What would it take for me, a middle aged white guy with a keen interest in social media, to boycott Twitter for 24 hours? A couple of weeks ago I would have thought it would have taken an implosion of the interwebs, but it turns out it just takes a request of solidarity from the (s)heroes over at FemInEM.
There has been a lot written about the #WomenBoycottTwitter story. Here is a brief synopsis:
During the intensity surrounding the Harvey Weinstein accusations, Twitter temporarily blocked the account of an actress named Rose McGowan, one of Harvey’s original accusers. Although the suspension was technical breech of Twitter rules, this led to a larger conversation about how unevenly rules were applied – especially as it related to women recanting their stories of sexual assault. This conversation prompted an engineer named Kelly Ellis to muse about what if #WomenBoycottTwitter for just one day? What would happen when women intentionally held their voices, would anyone notice? And, what if that void was amplified by allies and champions (maybe a flawed middle aged white guy with a keen interest in social media)? Would their voices finally be heard?
When @feminemtweets shared that they were boycotting twitter and a few other MenInEMs were boycotting as well, I chose to join in. Whether you agree or disagree with the initiative here is a description of my experience.
The call for #WomenBoycottTwitter came on same day I was to give a keynote presentation at an emergency medical conference. Much thought, planning and preparation had gone into the talk based on the advice from the presentation guru Dr. Ross Fisher. The title of the talk was Getting On-Line to Meet your Continuing Medical Education Needs. Part of the presentation involved discussing social media.
As part of the Free Open Access to Medical Education (FOAMed) movement I am very engaged in social media. My audiences are routinely encouraged to share my presentations via Twitter. But because I was joining #WomenBoycottTwitter I asked my audience to wait one day before starting the inevitable #BatDoc tweetstorm.
There was a second talk prepared for the conference on the same day. This was called Social Media 101. It was designed to get people onto social media including Twitter. A three-act play was created with costumes, wigs, and props to explain the first 2,500 years of social media. Volunteers from the audience were the actors and I narrated the story. It was an experiment to teach medical education in an innovative way.
I was nervous about how it would be received. Part of the plan was to have people take pictures and tweet about the presentation. But I was supporting #WomenBoycottTwitter, so participants were asked not to post anything immediately on Twitter. The play went over very well but for the first time, in a long time, one of my talks was not shared beyond the lecture hall. No one, besides those who attended, knew about the success because it was not shared.
As expected, I was conflicted about my own feelings. Emergency physicians are known to have problems with delayed gratification. I had just pulled off an amazing educational event but it was not spread globally at the speed of social media via Twitter. The FOAMed world would have to wait one whole day to learn about this unique educational experience.
Then I started to feel guilty. So many women have gone through awful experiences and I was upset my talk was not going to be captured on Twitter? My “sacrifice” of silence for 24 hours was small and insignificant. It was an act of slacktavism.
After the boycott was over, I got on the phone with Dara Kass to debrief. I wanted to find out if any of it made a difference. What was the word on the street (other social media platforms), did anything change?
First, she thanked me for the solidarity. She reminded me that every ally and champion, even flawed middle aged white guys with keen interests in social media, make a difference. She also told me that as a result of the boycott twitter was re-evaluating its rules on abuse and harassment. That seemed worth a few hours off of the twitterverse.
Then she asked me to write about my experience. All my conflicted emotions came flooding back. Why would anyone from FeminEM want to know why I boycotted twitter? How it made me feel? But then I remembered we are stronger together, so I said yes.
Emergency medicine is a community of dedicated individuals trying to help people. This should extend to our professional family as well. It was ironic that the day I stayed off Twitter was a day I really wanted to be on it. Personally, I felt the void of my Twitter boycott although I am not really sure if Twitter missed me or #BatDoc.
The opportunity to stand in solidarity with our colleagues, whatever small the act, is one we should take at every turn. As I was told by a future legend of #EM, we are much #StrongerTogether.