A few days ago the Evening Standard published one of those chin-stroking thinkpieces where somebody in old media discovers a new media trope, and usually winds up generally missing the point. This time it was on the subject of flouncing.
For those not in the know, there’s been a lot of discussion on Twitter about people deciding to take a break from tweeting, frequently at a point where lots of people, for various reasons, have decided to give them a hard time. This tends to be referred to as a flounce.
Among those accused of being media Twitter flouncers are the restaurant critic Giles Coren, who briefly left last year after someone called him a “numpty” (he has since said he accidentally deleted his account rather than deliberately leaving).
Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, has quit and returned to Twitter several times after receiving torrents of criticism and abuse, as much from Left-wing followers of her account as from the Right.
From reading Helen Lewis’ Twitter feed, she seems quite nonplussed by the article. Rather understandably she seems mystified that, when she was facing a torrent of abuse, the Standard would be surprised that she might not want to use Twitter until it died down.
People who use the term “flounce” often claim that people with large media platforms (Lewis has 35,000 Twitter followers – pretty sizeable, but not exactly Miley Cyrus territory) should expect to hear criticism of their output. True, to a degree, but what’s that like for the person on the other end of it?
There’s a pretty comprehensive answer to that question from Anton Vowl, who quit Twitter and has since returned on a smaller scale.
It turns out there are full-time wrong-end-of-the-stick-getters out there. There are vexatious, grumpy, angry, raging people out there, who follow your every word just to disagree with it. There are people who will hate you for every word you say. There are people who’ll deride you for having a ‘platform’ when they haven’t got one – why should you be able to be published while they aren’t? There are people who’ll read everything you write and then sarkily take the piss in subtweets. Some of them are people who try and be matey with you, just so they can make fun of you behind your back, except it’s not quite behind your back; it’s in your peripheral vision.
It got me down. As the audience for the things I wrote increased, so did the number of people following me on Twitter – stupid numbers, thousands of people, more than 11,000 when I called it a day. It’s not a humble brag – I wouldn’t wish that many followers on anyone. Because you can’t just send a fucking tweet anymore. Everything you write, every rotten syllable of every throwaway remark, is subject to endless gainsaying and ricochets.
Wow, suddenly I’m more content with my 1,500 followers, which pretty much makes me small fry in Twitter terms. Who would want that, constantly having people taking a pop at you?
All this talk of, “They’ve got a platform, so they should expect it and not flounce off” leaves me wondering, how big does your platform have to be before a withdrawal for the purposes of self-care becomes a flounce? 10,000? 30,000? 100,000? How famous do you have to be before you aren’t entitled to look after your own mental health?
I’d hope that the obvious answer is that there is no such cut-off line. But from the way some tweeters express themselves you’d think there was one. A few months back I had to bite my lip when tweeters suggested that Stephen Fry should check his privilege when talking about mental health. This was prior to him disclosing that he’d attempted suicide, but at the time I’d recently blagged my way into the Mind Media Awards, which he was hosting. I heard him speak candidly (and without an ounce of self-pity) about how he’d recently been in hospital. He told the audience that he was now on medication and feeling much better but, “Something I have to live with is the knowledge that at some point I might do myself in in the worst possible way.”
Still think he should check his privilege?
Everyone has the right to self-care, which means that everyone has the right to flounce, whenever and as many times as they want to. Personally I love Twitter but it really does have an unfortunate tendency to magnify small disagreements until they turn into huge fights and pile-ons. I’ve been piled-on (by the fans of a TV celebrity doctor) and it isn’t a pleasant experience. I really don’t blame anyone who responds to a pile-on by logging out. The right to free speech doesn’t come with a right of reply.
Also, if you step away from Twitter, you start to realise what a small place it is. Or, more accurately, a large place with lots of small places in it. Matters of furious debate among certain groups of tweeters can be incomprehensible elsewhere. I was recently criticised for satirising the jargon-heavy debates among intersectionalists. It was suggested that I was “mocking the language of the oppressed”. But if I was to go door-to-door in the socially-troubled suburb of Cardiff where I live, talking about “kyriarchy”, “mansplaining” and “gaslighting”, I’m sure I’d be met with a lot of blank looks.
Likewise, I’m sure if I went among the Belieber and Directioner circles on Twitter, I probably wouldn’t understand a word of it. Lord knows what they get up to there. Satanic rituals, probably.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been away from Twitter quite a bit. First because I was in Krakow, Poland. Look, it’s lovely!
And I had the near-death experience of driving a Communist-era Trabant.
Yes, I’m aware the tour guide company has a somewhat ableist name. They don’t seem very intersectional in Krakow.
Then the following week I was covered in glitter, doing voluntary work at the Shambala Festival in Leicestershire, which I can’t recommend enough.
I got to hang out with people like this:
Though as with Twitter, Shambala too had passionate debates that might mystify the outsider.
In summary, flouncing is good. Flouncing gets you away from interminable debates, rows and pile-ons, and gets you out into the fresh air. It reminds you that social media is not the be-all and end-all of discourse, and that your small corner of Twitter is really smaller than you think.
I hope you’ll all agree with me. If you don’t, I might just flounce.