On July 19, I tweeted:
I always heard that as people aged, they became more conservative. I’ve become much more liberal. Anyone else?
Inexplicably, the tweet went viral. As of this morning, it is approaching 53,000 likes and nearly 10,000 comments, and I am still getting notifications every few seconds. As a relative nobody on Twitter (before this tweet took off, I had around 750 followers), this attention was unexpected and a bit unnerving. I want to offer a few observations on the experience.
First, thousands of people agreed with me, and thousands didn’t, which was not surprising. Each person has their own experience and political trajectory. I was grateful for the number of people who wrote that their experience was similar to mine, and in truth, I was also grateful for people who simply said that they have indeed become more conservative. Many people also expressed that they do not know where they fit these days politically.
Second, I initially tried to keep up with the comments, but eventually, it became impossible to do so. I am certain I will never go back to read them all. It is a good reminder that when I comment on a thread from someone well-known, it makes sense that they do not respond. It is also true that when we throw our ideas out into the world, they can take on a life of their own.
Third, for all of the people expressing their opinions, it seemed there were an equal number of people who were more interested in name-calling, mischaracterization, offering false assumptions, and setting up straw men. Or perhaps their comments were just the “loudest.” This vitriol was launched in both directions. I was told by someone who has no idea who I am that what I shared about myself wasn’t actually true. I was told repeatedly that I have dementia, a brain injury, a mental illness, and that I’m gay. I was informed that I am not a Christian. These things were often shared by those professing to be Christians themselves. It breaks my heart that people feel so free to engage in hate-filled speech on social media.
Fourth, I knew that as a country, we were divided, but the comments solidified these observations. There appears to be a profound intolerance of those who think or believe differently with some people suggesting that those on the other side deserve death. There were blatantly racist comments.
Fifth, I was accused of posting the original tweet as an opportunity to sell my book, Letters to the Beloved. My immediate thought was, “Yes, I decided to write a viral tweet that has very little to do with my book just on the off chance that someone might buy it.” Truthfully, I never expected anything to happen with the tweet, so selling books was not even a consideration. However, I happily used my 15 minutes of fame to draw attention to a project I am proud of.
All in all, social media has its place, but it will never replace sitting around a table with real people having real conversations. Attacking people when you are looking them in the eyes is much more difficult. It leads me to wonder how I can connect with others on a local level in more significant ways.