The Things They Do - Weaponizing Twitter

I've been a social media maven for quite some time. When Twitter first started in 2006, I took immediate notice and a liking to the platform. It was a relatively new concept that was competing with the unlimited character communication of Facebook at the time. Limit words to 140 characters...egad! But we learned. We learned to be efficient with our words and to use the heck out of abbreviations. A unique language carryover from the pager days (...remember the Motorola Timeport?). 

Twitter reimagined communication in a new platform that allowed sharing. It was social media open to the public. Whereas Facebook felt personal designed for a family and friends circle, Twitter opened up the idea that it was a megaphone for the internet. You could say what was on your mind and voila, everyone would know. It is indeed a great tool, always has been. The trouble with tools, is that when we make them accessible, but don't show people how to use it, or bound people with restrictions, bad things can happen.

Fast forward to today. The now 280-character post social media platform has done a pretty good job of regulating the harm out of the platform through their Policies (HERE). I love the opening two sentences in their policies:

We believe that everyone should have the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. In order to protect the experience and safety of people who use Twitter, there are some limitations on the type of content and behavior that we allow. 

There is power in sharing. It is when the sharing of ideas and information becomes abusive, harassing, and harmful that Twitter rightfully steps in. There's also a little thing called the 1st Amendment Right in the U.S. (for the U.S. people). There's a fine line and a balancing act that Twitter monitors to insure that 

1- They're not infringing on someone's 1st Amendment Rights
2 - The user is not violating someone else's constitutional rights
3 - The user is not violating the agreed Terms and Conditions to have an account on the platform.

All three of those criteria help Twitter determine who should stay and who should either get a timeout or a good bye forever. Sounds dramatic but it is an important feature of the platform. Users must feel safe that they can share ideas and communication without being harmed by another user's attack.


The policies are in place to help the platform and communications move along in a non-threatening, safe way. Twitter is not the police. Twitter is not your mom. And Twitter most certainly is not someone else's mom. If someone says they don't like you on Twitter, that doesn't violate a Twitter rule. That's an expression of an idea, an opinion. That's fair game. If someone targets you by repeatedly messaging you, tagging you, threatening you, harassing you, etc., that is in Twitter's domain. According to Twitter's policy, 

RE: Abusive Behavior

In order to ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs, we prohibit behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.

Twitter Rules go on to spell out what they define as Hateful Conduct and the boundaries of such on their platform:

RE: Hateful Conduct

You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. 

What I love about the policy is that it gives an opportunity for people to report whether they were the target or the bystander. Twitter evaluates and makes a judgment call. Also know that

Twitter is well versed in the "Reports" that come through with bad intentions.

I've had the good fortune of chatting with Twitter professionals, and yes, they've heard it all. While the number of false or unsubstantiated reports come in are relatively small, they've seen them, and they don't waste anyone's time on the matter. Once Twitter reviews the complaint(s) and the user account or post(s) being reported, Twitter is really good at getting back quickly and saying why they will or won't take action on the account (pointing to their rules as the basis for the decision). The net to catch the nefarious reporter is in place as well. Don't worry, just because someone may not "like you" won't get your account deleted if they false report your activity. It just doesn't work that way. The Twitter Rules were written by people with sense.


Where I find the line becomes dotted is when people Like and/or Retweet posts that do in fact cross the line. I do not see a policy that protects against the SubTweeters that are too coward to draft the message as an original post, but seemingly all too proud to Like and Retweet a harmful or abusive post. This should be addressed. Liking and Retweeting harmful posts are the same as the original poster. It breathes life into the ugliness and that should have consequences. There is nothing normal, sane, or okay about Liking a tweet that wishes death or harm on someone. This is the part of Twitter that has slipped through the cracks and I would recommend an update in the policy to address.

I watch these silly "Twitter Beefs" over what I will say sound like the most insignificant topics and ideas. Relationship drama is a prime target for the ugly back and forth. Reading the vicious nature of messages when two people decide to air out their dirty laundry on the platform is eye-popping. And don't let folks start "Going Live" through Twitter's live streaming feature (Periscope), and the words leap off the page into a full blown soap opera. Whoa... is that what people are doing now? Again I go back to the fundamental way people regarded Twitter - like a megaphone to the world. Is this what you think the world is interested in hearing? and from you?

Twitter cannot and will not be the referee or the mediator for verbal disagreements. Twitter is not there to help you resolve your conflict. I see people get caught up in the drama of asking Twitter to "Fix Their Life" or problems like Twitter is Iyanla Vanzant. Twitter is none of those things. Twitter cannot heal a person, it showcases what people choose to post, that's it. 


It's an interesting observation that celebrities seem to get the brunt of the attacks on social media when it comes from multiple people. When something hits the news, the Twitteran (or Tweeple, or Tweeties, or whatever is your term) they step into the conversation in full force. It's disheartening to read some of the horrible things people say online through an account that is fairly disconnected to a real identity. here's a few:

  • "I hope you fall off a cliff and die"
  • "You are the biggest piece of s..."
  • "You can't sing worth a crap and should never open your f.... mouth again"
  • "Why do you even exist as ugly and fat as you are"
  • "Your wife and child should be raped a 1,000 times for choosing you"

If you believe what you read, people are unimaginably cruel. If you step into the wrong stream, you'll feel sick and dirty by reading the hate and filth that people attempt to spew. The irony is that the comments above came from users who kept their identity anonymous. That's the new dynamic in social media that we're in.

The stones and rocks are being thrown, but we can't pinpoint where they're coming from.

That's a serious problem. Twitter can shut down accounts that break the rules, but what is stopping someone from creating another? It's a scary time we live in that people dedicate so much time to hate. Luckily Twitter uses more than a name and email address "To Catch a Social Media Killer". The IP Address and other factors help pinpoint a user who is creating multiple identities to harass and harm.

Even in my own world, I've experienced hateful comments directed toward me in my inbox and on various social media platforms. I use the Safety tools to block and report the offenders, and things generally work out. If I find someone a threat, I take action. If I don't think you're a threat, I'll give you all the time, space, and opportunity to either tire out, or do enough that the police or other officials decide to take action. It's that simple. I don't sweat the small stuff. Going back and forth on Twitter (or any other platform) is small. Small time thinking produces small results. 




There's the example of Charlotte Dawson in Sydney Australia who was hospitalized after a suicide attempt that occurred weeks after being viciously attacked through the platform. Bullying is serious. The comments in her case were astounding. People wished death upon her, excruciating pain, karma, and the like. These people had never even met her! Why feel that way? She was a judge on America's Next Top Model in Australia when the attacks turned vicious. Perhaps she judged a fan favorite unfairly, who knows. But is it okay to take a Reality Show that far? To insert yourself into the Real Life of a woman on a television show? There's a sick mentality that tells a person this is acceptable.

To make this case worse it did not have a happy ending. The ongoing cyber attacks reportedly exacerbated her battle with depression. In 2014, the America's Next Top Model in Australia judge took her own life at the age of 41. Cyber bullying and attacks have consequences for the targets, the attackers, and anyone connected (even bystanders). The toxicity of cyber bullying can be so consuming, that it manifests into a terrible tragedy. When these attackers "Tweet then Delete" their attacks, the damage is done. They may have cleared away the message from view, but the damage was caused, the gun fired, and there is no taking it back. It is so incredibly irresponsible to just say whatever mean thing hits your brain, and yet people do it without regard to impact and consequences. 

A University of Wisconsin study was conducted in 2011 that found on average 15,000 Bully-related tweets were sent out daily. Yes DAILY. How's that for a dose of toxic with your morning coffee? What do you think the number is today? There is a common theme among those users endeavoring to bully online, it's not typically one statement, it becomes a campaign for them; a way of life. The Charlotte Dawson case is a prime example. There were particular trolls who spent a large amount of time gearing their messaging toward her. And again I will repeat, they had never met her.


No matter where the number is today, we know that bullying online is a problem. On the flip side, there are many eyes seeing the messages and people don't say anything. I cannot understand how you rationalize seeing hateful and harmful comments and you look the other way. But isn't that how many people react in society? They look the other way. It becomes so much easier to look the other way when you see someone going off the rails when you can just click away. Sadly we have increased the number of witnesses seeing the cyber shots, but have decreased the number of leaders willing to take a stand against the improper use of the tool. As an online community we have to improve. See something, say something.


I personally see nothing wrong with Twitter. It has connected me to some AMAZING people in my personal and business life. I love the fact that we are given the megaphone to speak. I also love the fact that Twitter is responsive when you have an issue, and resolves problems that they are legally able to resolve. Twitter is not a babysitter. Twitter cannot make someone like you more, talk about you less, etc. Twitter is a social media platform that offers 280 character posts in a blog style format. If you don't like what you see, Twitter does have a Logout button (that works very well) as well as a Delete Account button (that works very well). 

Would love to hear your thoughts. I've dedicated a portion of my speaking business to educating people on the platform and others so that they can have a positive experience. See you online!




1 comment

  • I absolutely loved this. Straight to the point. Twitter is not your mom or there mom, much less the police!
    Especially the part about;
    “If I don’t think you’re a threat, I’ll give you all the time, space, and opportunity to either tire out, or do enough that the police or other officials decide to take action.”

    “They” gonna learn tonight!

    Vickie Willoughby

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