I’ve contemplated writing about this for a long time. As some of you will recall, I wrote a post back in July basically calling all atheist tweeters assholes (what do you want, I was drunk!). Since then, I’ve spent some time thinking in more depth about what we “do” on Twitter.
Let me start with the obligatory disclaimer: I am not here to tell anyone what or how to tweet. At all. Ever. Under any circumstances. In fact, if anyone DOES tell you how to tweet, I suggest you tell them to kindly fuck off. It’s your account- of course you should do with it as you see fit. But, as you are no doubt aware, I have opinions, and tend to take to my personal blog to express those opinions. I don’t expect anyone to necessarily agree with me, but if this blog greatly offends you- too goddamn fucking bad. Fuck off back to twitter with your hurt feelings.
As you all know, there is a very common “method” used by atheists on twitter- to seek out theists who have said something dumb about atheism, to quote that dumb comment, and add their own comment- often mocking, or correcting, what that theist has said. We’ve all seen this. Most of us have done it at one point or another. I have followed and still do follow many people who employ this tactic.
Some will tell you they have the pure as fucking snow intention of simply trying to educate or change minds. That’s a lovely goal, if you have it. However, I am unconvinced that finding a dumb statement, and adding “#Moron” or “Have you hit your head?” or “Are you on drugs?” is actually said with any intention of “educating”. These tweets are clearly made in an attempt to be funny. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining. If this is your style, then by all means, carry on. But at least have the honesty to admit what you’re doing- making a joke. Not trying to educate.
I used to do this. However, I came to the realization that making these jokes was not worth it for the result I saw quite commonly- the theist in question was suddenly the centre of obviously unwanted attention, and being tweeted by people they’d never spoken to about some off the cuff remark they had made and probably thought nothing of. As you know, these responses from other atheists are sometimes quite rude, insulting, etc- which obviously none of us want. But other times it’s just them being infiltrated with mentions they have no interest in seeing, whether they are insulting or not. Why would I want to be the reason they were exposed to that unwanted attention? I don’t. It doesn’t sit well with me- so I don’t do it. If you draw the line somewhere else, that’s understandable. Obviously, I am not responsible for what other people tweet, and neither are you. But I can recognize that if, for example, I hadn’t quoted that theist who said “Atheists are angry!”, they would not have been inundated with dozens of unwanted tweets and unwanted attention.
Apparently, the opinion that we can all be nicer, is a rather controversial one. Here are just a few of the responses I have seen to it:
“Twitter is a public forum! If you tweet, you want your tweets seen by as many people as possible!”
Yes. Twitter is public. We all know that. However, I’d doubt that most people would expect, after tweeting a poorly thought out statement about atheism, to be ridiculed, mocked, and insulted by a barrage of ‘angry’ atheists. In many cases, I doubt they expected anyone besides their 100 followers to see it. Very, very few of them are hurting anyone, and I can’t understand why we can’t just leave them be.
“Then they should lock their accounts or write in a diary!”
I won’t lie- statements like this irk me. Everyone should feel free to tweet their thoughts on their own personal twitter page. For us to seek them out, mock what they’ve said, and then tell them essentially to suck it up or get off twitter, screams “bully” to me. I know, atheists are terribly offended at the notion someone thinks they display bullying behaviour. Well, sorry, but I don’t really give a fuck. That’s my opinion. You may well harbour a different view- that’s what makes us all individuals. It’s also rather ironically amusing to see people complaining that subtweets and rants are “mean”, while consistently badgering theists who are minding their own business and really hurting no one by saying something silly about atheism. I guess I’ve come to see that in some cases (not all, to be sure), we are more than willing to dish out the criticism, and justify it by saying “twitter is a public forum”, but can’t handle that same criticism when it comes back to us.
“Mel, your tweets get RT’d into theist timelines and they are probably SUPER offended!”
I’m sure they do get RT’d into theist’s TLs from time to time. If a theist happened upon my page I have no doubt they’d be offended at the things I say about religion. The point is that we all have personal boundaries that we draw for what we feel is acceptable and unacceptable. I feel I am well within reason to tweet whatever the fuck I feel like on my own page- whether that be pointing out absurdities in religion or making fun of facebook and Nickelback- as is anyone else. That is my entire point- we should all feel comfortable tweeting exactly what we want on our own pages, whether we are atheists, theists, or anyone else. I do not feel like it is reasonable to seek out people who are minding their own business, albeit saying something silly about atheism, and mock them, or expose them to people who will no doubt mock them. To my mind, there is a very clear and obvious difference, here.
“You tweet Joyce Meyer and the Pope all the time you dumb hypocrite!!!!!”
Yes. I do. This is another situation in which I feel the line is quite obvious, but allow me to explain. For one, I doubt very much any of the relatively “famous” theists I tweet even run their own accounts, let alone sift through the no doubt thousands of mentions they get every day. Second, these people are in the public eye, and face this kind of opposition frequently. Lastly, and most importantly, many of them profit off of this kind of misinformation. Many of them expose others to the ignorance they proudly parade on Twitter, and suck them into that same vortex of ignorance. These people have carefully considered their positions and would no doubt stand by them when challenged. These are not 18-year-old theists who tweeted something without thinking to their 75 followers and are suddenly inundated with unwanted attention. Again- this is a clear and obvious difference, to me.
I, like most of you, am constantly trying to make myself better. I am not perfect. But I’m trying. In this case, I have reached the conclusion that the benefit of having people laugh at a joke I’ve made at the expense of someone else is not worth the cost of potentially upsetting that person or giving them unwanted attention. And to be quite honest, I’ve found that people respond far better to well thought out or amusing stand alone tweets than any tweet making fun of a theist.
So, what’s my point? My point is we can all stand to be kinder. We can all stand to be more mindful of what we say, who we say it to, and what our personal motives are for saying those things. We can consider what the benefits and costs are of mocking complete strangers online. And overall, my point is that minds do change. They change through intelligent discussions, through education, and through experience. But I remain entirely unconvinced that they change through mockery, insults, and ridicule- on Twitter, or anywhere else.