Two philosophers with relatively popular Twitter accounts have quit using the social media service in recent days, both citing the mental tolls their engagement with other Twitter users has taken.
A few days ago, Kate Manne (Cornell), whose tweeting about philosophy, politics, and culture, often on the themes of her book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny , announced she was deactivating her account:
Manne, who regularly and patiently engaged with hostile Twitter users about her work, was receiving additional attention over the past month or so owing to the relevance of her ideas to the nomination and appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Indeed, one of her last tweets referred to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford about Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault of her:
Manne was the fifth most popular philosopher on Kelly Truelove’s “Philosophers’ Favorite Twitter Feeds” list.
Folks, I think I’ll step away from twitter for a while. The norms of accepted discourse even among academics seem to allow for a degree of meanspiritedness, mockery, point scoring, snideness, etc it’s taken its toll. I’ve met a lot of really kind people on here. Wish you all well
— Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp) October 29, 2018
Earp was 35th on the “Philosophers’ Favorite Twitter Feeds” list.
Two departures is not sufficient for a trend of any sort (if you know of similar exits, let me know), but they are a reminder of the challenges of online engagement, both with the public and within philosophy.
Modeling exemplary discourse online can be exhausting and dispiriting. The sheer volume of nonstop communication Twitter facilitates can be overwhelming. It is not always easy to resist provocation from trolls-at-large and members of the profession who seem to enjoy being jerks. Plus, the public is so large, and individual conversations so small, that after a while it is only natural to wonder whether one’s efforts are making any difference at all.
As for what to do about the “meanspiritedness, mockery, point scoring, snideness” and the like that Earp sees academics accepting, I have no solution. However, it might be useful to keep a couple of things in mind as you engage online on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.
First, in almost all of these contexts, you owe no one a reply (or further engagement). So if you decide not to reply to someone because you don’t like their attitude, or you don’t think it would be a good use of time, or whatever, your decision is not in need of justification.
Second, it’s okay to not “win” online debates. Philosophers should already be comfortable with this but for some reason—perhaps because it seems more public—they are less comfortable with it in the context of social media. Remember that “I’ll think about that” is a perfectly fine response.
Third, try not to let what you take to be the bad behavior of others provoke you into engaging in bad behavior yourself. Don’t let the worst people turn you into a worse person. Be better than them, and try to take pleasure in that.
Further suggestions welcome.