Social media has given us the power to be massive assholes… but can we just not?
By Rebecca Peterson, Assistant Editor
Ah, Twitter. There was a time where I had no idea what it was or how it worked. Now, I still don’t know how it works, but I’m all too aware of what it is, and what it can do.
You see, social media has become this wonderful bridge that connects content creators with their fans. Gone are the days of writing hopeful fan mail (or hate mail, depending on how you felt about last week’s plot twist) to the writer of your choice and sending it off by snail mail to a generalized post box, knowing there would be several layers of filters for that letter to wade through before ever reaching the hands of its intended recipient. Now, in the space of a few quick taps on the keyboard and with 140 characters to play with, our every thought can be tossed out in the general direction of our intended target with an “@” symbol or a hashtag.
Please don’t take this as a “hurr-durr technology is bad and millennials are destroying the post office with their smartphones” think piece, because it’s not. I think it is fascinating that we have this power to connect with complete strangers so quickly and easily. What’s bothering me is what people are doing with it.
See, what writing an angry letter gives you that writing an angry tweet doesn’t, is time. You have time while writing an angry letter by hand to consider whether telling someone that they’re a no-talent hack who doesn’t deserve to live over whether or not your favourite character got enough screen time is a worthy use of ink and paper. You have time walking from your house to the post box to think about the effort you’re putting in to letting someone who was probably directed to write the thing you didn’t like by a producer who makes a lot more money than they do know that you think they’re a good-for-nothing jerk-off. You have time while that letter delivers, painfully slowly, to think about how petty your words might have been, how much of a non-issue this whole thing really is, how it’s a TV show, for christ sake, it’s a TV show, and maybe time to hope that the letter never actually reaches its intended target. Which, given how flooded well-known writers and content creators can get with feedback and fan mail, it might not.
You don’t have that time on Twitter (or Facebook, or Instagram, or God help us, Tumblr).
I’m not saying you shouldn’t criticize the media you consume—by all means, go for it. But you should be taking into consideration who you’re directing your criticism at, and how constructive it is. If you’re blasting an office PA on Twitter who happens to work for a show that’s taken a direction you don’t like by demanding them to tell the producers to screw themselves, you’re neither A) contributing in a meaningful way to a constructive conversation and providing valuable feedback or B) even talking to the right person. Oftentimes the person providing the “face” of the problem—writers, directors, etc.—aren’t the ones in charge of making these decisions. A writer for a show can’t control what the producer asks them to do, after all, and sometimes the writers are just as upset over what they’ve had to write for their paycheck as you are. It’s not like they’d be able to say that on social media while keeping their job, anyway. As someone with friends and family in the film industry, believe me, their social media is often carefully monitored for anything that could harm the production or the company attached.
Besides, a lot of the vitriol I see hurled at writers and, for the love of all things holy, actors—who genuinely have no control over story points, by-the-by—has nothing to do with what could be considered genuine criticism, and more to do with what the consumer wants from their show that they feel they’ve been cheated of. Do you want more Lance in Voltron: Legendary Defender? Fantastic. If you have to say anything, say that Lance is a character you really love and you can’t wait to see more of him. Sending the actor who plays Pidge in Voltron angry messages and tweets claiming that there’s a grand conspiracy to keep Lance out of the show and all the writers are talentless losers because of it is not going to help your case. At all.
(Seriously, actors have literally no control over these decisions, what are you even trying to do??)
At the end of the day, social media is just like any other tool—it can be used for good, or for pointless nonsense. If you’re going to use it to send pointless hate to the wrong people, you’re essentially doing the online equivalent of banging your head against a wall. If you’re lucky, the only person you’ll hurt is you. If you’re unlucky, you may find your favourite content creators aren’t quite so willing to connect with their audience online anymore.
So maybe give yourself that time to think before sending an angry tweet. At the very least, take that time to look up who actually makes the creative decisions you’re upset about.
(Hint: It’s literally never, ever the actors.)
(Or the PAs.)