Why Twitter Needs to be More Proactive when Users are Targeted

 

This blog has been on semi-hiatus for a while now, since I overbooked myself and participated in seven conferences in eight months between November 2021 and June 2022 (something I’ll probably write about later). I took a well-needed break. But I’ve been prompted to return thanks to recent events on Twitter.

This past week I (among many others) was targeted by an alt-right conservative account on Twitter. This person decided to screenshot scholars Twitter profiles and post them to his own account, highlighting (literally) all the things he found in our bios that indicated, to him, that we were ‘defiling’ Classics. He then tagged us in these posts. Things that were highlighted included subfields that he felt were inappropriate for ‘proper Classics,’ such as gender and sexuality studies, whiteness, blackness, diversity, and equity. Any pronouns listed in the bios were also highlighted. It is probably no coincidence that the subfields highlighted directly correspond to identities these scholars hold that make them not cis-het white men, so while not explicitly stated, it is implicit that these identities also ‘defile’ Classics.



The account is rather small, so the ripple effects of this targeting were negligible, at least for me. I do not want to assume the others targeted had the same experience. I blocked and reported the account, and so did many others of the #ClassicsTwitter community. These reports so far have come to nothing, and rather than focus on the hateful actions of this particular Twitter account I want to highlight why Twitter’s non-action on events like this is a problem.

First, this lack of response shows others who might want to do the same thing that they can with impunity. But most importantly, targeting individuals like this puts their private lives at risk. The account in question this time only has 500 followers. Given that they follow this account, there was probably no way the algorithm would recommend that they follow anyone targeted, as the interests are way too opposed. So thanks to this person, 500 people who share his persons viewpoint now have access to my profile, which includes my institution. My institutional website makes it very easy to find my email. So while my Twitter profile is public, this person’s Tweet gave a small group of individuals a way to target me in my private life as well. Thankfully, that has not happened to me. But it has happened with other scholars who have been targeted by larger accounts, and especially more so for BIPOC individuals.

After telling me that none of the tweets I reported violated any rules, Twitter had the nerve to send me a customer satisfaction survey. Of course I filled it out. I explained I was very dissatisfied for the reasons I mentioned above. By not being more proactive about shutting down targeting when it happens, Twitter puts its users at risk. Targeters feel emboldened to continue to do it, because they know that they can get away with it. And those who are targeted, usually marginalized individuals, are left vulnerable should anyone decide to make these attacks more personal by filling their inboxes, Twitter or otherwise, with hate.

I have found Twitter to be an amazing tool, not only for networking within the Classics community, but also to show the world in general that Classics is not the elitist group of white men it used to be. But if instances like this continue, the world will continue to see Classics in a negative light, which we all know I don’t like.

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