Farewell, my lunch line distraction
I first met LaVendrick Smith on Twitter almost a year to the day. We both found out that we would be interns at The Washington Post that summer. Before meeting in person, we grew closer over our desires to make fun of each other’s sports teams (the Patriots for me, the Cowboys for him), our tastes in TV shows (Ross is not the best character in Friends, LV) and our mutual love of good journalism. LaVendrick and I rib each other on Twitter on a near daily basis and dishing the hottest of sports and food takes while we’re at it.
As we do most Sundays night, LaVendrick and I watched the football game, which happened to feature my favorite team. Twitter accompanies my sports viewing experience more often than not; the commentary in real time makes me feel like I’m watching a game with a invested group of people who communally enjoy grown men throwing around a ball. And given the national hatred of the Patriots, LaVendrick likes giving me crap if my team was doing poorly.
The game against the Seahawks was a thriller, a game built for the best tendencies of sports Twitter. But the breaking news about Donald Trump appointing Stephen Bannon, an anti-semite and an accused domestic abuser who ran a website that had a section called “Black Crime”, as his White House chief strategist, could not bring me to give a single crap about the score.
In response to the Bannon’s appointment earlier in the day, I went to Breitbart, found multiple articles representative of the website’s coverage of the election and tweeted out their headlines.
Soon, my mentions became a non-stop stream of harassment from the anonymous Twitter users, many of whom publicly declared their support of Donald Trump, calling me a chink (among other racist language intended to poke at my Korean heritage), asking me if I was Jewish due to my political views (“Jewn Lee” was the most clever version of this), sending me swastikas and telling me I’m a pussy.
They eventually made their way to LaVendrick’s. And in his typical fashion, he wasn’t having any of it.
I expected the worst on social media when Trump won the election, but the manner in which the tenor of Twitter shifted, like an on-off switch, shocked me. I’d received racist language directed towards me in the past (like that time when a random person told me my Korean ancestors were responsible for Pearl Harbor), but it’s kicked into a whole new gear since the election. While expressing my anti-Trump stance certainly opens me up to criticism, it does not make racist and bigoted language acceptable.
I’m not going to pretend I’m facing the same issues as Muslims, LGBTQ, Hispanic and Black Americans. The U.S. government currently doesn’t have policies discriminating against Asian-Americans. But whether he’s aware of this or not, Trump mobilized bigots and racists in our country, enabling them to freely attack minorities in this country.
I’ve been on Twitter less. My journalist pals have been on Twitter less. Some of my friends in the media have taken it a step further and deactivated their account. Twitter has only further propagated its reputation as a place where harassment is permissible and accepted, an issue that’s been well documented in the past. And now, it’s getting to the point of no return.
Sunday night, I tried to watch the Patriots game, something I do weekly despite my waning interest in the NFL. Twitter accompanies my sports viewing experience more often than not; the commentary in real time makes me feel like I’m watching a game with a invested group of people who communally enjoy grown men throwing around a ball.
The game against the Seahawks was a thriller, a game built for the best tendencies of sports Twitter. It was a close game in the fourth quarter between opponents of a legendary Super Bowl with two vocal online fanbases. But even as someone invested in the result of the game, I simply couldn’t bring myself to get excited.
Sports, in theory, is an escape from everything else going on around the world, but it’s not anymore. They’re entwined with politics in a similar manner to Fred and George Weasley. They’re just not separable, whether you look at the response from athletes to the Black Lives Matter movement or the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by LeBron James, the most famous person in the swing state of Ohio.
I’ve never been someone who has taken sports too seriously, but when you continue read about Trump appointing Stephen Bannon, an anti-semite and an accused domestic abuser who ran a website that had a section called “Black Crime”, as his White House chief strategist, trying to make an escape to football feels pointless.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey deserves to shoulder quite a bit of the blame for his company’s failure to deal with harassment in a timely, effective and efficient manner, and the waves of harassment have only grown worse since Tuesday. Twitter’s harassment problems are only going to get worse. And at this point, even with new features to address online abuse, it may be too late for Dorsey and company to do anything to stop it.
The rise in negative (which can be racist and hateful) language is not entirely the fault of Twitter. It’s indicative how many Americans feels right now. For many Trump supporters, Tuesday’s results finally demolished a wall of political correctness that they had been chipping away at for more than a year. It was the opportunity to tell an Asian-American immigrant that he’s a chink with a funny accent and can’t drive, because the president of the United States supports that sort of language. There’s been a spike in racist and sexist physical assults across the country. Trump called for those to stop in (the 60 min interview) — but he also minimized how much they have happened.
For at least 50 percent of Americans, even for the blindingly optimistic, not much of anything can be construed as safe or fun right now.
Maybe spending less time on the internet will be a good thing. Maybe my posture, which has screwed from all of that time looking down at my laptop, will straighten out a little bit. Maybe I will go to the gym more frequently and get in better shape. Maybe I will read a couple more books.
In the last week, I’ve grown even closer to the people that I love and care about. My group texts have bonded our collective fear and our desire to try to make each other laugh. I’m now looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my family and friends more than I have in years. I’ve tried to live even more in the moment, especially as I finish up my last month of college.
I’m pursuing a career in a journalism, so Twitter will always need to be a part of my life; I’m not going to suddenly stop reading news or seek out jokes about current events. But for years, my mom has told me to stop looking at my phone so much, to stop staring at my screen anxiously, awaiting the latest bit of news, any news, to drop.
I’ve been taking that advice the last few days and, once again, my mom was right. She almost always is.