My lifespan on Twitter is eleven years and counting, but really, I’ve only started using it actively in the past 5-6 months? In that short time span, I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) to see both extremes of Twitter: the warm, supportive, welcoming community of writers–and the highly charged, reactionary keyboard warriors, and the anonymous army of trolls that follow.
I write this because a few days ago, someone DM’ed me to clarify a tweet I made about criticism of Vice’s coverage of Xinjiang. I was startled that someone could equate my criticism of media coverage as my being supportive of repression, when I had already posted that not writing about something doesn’t mean you don’t care, and writing about something doesn’t necessarily mean you –really– care, as in you would put your name, life, career on the line for what you wrote.
Why would someone not write about something? It’s not as simple a case as suppression of freedom of speech, or being a CCP/CIA spy-in-disguise. Sometimes, if we’re not familiar (and this tends to be an Asian thing), speaking out seems presumptuous. Or maybe we just need more time to gather our thoughts (like the longer essay on regionalism in China that I’ve been stewing on).
It made me realise that a lot of us read and react so quickly on social media that any subtler criticism is often missed. A lot of people read my tweets on Hong Kong as criticism of the protests, when really I was criticising media coverage that oversimplifies the complexities of Hong Kong society. In fact, most of time, my gripe has not been with what happened, but how we write about what happened.
Who is to blame for our ever shortening attention spans? Social media? The internet? Journalism? Cable television? We are all defaulting to stupid, where we see things only in black and white, where we only understand narratives if they are presented to us in simple soundbites that we can relate to our own, often very different experiences.
And yet, how we write about what happened matters. It matters enormously if we are to avoid slipping towards further confrontation. The room for middle ground is shrinking fast, the world increasingly polarised. Do we want to look at our differences, or do we want to share our similarities? I think social media amplifies both. It makes our differences seem larger than they life, and our similarities more unifying than they really are.
I’ve always tried to offer a thoughtful, considered voice when sharing my thoughts online. But it’s hard to avoid feeling pessimistic about our ability to compromise or have a conversation when we don’t even know how to read or listen.