Why I Left Twitter

Image Credit - wewillraakyou dot com

I get asked about this a lot.

I joined Twitter not too many years after it launched. Back then, there were so few of us on there that when I ran a search for ‘Ghana’, I would only come across NGO country reports, international news clippings with Ghanaian elements (like the ‘Mabey & Johnson’ story, which I subsequently chased up and broke on Joy FM), or kokonsa from the likes of my sister and her other early-adopter friends. It’s far more populated now and infinitely more interesting as a result.

I suspect I was the first DJ in Ghana to start live tweeting my playlists, something I started doing (first at Vibe, then at Joy and later at YFM) because ads and Live Presenter Mentions (LPMs) kept getting in the way of giving credit to all the artists whose songs I played. I talked about the platform so much that my bosses at Joy actually nicknamed me ‘Twitter’ and tasked me with drafting the station’s social media policy. I smile every time I hear a radio presenter read out a tweet these days. Back then, only a few presenters saw the point and it was a real struggle persuading most of my colleagues that Twitter wasn’t some dadabee fad.

Sometime last year however – a few weeks after attracting my 7000th follower – I deleted my Twitter account.

No announcement.
No goodbye.
Nada.

I was out. Why?

The short version: blame Elidot & EDVWN (and maybe Mitsifantsi too: my most unapologetically analog homie in the history of ever). I kid: they were as shocked as anyone else. That said, the long version does begin with the rambling conversations we’d have on the bumpy drive up to Ashesi every week; GH Twitter’s all-seeing Eye of Sauron at the wheel, me riding shotgun and Yung Fly-Lo in the back.

Twitter came up a lot.

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Ghanaians love humour. Kevin Hart’s is regularly the highest-ranked non-religious podcast listened to by Ghanaians on itunes. Make the mistake of watching a moving, Oscar-worthy, tear-inducing movie scene in mass Ghanaian company, and you shouldn’t be surprised when the solemness of the moment is ruined by someone making a joke – however lame – to diffuse the tension. We make jokes out of anything and everything: it keeps us sane through the daily insanity that comes with being Ghanaian.

The land of a million memes, Twitter is a funny place. The character limit lends itself perfectly to punchlines, and there are users on there who have built entire personas from wit. Which is all well and good, really (unless you’re Boris Johnson: a cautionary tale for every writer with more wit than foresight). But somewhere during my time on there, I also saw Twitter turn… dark. It’s hard to describe it in any precise way. My best attempt would be to say that something that started out as a hive started feeling like a pack. Sure: bees can sting (and I’ve done my fair amount of stinging too). Packs though? They can rip you apart.

There are so many thin lines on Twitter; between ridicule (healthy) and bullying (not so healthy), for example. I’ve seen arguments that start out constructively nose dive into something that looks suspiciously like trolling, which is something that happens on any platform. On Twitter though? No holds barred. I can quickly and easily shut down trolls who show up in my blog comments, for example. That is much harder to do in Twitter: just ask Leslie Jones.

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It’s not just the trolling though. At least that’s overt. There is something else on there that can change even activism into something less noble at times. Maybe it was people I was following who I should simply have unfollowed, but the crux of it reminds me of a close friend who avoids horror flicks, gory scenes and general violence; not just because they scare her, but because she thinks they slowly, insidiously run the risk of desensitizing her to violence and bloodshed.

Insidious (ɪnˈsɪdɪəs) (adjective )

Definition: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.

Example: “Sexual harassment is a serious and insidious problem” , “the insidious erosion of rights and liberties”

I started getting that feeling on Twitter. That and a depression of sorts. Something sinking. It came up time and again during those rides and conversations up to Ashesi, and with it, a slow-growing need to shield myself from it all.

The Weight of Expectation: at some point I cannot remember, the number of people who wanted me to follow them back, or who tried to guilt-trip me because I’d promote one thing/person and not the other, or who tried (directly or indirectly) baiting me into subscribing to outlooks on the world that don’t ultimately work became more irritating than they should have. Maybe it was cumulative. Maybe I was paranoid. Either way, suspending the account put an immediate end to all that mess. It actually felt good letting it all go.

Writing: I’d long suspected that my reduced blogging was partly because tweeting allowed me enough of an outlet to vent my thoughts and feelings on things I would otherwise have written about in long-form.

With all of these in mind, I decided one day – on a complete whim – to suspend my account and see how I felt about it.

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God, those first few days were surprisingly rough. I kept feeling the impulse to check on the Tweitgeist. I’d come across an article and feel like other people should know about it. Instinctively, I’d hit my share button and scroll through all the options Android gives you, looking for the Twitter logo… but alas, I’d deleted the app. I’d stare blankly at the phone, sigh, and keep it moving. This happened more times than I now recall. Twitter knows this and counts on it. You cannot just up and delete your account immediately: they suspend it and only finalize deletion if you don’t log in for

Four
Entire
Weeks.

I found it interesting just how entrenched my desire to share had become. I was born at a time when the internet as we know it didn’t exist. I started thinking about those born after sharing became the default, and suddenly started to understand why selfies, internet sex tapes, and Class Talkative had come into existence.

All the while, I had Elidot’s voice at the back of my mind, explaining (like the ZenGuruJediSageBuddhaMaster that he is) that virtual real estate was like actual real estate: it has value. And there I was, ready to swing a wrecking ball.

After two weeks or so, all those feelings and thoughts passed. The overwhelming need to share subsided. I figured out other ways to keep tabs on things (not Facebook: that’s another mess for another day). Elidot and EDWVN always filled me in on the rest. Some of it I missed, much of it I didn’t. I was surprised by the extent to which I didn’t mind being behind on information. I experienced a brief writing spurt but soon went back to my writing indiscipline, although I have since gestated about 150 ideas that all feel ready to emerge now. Two weeks later and the account was gone.

I miss it sometimes. Yesterday, a friend (who also recently left Twitter) mentioned a name I had not heard in awhile and I realized that our friendship had mostly gone down in the DMs. There are a number of such people. Beautiful, awesome spirits. I look forward to reconnecting with them in other ways. I’m not about to launch some ‘Leave Twitter’ campaign: no. Everything said, I still actually like Twitter. Overall though, I feel happy with my decision…

Or maybe I just needed a break. Maybe I’ll sneak back in under a pseudonym and make the occasional sagely observation, looking like I’m following no-one while actually tracking everyone through secret lists.

Or not.

Never say never say never.

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11 thoughts on “Why I Left Twitter

  1. Social Media can be overwhelming at times. I find myself logging out for a long while to actually LIVE a life. Later, when I return, I find my Facebook feed more organised with less clutter. As for twitter, it is one place that is easily hijacked by trolls. The Leslie Jones issue shows the people running the space don’t have any interest in curbing it. How could Jack tweet at Leslie asking her to DM him when all that rubbish was going on?

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  2. After seeing so many people my age get to an age where they quietly shut down their Facebook accounts or went off Twitter too, I realize exactly this same sentiment.

    I must confess I probably have a modicum of troll in me (Well, maybe more than a modicum), so I am sadly built for it. But even then, I note how depressing it all gets with the kind of information on there.

    I need to remind myself that the phenomenon, like Android can be traced back to iPhone 1, can be traced to the successful format that TheFacebook adopted. Then I need to remind myself that this was a platform created by a ‘dead eyed’, pasty, social outsider doing a double major in Psychology and Computer science; who has admitted to calling his followers ‘dumb f…s ‘–

    I feel that sums up the cynicism of the social network in general.
    Throwing people who of wildly varying view points into the same space with an opinion on anyone elses point of view.

    I only stick around because of the nature of my job, but it’s sort of like working with Asbestos.

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  3. Ha! Nicely written. That’s the same way I felt when I deleted mine in 2012. It was difficult in the beginning lol, just like how a coke addict feels when she is trying to go on the straight and narrow (not that I’d know, no drugs here please. …MOVIES).
    Deleting it was one of the best things that’s ever happened in my life.

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  4. Love it, and my immediate instinct upon reading this was I want to go share this on Twitter, and with one of my feminist techy listserves. Lol, the need to share great content whenever you read it. And welcome back to blogging Kobby. I’ve missed your words

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  5. I have come to resent the use of trolling to describe the deliberate maltreatment and gaslighting of others for one’s own entertainment or malicious contentment.

    I can relate to the discussion on emotional violence on Twitter. I have discussed this before, one of the down sides to being cyber bullied is that oftentimes,one becomes a cyber-bully themselves. (the most curious thing I saw in some of the studies). It is why I sometimes describe myself as the “often bullied sometimes bullier of people I perceive to be bullies”. Trying to figure out who is noble, is a messy moral question.

    But in defense of Twitter, it is the space of the marginalized. The issue with Ghana Twitter is about structural obstacles that keep our most marginalized from accessing that space. But Twitter has redeeming qualities. The culture on there shifts. For example, notable sexist slut shamers are now singing to a new tune, people who once boasted about access to resources now make “bank account dry” jokes. Topics of fat-shaming, rape culture, colonial residue/psychological impact are a regular occurrence and those who mocked those ideas now regurgitate them.

    Obviously from my subject position as Obaa Boni, it is not surprising that I take this attitude about Twitter. And I have no qualms with your personal decision to leave Twitter. Perhaps I will outgrow it. But the toxic culture on Twitter is a reflection of structural inequalities that give people with more social power the space to abuse people with less. Lesile Jones was abused for being a Black woman by “gamers” who are primarily white men. And Twitter just exposes it more (and perhaps produces it more). My point is it has redeeming qualities and has made knowledge productions more accessible.

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