On my Blip with Twitter and Access to your Contacts

Photo by Liquidnight

A few weeks ago I asked my husband if he would take a picture of me. I wanted to update my website. The old avatar was tired, a headshot cropped from a family photo. J was happy to help, and I posed awkwardly. It has always seemed a bit narcissistic to me, individual pictures, apart from if you are memorialising special moments like graduation or a pregnant belly. Later I uploaded the photos onto the website and my social media accounts. 

Then something strange happened. I noticed that my new avatar had followed me on Twitter. Strange, I thought. Had there been a glitch? Had I somehow managed to open another account? I checked the timeline of the new follower. I found that not only had my avi had been used by a stranger, but that s/he was offering sexual favours. Compared to what others have had to deal with on Twitter, take for example Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman or feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, this was small fry. It still wasn’t nice.

First step: block that moron
Second step: report account for impersonation
Third step: shake off feelings of disgust

I was asked by Twitter to send them a scan of my passport or driving licence so they could verify the image was me. Then I pushed the incident to the back of my head and forgot about it. That was until yesterday, when I got an update saying that the account had been suspended.

My bad, here. I replied thanking Twitter. Then I checked said account and saw that it was still active. I wrote to Twitter again asking whether there was a delay before the suspension took effect. No response. Then I realised MY account had in fact been suspended. Both my follower and following lists were showing a big fat zero. Cue many tears, an appeal to Twitter and a pleading email begging them to reinstate my account. This, on the day that an internal memo was leaked, in which the Twitter CEO took personal responsibility for the company’s failings on tackling abuse and vowed to make it his top priority.

I reached out to a few Twitter friends on email and told them what had happened. I was after a virtual hug. What I got was more. I was blown away by the support online friends showed, tweeting their censure to @twitter, discussing how this was another example of a #twitterfail in which the community policies fail to protect users. Their support buoyed me.

Photo by Martin Gysler

My love for Twitter friends has snuck up on me. For me, my Facebook personal account is a place for real life family and friends. Twitter began as more of a business transaction, a place to increase my profile as a writer. It took me a while to learn the rules and rhythm of that platform. Now, it feels more authentic. A place for learning, sharing and meeting like-minded people. In comparison it seems to me now that Facebook weakens real life connections. It is an endless stream of Instagramed photos and pithy status updates. Like we are marketing our best selves. And well, for me, marketing belongs in business, not in our personal realm. Besides, with news from organisations filling our streams, and improving mechanisms for community interaction, personal updates on Facebook have begun to drop away.

My tears at the suspension of the Twitter account were an overreaction. It had been a tough week for other reasons. But I was also sad to lose my right to interact in a community I have grown comfortable with. Twitter is the base of many writing contacts, not all of whom I had other contact details for. I was not sure if a reinstated account was wiped clean. I feared losing contact with lovely people whose voices I would miss. Agents and publishers take into account the size of writer platforms when weighing up whether to offer you a deal. I had built up my account organically over a few years, and that work cannot be replicated overnight. Most of all, I felt a keen sense of unfairness that I had acted within the rules set by the community and had been punished. I questioned whether I should have reported the other account holder in the first place.

Less than a day later my account was fully reinstated. There was no apology. I was relieved to reclaim my relationships though my trust for the platform has diminished somewhat. But then, I have some issues with how much information Facebook and Google collect from me, and that doesn’t stop me from using their products. In fact, I love Google. It’s all about value. And the noise of hashtag overuse aside, Twitter brings a lot of value. Still, Twitter has a responsibility to protect its users better. Women, in particular, seem to be victims of trolling on this platform and there is no shirking Twitter’s duty to act more effectively.

Photo by Antonio Roberts

If your writing success is even partially dependent on your contacts, you cannot rely on third party applications to protect your contacts. Why would you put all your eggs in one basket when the rules of social media are constantly changing, when you might fall foul of them without even realising it, or through no fault of your own? Nurture the contacts you value. Networking accounts for a lot, and you don’t want to lose access to your network.

As for me, I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing for a while about whether to upgrade to a self-hosted WordPress.org account from my WordPress.com one. I am happy with the current set up, particularly because of the automatic site back-ups WordPress.com carry out and eligibility to be considered for Freshly Pressed, which is a great signal boost. I’d also rather pay my yearly domain fee than a monthly hosting one. But with WordPress.org websites there comes more individuality, the possibility of having an online shop, and most importantly for me, better opportunities to grow your mailing list with plug-ins or email marketing solutions such as A Weber and Mailchimp. This latest experience has confirmed to me how important it is to have your own data.

I’d love to know what solutions you have considered for your websites.

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