My name is Sophie, it has recently come to my attention that I am absolutely terrified of Twitter. Yep, scared of a social media platform.
It all started from seeing a Tweet doing the rounds, which simply said “Amplify the voices of 10 women and keep it going” – I saw some sharing of some amazing people, praise abound, and thought “it’s such a shame I can’t join in – tagging someone in a Tweet? Absolutely NOT. Nuh-uh. That’s terrifying”
I stopped and thought “huh, that’s a bit of a weird reaction – what’s up with that”
I realised I often hold back on Twitter – I passively like lots of stuff, sometimes retweet an article or picture – but put an opinion or comment out myself? Join in on a conversation? Barely ever.
I have written, re-worded, re-re-worded, and then deleted hundreds upon hundreds of tweets.
I could hear the opinions of others before I’d even pressed ‘submit’
“I can’t believe they tagged so-and-so, they’re only doing that to flatter them, what a suck-up”
“No-one wants to hear your opinion – I don’t even know you”
I could literally hear the judgement in my mind.
I’d learnt a lot from following lots of brilliant people on Twitter, and really enjoyed what people had shared – and I knew I’d love to get involved in the industry chatter of SEO and Digital Marketing – it is what I find endlessly fascinating after all.
And I had already started trying to get past this – I had pondered this with the (absolutely wonderful) Women in Tech SEO folk, where I asked for some advice about being ‘scared’ of putting yourself out there.
Suggestions were starting small and keeping at it – and people definitely felt similarly. So I had started to push past a little bit of that fear by tweeting some pictures, sharing a bit more and putting a few statements out into the ether.
But it didn’t help on this occasion – I couldn’t get past myself… but why?
After some thinking, I realised that my biggest fears were being seen as stupid, ungenuine, an annoyance or a suck-up.
I wondered if anyone else felt the same, and seeing as I was trying to put more things out there, I asked on Twitter:
“I hate giving public praise because I feel like i’m going to be seen as “sucking up” to people – does anyone else feel like this?”
After some replies, I realised that I didn’t actually make it clear I meant praise on social media – then I felt like crawling into a hole, or deleting it, but it had too many replies, so people might ask about why it was deleted, or what if someone who replied saw I deleted it and thought I didn’t like their reply, and then…. (yeah, yeah, I know – this is how we got here in the first place)
I also didn’t really mean praise. I would praise someone publically, in person, all the time. I message people on social media privately to say thanks for sharing, asking for help, helping others.
But talking to someone on Twitter, ‘publically’ by tagging them – responding where other people can see it – that is terrifying
I even said, “on places like social media, public praise feels icky and performative”
But it really made me think – why do I feel like this?
Through Google, I found I wasn’t alone in my fears of Twitter specifically. I read a great article where a quote perfectly reflected my feelings;
Hitting the “Tweet” button after agonizing over what my 140 (or fewer) characters would say felt to me like calling across the cafeteria to get the attention of a group of kids I didn’t know and had never hung out with. I was afraid of being heard, being seen.Jane Friedman – Overcoming Fear of Twitter
To be honest, this fear is not just Twitter – it’s all social media in general. I’ve posted once on Facebook in about two years, and the same for Instagram.
It was reading this quote which made me realise that I’d taken the things people said to heart, and things I know I’ve thought myself;
This sounds familiar to Anna, who scrolls through her timeline in a state of nearly abject horror.Grazia – Meet the social media phobics
‘I feel embarrassed for the people who put up pictures and share links, it’s so incredibly vain. Why does anyone give a shit about your new hair or the fact you went out the other night?’ she says.
Has she ever shared a link on a friend’s wall? ‘No… because I could just email or message it. Because why would anyone want to see that?’
I suggest that, maybe, other people would enjoy the link, too, and an abrupt, ‘Yeah and they might not,’ response is quite telling.
How many conversations have we participated in or heard friends talk about, mocking the content people put online – or share in general; “I hate it when people do X on social” and “Who wants to see pictures of peoples food; eurgh” about Instagram.
I realised there are other places where I hold back because of this fear. Example one; Charity donations.
Yeah, I know – why am I scared about doing something nice? That sounds like madness, right… Well, my mind has other thoughts – I only make donations anonymously and hide the amount I donate because I’m worried about what people will say or think.
What if I don’t donate the ‘right’ amount?
What if I look stingy?
Sharing a good deed? Eugh, you’re only doing it to look good
About a charity donation
I do believe social media has made this worse for me – because let’s face it, social media is filled to the brim of other people judging, analysing, ridiculing and policing what other people say (which sometimes is needed for sure; if they are sharing something rude, demeaning or derogatory) but let’s be honest – it’s usually over innocuous stuff.
Whether that is judging, shaming, ridiculing directly, or even subtweeting about, I have absorbed every single comment that anyone has made, about a wide range of subjects, and really taken it to heart.
Which sadly plays right into what I realised my biggest fear is; being judged.
The fear of this stops me in my tracks.
Is the fear of being judged event a real fear? As it turns out, yes – coming under social anxiety. Which makes the school cafeteria analogy even more fitting.
The potential for being judged on social media is absolutely massive – one share, or retweet can make your message reach critical mass, enough to pull a large amount of scrutiny or judgement to it.
I sometimes feel justified in my fear of Twitter – Jon Ronson wrote a book about the phenomenon of publically calling out people online, called “So you’ve been publically shamed” – I’d highly recommend his Ted talk on “How one tweet can ruin your life”
I make mistakes all the time on Twitter – sharing my thoughts in the wrong place, missing a joke, interpreting a point a different way as intended.
One slip is all it could take.
As a woman, it’s can feel necessary to be wary – there’s a higher chance of being targeted by harassment online, or at least it feels like that from the stories in the media. Gamergate comes to mind. As does Amnesty International’s research campaign ‘Toxic Twitter – A Toxic Place for Women’ which highlights the large proportion of abuse directed towards us.
That risk is compounded for those who are marginalised and othered too.
Someone recently tweeted about an event they were speaking at, but said they didn’t want post it because they felt like they’d be viewed as a show-off or bragging;
which when I read I thought, of course not!
Shout about your achievements, people want to know – I wanted to know. I know that thought would have never crossed my own mind.
But I also know that if I was the one putting out a tweet like this, it is exactly how I would feel too.
The frustrating thing is – I know this!
I reassure other people on the regular that you should shout and share your wins – I’ve read the research, I know in my heart it’s true – and science backs this up too.
I recently went through the Google #IamRemarkable training, which gave me all sorts of resources to studies and evidence that women don’t share their wins, and how this negatively affects them professionally.
The research found that *both* women and men consider self-promoting women to be less competent and less socially attractive than self-promoting men. (Disruptions in women’s self-promotion: The backlash avoidance model (2010))
This means that we’re not speaking up due to fear of this social ‘backlash’ – instead, we self-censor our achievements.
This puts us at a disadvantage professionally – research suggests that sharing accomplishments is crucial to succeeding at work;
- in job interviews, applicants who talk openly and confidently about their achievements are considered more competent than more modest interviewees
I’ve read the research – but why can’t I explicitly advocate and share even basic “I think you’re great” or just tagging someone in a fairly benign Twitter “amplify some voices” thing?
Someone left a beautiful reply to my tweet musing about public praise; ‘The person I’m complimenting is way more important to me than the people who will think I’m sucking up’
I realised that not only am I doing myself a disservice with this way of thinking, but I’m also doing a disservice to all the worthy people I could shout about (if I only had the courage) – which makes me feel shameful in all honesty.
It’s especially hard for me when I don’t “know” the people. But that’s the magic of social media right? Making friends and connections?
But when you have seen first-hand people being ridiculed for sharing praise, ideas or work on Twitter, I can’t help but feel discouraged.
After seeing this happen to someone I respected I said “this is exactly why people are scared of putting their experiences and work out there, in case of horrid responses like you’ve had”
But they gave me some advice:
- Don’t let the minority stop you from sharing your ideas
- Some people will look for any opportunity to drag someone down – but the right people will reach out with support and encouragement.
- If just one person finds your tweet/share or blog post helpful, then you’ve done your job.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
It seemed harsh to say made me think – how would I go about changing this?
It felt wrong to say ‘people shouldn’t do x, y or z’ online without any suggestions on what people could do instead – so here are my ideas to make sure
Instead of a blanket statement – frame it as a question instead
So instead of
“Why do people share individual slides from a conference, those soundbites mean nothing – it’s only so people think they’ll be viewed at a thought leader”
Ask a question instead
“Does anyone find soundbite tweets from conferences useful or not? I personally think they’re not much use if you’re not there”
Sometimes it’s a double-edged sword. If you’ve got a limited amount of characters, you can’t fit all the caveats in.
People say “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen”
and maybe instead I should just stay off social media if I struggle to deal with putting stuff online.
Because you are choosing to put it online where the world can see it, and people are able to reply, you must expect people to comment on it, right?
I don’t need to comment on the goings on in my work industry to actually do my job. Again, I have heard Which again, is another source of shame for me.
We sometimes also need to call out unethical behaviour – but if you went and ignored
Sometimes you need to be critical of what people say – how else can you bring awareness to when unethical behaviour is happening.
But there is so also much nuance – it feels like you can’t put out a single statement without it gathering criticisms.
A joke might be obvious to one person, but missed by another – context could be lost, plus sarcasm and satire is hard to detect with the written word.
Haters gonna hate
They’re only jealous
Just ignore it
And I wish I could just ignore it – however
I also need to learn that it’s just not about me either.
The people that sarcastic or critical comments are aimed at, are likely to be enamoured by their own brilliance, and they would never even think that the negativity refers to them.
It’s the fallacy of sending office emails scalding everyone – the people who it isn’t targeted at worry it is talking about them, and the people who it is actually targeting just ignore it, because they don’t think they are the problem.
Let’s face it – we’re all muddling through this confusing mess being online, and having access and means to both share our thoughts, and comment on other peoples thoughts.
I’m really thankful for the Women in Tech SEO community, as a closed group has been such a haven for me – I can publically share, yet in a private way that takes away some of the fear.
Hopefully, I’ll eventually be able to respond to a conversation or share work or praise directly on social media, without feeling scared – or feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
I hope I can get there