Diminishing returns

Yesterday afternoon, the harrassment campaign against me seemed to have reached a low ebb, and I felt confident that this particular storm had passed. Yesterday evening, however, it kicked back into high gear and I started receiving so many hateful Twitter messages that I literally could not keep up with blocking all of them. Since then, it has continued to ebb and flow — a few hours of quiet will be followed by a burst of activity. The Daily Caller and Washington Times have both picked up on the breaking news that I tweeted, though thankfully they have focused their ire on my claim of white complicity with slavery rather than the ludicrous smokescreen of their outrage at my obviously sarcastic call for “mass suicide.”

After last night’s outbreak, I woke up this morning ready to take my Twitter account private. I talked myself down after there were only a handful of people to block, but since then I’ve learned of further harrassment directed toward Shimer College and the people who work there. This particular case is probably out of my control at this point, but now I’m clearly on some people’s radar. It seems to me that there is no way to be sure that this won’t happen again unless I take my Twitter private and carefully choose who can follow me — or else just quit altogether. This incident and the Charlie Hebdo blow-up are probably going to be with me forever at this point, but why provide more fodder? Shimer has been very supportive, but what if I need to find another job?

In short, I’m seeing a lot of downside to continued Twitter participation. Much of the upside could be replicated if my regular dialogue partners followed my private account, but my ability to make new connections would be severely limited in that case. Plus it would completely destroy Twitter’s potential as a promotional forum for my work. I’d still have the blog, which would probably benefit if I were deprived of Twitter — and it seems like blogposts aren’t as vulnerable to this kind of thing.

I know the high-minded thing would be to say that I’m not going to let these bastards silence my voice — but screw that. Is my voice really making this huge contribution? Am I doing anything other than making an ass of myself at best, or exposing myself and my school to systematic harrassment at worst? The dog has pretty much healed up, which resolves the outstanding loose ends of my Twitter saga.

What do you think, dear readers? I know a certain number of you are going to say I should lead by example and commit suicide, and your comments will of course be deleted — I’m more asking the actual worthwhile human beings who know and care about me. What’s the upside of not letting myself be silenced?

43 thoughts on “Diminishing returns

  1. I don’t have a twitter account but I enjoy reading your often hilarious tweets, so I for one hope you keep your account public

  2. I’m so sorry you are experiencing this horrible harassment. The only consolation is that these storms pass very fast. The haters will be on to something else soon enough.

  3. I left a long comment. It got eaten. I left a shorter one. It was also eaten. Stay on Twitter. At least you can make your account private and then un-private it if you want to later.

  4. The problem with going private and then opening back up is obviously that my follower base will be destroyed. From one perspective, that’s a feature, not a bug — but I don’t want to squander such a powerful platform for publicizing my other work if I don’t have to.

  5. I personally would like it if you posted more on the blog, but not if the reason is that twitter-based assholes harassed you into not posting on twitter.

    I can only assume and hope that Clarissa is correct and that this episode will pass soon.

  6. If I were your friend, colleague, or family, I’d probably advise you to stop doing twitter altogether, as there doesn’t seem to be much upside. As a mere acquaintance, I should probably recommend the same thing. A half-measure might work, but it might not be worth continuing to tweet under a self-censorship regime it that would destroy your fun. I’m not thrilled about letting the bastards win, but I’m not sure your taking a brave stand would make much of a difference.

  7. I’ve been following your blog posts here for a while and I enjoy them quite a bit. I also follow you on Twitter but I find there’s so much “noise” over there, and so much to follow and read, that your tweets tend to get lost in the shuffle. I also like the blog because I like reading your thoughts in full-length form (as opposed to 140 characters). In short, I won’t miss you on Twitter because it’s hard for me to miss anyone there, but will continue to read your posts enthusiastically when they hit my inbox.

    Also, so sorry you’re going through all of this. Hopefully things will clear up soon.

  8. The more I mention it, the less convincing the “promotional” potential seems. I’m not good at promotion, nor do I think I should be required to do it, given that I’m handing over 90% of the proceeds from my books up front. Thoughts?

  9. Before you bring us both into further disrepute. Here are my thoughts,

    There are many writers and activists of the Left on Twitter, many of whom do serious work. There are few, if any, serious scholars who either use it in a private capacity and even less that do so publicly.

    I would advise you to limit your public engagements to public lectures, Journal & Review essays, newspaper articles and selected written and recorded interviews. Your Twitter account could be converted to repost or ‘promote’ these endeavors, driving online traffic and awareness, while retaining contacts (for private or innocuous correspondence) for such aforementioned public forays.

    The temptation to repeat the success of previous tweets which showcase a wit and an occasional caustic humor will eventually prove ruinous. Twitter provides a simulacrum of friendship and fraternity offering the prospect of sustained engagement. It is a false friend. This turn toward this sort of a media stage is not a good look for a scholar to take.


    Adam Kotsko’s Beard

  10. I’ve just got up to speed with this whole shitstorm and I’m sorry you’re having to endure it. I wrote something last year around the time of the “Sydney Siege” to clarify what I thought were some simplistic assumptions about the event. What followed was about a month of trolling by halfwit turd maggots who bombarded my work email, called my office, etc. On the one hand, we’d want to resist this type of wilfully ignorant fuckwittery that pushes us back to the safety of writing for specialist audiences only. On the other hand, it’s so emotionally draining to deal with shitheads and worrying about those around you that you care about. I hope you’re feeling ok.

  11. Adam, even if you decided to stay private on twitter, we all can still promote your work. I don’t think you’re at a loss there. Indeed, imagine if all your friends were like “Check out Kotsko’s killer book on the devil; it’s fire.” Or, a few years ago: “Check out that Kotsko book. The redeemable things is that’s its about social ontology.” That sounds like good publicity without you needing to be public. (No puns intended….or were they?)

  12. I’m a frequent reader but infrequent commenter. I glean much from your writing here. Keep blogging for sure. You definitely are relevant and helpful even if you don’t realize it. Twitter is not necessary; the blog is.

  13. I have AWKWARDNESS and CREEPINESS, so I guess I am more a book kind of person than a twitterer. I have a Twitter account but I have not logged into it in months–mostly because I find Twitter kind of tedious.

  14. You have human feelings and normal vulnerabilities, which have been triggered by these awful people and their ugly behaviour. For that reason I think you should take a few days before you make a final decision. Once the emotion has simmered down it will seem more obvious what to do.

    I personally appreciate your courage in being consistently frank about your emotional journey through this. I think you do it instinctively rather than as a policy.

  15. Agree with Jeremy. I’m a frequent reader of your blog and enjoy posts and discussions very much. Living in Europe, though, if I want to read your twitter posts and discussions I need to do a search because of the time lag. While I enjoy your tweets as well, I don’t think I would miss them as much as I would your blog. Please keep blogging!

  16. I’ve been a fan since ’06 or so of your personal and professional work both here at aufs and at the weblog. Selfishly, I hope you don’t follow whalen and your beard’s advice, as I look forward to your daily musings and caustic wit. Also selfishly, I’m with ben in thinking more blogging would be great. Of course, I don’t really know how these harassment clusterfucks typically play out. If remylow’s experience is any indication, maybe it will blow over fairly quickly. But at this point almost any course of action seems reasonable. To finish this long bit of non-advice, how about something glib and unhelpful: what would Zizek do? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    (P.S. My mother, who isn’t usually interested in cultural criticism and hasn’t read a stitch of theory or theory-adjacent writing, just finished ‘Sociopaths’, enjoyed it very much, and is beginning ‘Awkwardness.’ So, thank you for those.)

  17. Alison, You’re right about the emotional element. One thing that makes Twitter so seductive — the instant gratification — also makes it much more devestating when it turns against you.

  18. Some very supportive and balanced thinking in the comments above already. I have been following your Twitter account and your blog since hearing you speak at a political theology conference at Birkbeck College, London. Your tweets and your blog give me direction for new reading, challenge my own thinking, and have made me laugh too; your contributions via both mediums have an important influence on my own work in theology. With regard to your blog, it is one of only three blogs that I ensure I get instant notifications for.

    I am both saddened and, actually, shocked by the extent and nature of the recent attention towards you, and I’m sorry that this has been the case. When Twitter gets too ridiculous and irrationally over-anxious, I retreat to the blogging world for ideas and discussion. It would be sad if your ‘voice’ disappeared from Twitter – and definitely from blogging – altogether, but I am selfishly grateful that I can still see your tweets. Very best wishes to you.

  19. A curious in-mixing of forms, perhaps it is akin to Dante’s First Circle of Hell. Does it hover laconically over the Second Circle of Intellectual Slumming? In the case of a group of young up and coming academics it is a catch-all term for a number of areas,

    Preparatory work for future publication that has traditionally been done in private with trusted interlocutors or in the semi private sphere of the seminar room. An exception to this would be a call for materials.

    Social, cultural and political critique or a commentary on academic life that should ideally be geared toward wider outward publication and remunerated for intellectual labors rendered.

    There are also issues of prolificacy, repetition and maintaining quality control. Germaine Greer writes , ‘Our best artists make stuff they know is bad; the difference is that they destroy it themselves.’

    On the other hand; an undisciplined autonomy, the generosity and openness of broader outreach, the ‘becoming’ of a platform, and the cohesion of the group. A veritable Limbo.


    Adam Kotsko’s Beard

  20. Long time reader, awkwardness trilogy owner here.

    Obviously I’m a fan of your writing and would be sad if your Twitter account succumbed to a fit of online harassment by a breed of selfish, mindless blockheads, but so it goes. Your longer, more thoughtful updates are a more lasting and more meaningful artifact anyhow.

    Would Twitter still be valuable to you if you didn’t allow any @replies at all?

  21. As a software professional at a large company committed to reducing the impact of online social abuse, my first reaction is to reach for a technological solution to your problem. Do you envision that it would be possible to address the problem through a system of automatic replies or automatic moderating?

    Say if a user came directly from a link you specify they could be auto banned for a day? Or if the content could be automatically determined to be of a kind, an automatic reply could be sent

  22. Twitter could still work for promotional purposes if I didn’t use replies at all, but it wouldn’t be much fun to participate in. And I’m skeptical of technical solutions, because the sheer volume of abuse means that a significant amount could still get through by brute force.

  23. “As a software professional at a large company committed to reducing the impact of online social abuse, my first reaction is to reach for a technological solution to your problem.”

    This is interesting given the proverbial futility of technological solutions to social problems.

  24. I literally looked this up to find out more about your claims in other things… Obviously I ran into a locked Twitter account, so I came to this blog instead. And now my two cents for the recent Twitter escapade: I get it! It is complicated when so few words among responses basically equate to soundbites in the news and get horribly misconstrued by several people. So with that, I get the sarcasm in your “mass suicide” comment. Good luck with further tweets! You know we need it in the offense culture that we’re living in today.

  25. You give great Twitter, but my own selfish purposes are satisfied by the blog and the books. (The trilogy at least.) No shame in leaving it behind if it curdles on you.

  26. I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this, and even more so if I helped to fuel the fire in any of my subsequent tweets (I took some issue with your having represented me in an earlier post as someone looking to lead you into saying something stupid). For what it’s worth, I point out the absurdity of this witch-hunt to the slightly less crazed trolls that also tag me in their tweets about you. Though I don’t follow you (and only took another look at this blog because the notifications that I still receive reminded me of the exchange), I hope you’ll stay on Twitter, appearing unconcerned about and impervious to this bullying, to show that these methods of harassment do not work.
    As for your comments staying with you: yes, they will, but the Internet grants you a voice too, and those with a shred of intellectual integrity will seek it out among the murk of misrepresentation.

    I don’t expect that you’ll publish this, but I wanted to add mine as another voice of support. There’ll be more of that for you than there is hate, the only problem being that people are far quicker and more inclined to show that than they are encouragement. But it’s there.


    Your Bad-Faith Interlocutor

  27. Dear Bad-Faith Interlocutor, Thanks for your support, which only highlights another commonality of my two Twitter harrassment experiences — they resulted from the overhaste that Twitter encourages and almost demands.

  28. I’m not sure if this is too late, and your decision has already been made, but in the off chance that my opinion could be of some use I’ll contribute what I would do in this situation. I do agree Twitter has been a great outlet for you to get publicity to not only promote your work but also an amazing stage to create discourse and influence the people of the Internet. And despite these advantages I think you should base this decision on the emotional.  I would start by weighing the possibility for positive emotional experiences (since from an onlookers perpepective, aside from the advantages I already mentioned, it seemed that you received a lot of personal enjoyment from your participation in social media) and the obvious negative ones. Like all Internet trends this attack will die down eventually, but is it worth it to you to slog through the muck until then? I personally hope you persevere, but that is simply out of selfish enjoyment of your writing.  This decision should be about your own emotional health. Staying in twitter and other social media may be what would be best for you personally if your enjoyment in the long run will outweigh the difficulty of your current situation. I wish you all the best, I can’t even imagine how grueling this situation is for you.

  29. Adam,

    As someone with a love-hate relationship with social media (you can see the love part in my TED talk from last year, if you’re interested) I think your should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dilemma is a far more nuanced and interesting issue than the contrived controversy surrounding your suicide post.

    Here’s what I’d advise: You’ve engaged in something like 40,000 tweets, right? I’m going to assumed only a very small fraction of those went viral, and a much smaller fraction of that resulted in any sort of backlash. Those instances, by definition, are the outliers. Throw them out — then assess the rest.

    Did the thirty-nine-thousand-nine-hundred-and-how-many-ever others give you an opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions with friends, colleagues, students, adversaries and strangers? Did they fill a need for you? Did you enjoy it? Was it beneficial to you and the world in a way that made it worth the time?

    Yes? Then tweet on — publicly, if you can stand it.

    No? Then say goodbye to the birdie.

    I’d say that if you think you’ve prompted at least a few good, critical conversations over the time you’ve been engaged with the world through Twitter, then you’ve probably done your job. In the end, we’d probably do better if we had more smart people on the social media airwaves, not fewer.

    Best regards,
    matthew d. laplante
    assistant professor of journalism, Utah State University

  30. Would you be willing to publish your twitter feed minus those tweets that for your own reasons you’d rather purged from the record? I ask because I found your twitter feed extremely insightful and educational. Even where there are blog posts that elaborate on earlier tweets, I found that the tweets retained a distinct value. In my opinion, your twitter feed was a steadily accreting intellectual achievement and its vanishing would be a great loss. If Cicero were alive today he’d be tweeting. Even if publishing is out of the question, would you be willing to provide the feed to individuals? As a scanned document in a font that cannot be recognized with Optical Character Recognition? Could we pay you for it? I know I am being creepy, but I am really distressed by the loss of your twitter feed.

Comments are closed.