There’s primarily two ways that people consume online that disgusts me, okay. There is no nice way to say this after years of experiencing this. Like, skin crawling, nausea-causing, I have to log off for a bit kind of ways. It’s past just annoying or past something that is easily ignored in social media spaces that’s supposed to feel “infinite” but in fact are quite suffocating at times. It’s beyond this and it makes me ill. I tried to ignore it. I tried to only vent when I felt bad on a particular day, and then ignore it the rest of the time, but I cannot any longer. I literally have to write this to avoid deleting my accounts and throwing my computer/phone in the trash because that’s the level of disgust and anxiety that I am experiencing with this lately. So much critique exists for production–whether people are angry if someone “tweets too much” or people have sexist reactions to women posting “too many” selfies, for example–yet so little critique exists for consumption. With the exception of the abuse that I deal with for writing anything about State violence, womanism, Black art/music, or just being a Black woman who exists online–because the latter is deemed sufficient “offense” to warrant online violence–what I am going to describe here disgusts me more than anything else. It’s really not anger…it’s a visceral deep disgust that makes me wonder how can I use social media. I don’t know how to fit into a space where this type of consumption that I am going to describe is ignored/excused at worst and treasured at best.
One way that online consumption gets disgusting is through hyperconsumption without any regard to space or safety. No, there’s not established “amounts” of a single person you should consume or not consume. Everyone retweets. Everyone reblogs. Everyone favorites. I do all three as well. At the same time, there are people I have had to call out to stop favoriting every single one of my tweets. I don’t mean favoriting a whole thread of mine on a particular concept. That’s fine as long as it’s not a journalist or academic doing it since 99% of the time they think that favoriting entire threads or doing keyword searches with my name is “research” and everything that they “find” can be used as their content without citation. I mean every single one favorited. Or at least 75% of them. Regardless of how mundane. There’s been people doing this with every single tweet in the past. Where a “favorite” would pop up 23 seconds after I sent the tweet. This feels like suffocation and surveillance, and it is out of control. There is no one person–even those I appreciate and like or love online–where I read and then favorite every single tweet that they send. I might read every essay/article that they write if they are a good writer, but I don’t reblog every single post that they share if they use Tumblr and I usually only share their posts on Twitter (outside of if they tweeted it themselves and then I retweet it, or they don’t mind it being shared) if they are published on mainstream sites, meaning that those people have some semblance of institutional protection, something that I do not have myself. Some people I have asked before posting to Twitter because their post was that sensitive. If they mark that a post shouldn’t be reblogged, I accept that as well. I accept that people might need some space and not need me literally chasing them down like some sort of parasite in human size. I also don’t reblog their posts with a red herring added as a note or add like 4-7 paragraphs (because that is an essay, not a comment) on something totally different just to center myself in their space and thirstily hope to gain their audience’s attention. True, I am a stan of some writers–especially really good Black ones–but I am not interested in chasing them down to the point that they mention feeling suffocated. I have seen several say that they feel this way. Some have told me this in private as well.
I’ve tweeted about this before, in detail–in Archive Creeping and in Hypervisibility Hell–because this evades people. Most people have no clue what I am talking about here because in America we have to pretend that attention is always good, always currency, always the goal, and has zero consequences. (People even circulate the lie that follow count is the same as privilege; no it is not.) Some people think being obsessively consumed beyond a reasonable way should “flatter” me or instead they reply with some annoying puffery instead of actually listening to what I said about this or just leaving me alone. They think reblogging 25-50 of my essays in a single day, and old ones at that, is a good thing. Thus, someone views blogs from people who do this, and it looks like a Xerox copy of mine specifically, which is actually a small annoyance compared to the larger one of being re-exposed to be trolled on 25-50 old posts plus whatever my last 20 or so new ones might be, and not by my own awareness or choice that comes with me choosing to share old posts; that choice there makes a difference in terms of some semblance of preparation for abuse. But who cares, nothing is more important than out of control consumption with total disregard for the person being consumed or the consequences of said consumption that the person has written about for years, right? But those essays are overlooked. They’re unironically not among the ones reblogged in a way that reveals zero temperance or concern. This way, the cognitive dissonance between “I read ‘everything’ you write” and “I had ‘no clue’ you were ever trolled online ever” can be their permanent stance. Because I understand how women of colour, especially Black women, are targeted and abused online, this informs how I consume, how I share, when, and how much. At times it impacts whether I retweet another woman of colour or not because I know that people who hate me will then target that person if their audience is smaller. It informs a lot for me because I actually think about women of colour and their experiences online and at times need to elevate these experiences over my own consumption desires, to be quite honest. Yes, I think online safety matters more than sheer consumption at times. I am weird like that. Because women of colour are actually people to me–not just pain receptacles or Fact Portals to produce knowledge to consume with absolutely no self-control whatsoever–this comes to mind for me.
Another way that online consumption gets disgusting is through endless opinion demands/attempts to control/ignoring consent. These are people who are not content with over 400K+ tweets, 1200+ essays/long form writing posts, 3000+ answered questions/comments on Ask FM, 75 Storify posts etc. of mine. Clearly not “enough.” These are people who think I “owe” them opinions on whatever the fuck they desire and to the point that they start making unpaid labor demands or violent labor demands (“debate with me on why Black people are not human and then I will pay you money;” yes, these demands have actually been sent to me and I am not being hyperbolic; I wish I were; this is how vile and how much people hate me personally and hate Black women/Black people in general) and they think that this is okay. These are also people who come slithering around demanding anti-Black opinions on Black people and homophobia or Black female celebrities, for example, and if my opinion is not vile, dehumanizing and disgusting, but in fact accurate, humane and nuanced, then the critique “didn’t happen;” it never existed to these people. These are people who will ignore lots of in-depth conversations that I choose to have online or questions that I choose to answer, and dump violent links in my mentions or messages and demand analysis of said violence. These are people who genuinely believe that hyperconsumption of visuals of Black death is “the real activism” and that their sharing of said consumption with me does not require my consent at all. These are people who see me discuss a topic on Twitter where a question is answered so they passive aggressively slither over to Ask FM to ask the same question minutes later because they like the idea of my time being wasted and my emotional labor being used for a second time. These are people who once they see that I mention that I do not want to discuss a certain topic, the idea of violating my boundaries is so deeply pleasurable to them amidst their clearly miserable and useless existences that they then start to badger me for opinions and answers on whatever topic I said that I do not want to discuss. These are people who force celebrity handles and hashtags into my tweets to try to bait me into arguments like their dog being trained. These are people who think that Black women are angry junkyard dogs so they have the fucking audacity, the utter fucking gall to slither into my messages to ask me to drag someone for them. These are people who only want to consume commentary on Black death and they follow/unfollow based on a calendar that matches extrajudicial executions, and they are angry when I share anything that brings me joy. And while a majority of these people are Whites/men, no, it’s not only them doing this. At all. Some women of colour are complicit as well.
Now is the time for the predictable victim blaming and intellectual dishonesty, yes? So let me run through the utterly quotidian garbage that will arise in response. No, I don’t hate people who share what I write, in accordance with my Content Use Policy or retweet, reblog, like and favorite in a sensible way. Of course this is okay. I am speaking of very specific hyperconsumption without regard to my space or safety and it is not the same as how people share normally, or how people engage a multitude of voices versus honing in on me in an obsessive way. I have made this clear here. Anyone who suggests these are the same is willfully obtuse and do not want to examine their own behavior; trust me. How convenient, for example, to hyperconsume behind a fake avi, fake online name, lower follower count, and not be targeted in the way that I am, while critiquing my response to what happens to me? No, I don’t mind people asking me reasonable questions and having reasonable conversations. Again, this is not the same as opinion demanding and violating consent. And if anyone cannot see the difference between obsessive and demanding behavior versus reasonable behavior, they either think that I deserve harm or they’re behaving like this and don’t want it put under a magnifying glass. And finally, no, I don’t have to “expect violence” in a “public space” because “it’s the internet” and everyone has “free speech.” I don’t need “what were you wearing” type commentary applied to online behavior and people’s out of control actions that honesty reflects misogynoir. So I am not human enough to consider my reasonable space and necessary safety, I am only a product to consume and should be “glad” to be consumed in these really outlandish ways, and I “owe” emotional and intellectual labor to people on demand? All of this is about dehumanization. And some of it is about how utterly disgusting consumption can become and mainly because we are, again, in a society that tells people that there’s no higher virtue than being consumed and no higher currency other than attention, which regularly gets placed over money even, in a social way, if not in a structural way, of course.
Does everyone interact with me in the above-referenced ways? Of course not. I have normal conversations, share jokes and laughter and love, discuss important issues, and shoot the breeze about photography, makeup, tv, film, music, food, travel, books etc. with cool people almost everyday. Often! Regularly! I never suggested that my online experiences are all negative. Thus, really boring misogynoiristic people–who hate nuance and context, but instead love confirmation bias–will suggest that I said so or that I am “never” “happy” about social media, or that being able to name abuse acutely and better than they can name anything at all means that I am “bitter” and have an “ego.” These people are all surveillance yet zero insight though. They see what they choose because they cannot truly see Black women at all. That’s their problem ultimately, not mine. My issue is that the very disgusting ways that people consume and engage does take a toll and does make it less desirable to be online for the good moments and the cool people. It is in fact tiring. And the sad part is that I am not even only talking about “trolls.” This includes people who are “activists” and people who think they are being “kind.” The problem is even with this aspect of “kindness” (which is not really “kind,” by the way), these people still render me into an object or a machine and then are offended when I am not happy about them suggesting that they “care” about me because they view me as such a “good” machine.
Related Posts: Black Women, Online Space and Boundaries, Social Media Is Not Automatically Introvert-Friendly, Hypervisibility and Marginalization: Existing Online As A Black Woman and Writer, Microaggressions and Asshole Twitter Reply Styles (Examples), Examples Of Microaggressions That People Think Are “Clever”