The trouble with Twitter


This week I was called “a giant vagina” on my social media work account. I have never hit delete so fast in my life. As far as I know, no one in my ‘proper job sphere’ was aware of this indiscretion, which I hate to admit was all of my own making.

It all started when I decided to start being more “social” on social media. I need to build my professional persona, I told myself. I must put the pro in proactive and share my wisdom more widely with the world, I reasoned. So, instead of a half-arsed tweet once or twice a week, I decided to actually have an opinion. You know, attempt to have a conversation in 140 characters or less.

It all started quite well and my Twitter followers increased exponentially in a few short days. I had visions of hitting 200 devotees by the end of the week, and lord knows how many people would flock to my pseudo-witticisms by Easter. Thousands surely. Then, one day not long after my grand scheme started, my plan for a Twitter fiefdom gloriously, but gently, ruled by yours truly came spectacularly unstuck.

I read about a well-known Australian writer, who is also a well-known feminist who has, unlike me, tens of thousands of followers, and how she’d started a particularly interesting hashtag called #QuestionsForMen, which was a campaign to reveal the casual sexism that women experience every day, especially in their working lives. The concept, as you can tell, was about asking men the questions that women get faced with all of the time. Some of the questions put forward by hundreds of women (and men interestingly) included:

  • When you have a hostile disagreement with someone, is it common for them to say you’re angry because no one will (shag) you?
  • In a job interview have you ever been asked how you will juggle work and home?
  • How often are you expected to provide an explanation for why you didn’t change your name to your wife’s?
  • When you achieve something great, do you expect the female reporter to say, ‘give us a twirl, who are you wearing?’
  • If you take a leadership position, do you worry about being seen as bossy? Are you called bossy?
  • Have you ever been told your business ideas are cute?

Clearly I thought this had merit as I’d been on the receiving end of covert and overt sexism many times in my life – as I’m sure most women have. So, while sitting at my desk eating my lunch, I thought it might be a really good idea if I joined the fray. The hashtag had become its own story and was being reported in the news both here and abroad. Now was the hour for me to take a massive leap into the Twittersphere, I thought.

When I was starting out as a journo, I was often told “You don’t look like a journalist” when I arrived for interviews. What did they think I looked like? That is what I wrote, and then I sat there for quite some time debating whether to tweet it or not. In hindsight, my gut instinct told me not to, so to silence that annoying inner-voice, I removed the hashtag and decided to just send my insight directly to the aforementioned writer. I hesitated a little longer but then thought it’s now or never and hit tweet. I felt quite happy with myself for being ‘involved’ at the very forefront of Australia’s feminist zeitgeist. I was almost a protest-marching activist.

Within 30 seconds the reply came. It said, as you may already realise, “A giant vagina”. Firstly, I couldn’t believe I’d got a direct reply so I sat there filled with pride at being so very important. Then I re-read the words, especially the “v” one and hit the metaphorical panic button. Within a few seconds, I’d worked out how to “mute” a tweet from your timeline and the offending trio of words was duly banished.

I spent a few minutes wandering around the office telling all and sundry (apart from my boss) what had happened and was told by my more knowledgeable co-workers that I’d just been dished up a hefty dose of “Social Media 101”. My fatal mistake, I learned, was posing the question at the tail-end of my pithy observation. The question that prompted the “giant vagina” reply. Without that, my innocent tweet on a increasingly controversial topic would have slipped into the cyber-ether never to be noticed by anyone, ever. But no one wants that, right?

So, it seems, it’s a fine line between banal chit-chat and being called a vagina online. I’m still trying to work out which one is better.