been sent free coffee on it; I’ve made important work contacts on it and met people who have become very dear friends on it.

But what I love Twitter for most of all is just how weird it is – and it’s always been this weird, right from the start, when I was sending Robert ‘Kryten’ Llewellyn a hand-drawn picture of him riding a wind-powered polar bear as a thank you for promoting my friend’s Charity Tweetathon.

“I upset a random middle-aged white guy in a hat about once a fortnight. It’s nowhere near the levels of vitriol some people get on here, so for me it’s pretty easy to ignore.”

Twitter’s the place where I can post a fondly mocking joke about Benedict Cumberbatch, which his friend sees, and texts to him, and posts The Batch’s weary response for him to see (I was FUCKING DELIGHTED about that, let me tell you).

Twitter’s a place where I got back in touch with an old uni friend, after our Twitter feeds were recommended to one another by TV historian Greg Jenner.

It’s a place where I once got a very flattering retweet off Mark Gatiss at 6am and my immediate thought wasn’t “HOLY SHIT, A LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN GENTLEMAN” but “Why is Gatiss on Twitter at this hour?”

It’s a place where I recently ended up with TV’s Dan Tetsell and I having a minor row with the official account for CBeebies’ Grandpa in My Pocket after they vanity searched and discovered us complaining about how aggressively they vanity search.

Twitter is, to me, still the ultimate meeting place. Yes, it has problems, yes there are abuse issues which seriously need sorting out, and also yes there’s also the issue of lot of people in their own self-cultivated echo chambers who get far too annoyed at stumbling across a dissenting opinion.

But for every rude tosser, patronising git, creep and aggressive stranger that decides to send me their unpleasantness there are hundreds of other people to chat, to laugh, to share jokes and art and observations, to offer help and information, even to put across a different point of view in a respectful manner. I still love it.

@scriblit

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Written by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.