Yesterday (and for many days before because the world is garbage), Leslie Jones was accosted on Twitter by racist freaks who ultimately made her life a living hell.
The comedian shared with her followers the abuse she’d been subjected to for weeks upon weeks, and when told to just block and ignore, she laid it out clearly.
“Stop saying ignore them or that’s just the way it is,” she tweeted. “Cause that’s bullshit. Everybody knows an asshole check them for their hate.”
“And for all the “don’t stoop to their level” people,” she continued. “It’s way past that. So please have a seat. Don’t tell me how to react.”
And, like, fucking duh. If somebody is being harassed and abused by the lowest type of specimen, none of us get to waltz in and say, “Whatever, it’s fiiiiiiine — just do this!” because guess what: fuck off. If you scroll through Jones’ feed (where she was sharing and RT-ing her abuse), you’ll be appalled. You’ll feel sick. You’ll feel angry and sad and also not at all surprised because if you’ve been paying attention to how the world works, you will know that a) racism is rampant, b) trolls are real, and c) cruelty is a currency. Which brings us to our next point: what do we do about this?
That is a terrific question that Leslie Jones herself asked. So a Twitter spokesperson issued the following statement to Buzzfeed:
“This type of abusive behaviour is not permitted on Twitter, and we’ve taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others,” they said. “We rely on people to report this type of behaviour to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”
Well . . . um, yeah? But what Jones has just suffered through isn’t exactly a blip on the 140-character landscape. In fact, if you’ve ever tweeted about anything in any capacity, you’ve likely been subjected to a few terrible words — and then, if you’re not a straight, cis, white male, you can multiply those terrible words by about a million. (And #NotAllMen, I know. Relax.) Friends of mine have left Twitter completely. Some have had to take a break due to the abundance of rape threats they’ve received. Leslie Jones — one of the most brilliant comedic minds on the planet — was viciously abused for days and days and days because she is a black woman who dared showcase how smart/talented/wonderful she is. Twitter is great for a lot of reasons, but in terms of having the backs of people who are, 1) not assholes, and 2) creating important conversations about shit that matters, Twitter’s acting like the grimacing Emoji face. It’s standing there saying, “We’re trying” but . . . trying how?
Here’s where you can’t win them all, Twitter. Mainly: if you want people — real people — to feel safe on the Internet, you have to cut off the crew of racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/etc. monsters whose lot in life is to bring other people down. It means taking a user cut while you amputate the extension of the app that is poisonous, so the rest of us can survive. It means demanding accountability and it means refusing to tolerate even a second of abusive behaviour. A few weeks ago, Maris Kreizman tweeted her concern over Trump’s use of the Star of David in his anti-Hillary propaganda. For days, she was subjected to anti-Semitic rhetoric that went largely unchecked because after reporting the death threats (among others), users weren’t considered abusive enough. It was terrible. It was scary. And it was also standard.
We can only cope for so long in our own ways before we need Twitter itself to show its loyalty to real people with hearts and minds. (Like, I will block shitheads to high heaven, but they truly spawn like snakes from Medusa so it’s getting a little daunting.) Freedom of speech is an important thing, but Twitter is a community you sign up for and enter into a contract with that includes the promise not to abuse other people or act like a dicktree. Think of it like a house. As in: I can’t call for the abolishment of freedom of speech (no matter how much I disagree with what’s being said) in a public space, but you sure as shit aren’t going to bring that noise into my house.
So Twitter, you need to up the standards for your own place. Maybe think of yourself as the host of a party (sure) where if Guest 1 started berating Guest 2 because Guest 2 was a woman or a person of colour or queer or trans, you’d say, “What the fuck is your problem, Steve, shut up or get out.” You wouldn’t stand there shrugging over the situation while saying, “I don’t know!” in a laughy tone and nervously avoiding worried glances. When abusers feel safer than the people they’re abusing, that is a problem. It is the problem.
It is wonderful that out of Leslie Jones’ terrible day, #LoveForLeslieJ rose from the ashes. But it sucks that hashtag even had to exist under these circumstances. It should’ve existed because she’s fucking brilliant. Yesterday, Twitter failed Leslie Jones. Which is even more frustrating, because it didn’t have to.