While there may be plenty of negative issues with Twitter, the platform has provided me and many others with the opportunity to learn and grow at little cost.
Our education system is elitist, expensive and unequal. It’s also racially and gender-biased. I have learned so much on Twitter about history from a non-white and non-male perspective. I have learned about trans rights, LGBTQ history, African diasporic spiritual systems, critical theory and black queer culture on the platform.
Open source education and social media have both given us a way to share knowledge with each other for cheap or free. It is not necessarily a replacement for college, but as far as politics, sociology, womanism, entertainment, networking and psychology are concerned, Twitter contains a wealth of information.
I have learned more on Twitter in the past 8 months than I did in the previous two years on Facebook. Because most things on Twitter are public it gives you access to business, influencers and celebrities in a way that is more conducive to flow and opportunity than Facebook. Information and conversation on Twitter is in perpetual flux and one good retweet can get your writing or whatever else seen by hundreds of thousands of people. It is relatively easy to build a solid audience with consistency of quality and branding.
Just the other day I had a conversation with one of my family members about how I make the bulk of my income at the moment. When I mentioned Twitter as a conduit for much of my income via links, sales in my shop, writing gigs and commissions, they were incredulous. They were also surprised that people sometimes paid for my Twitter content, or subscribe to my Patreon.
What value could these people possibly be gaining from my tweets? When I spoke about how much I learn from Twitter and how much support and opportunities it has brought me so far, they were in disbelief that anybody could learn anything substantial from a social media site. Many people are incredulous at the very idea of paying for education or entertainment via a Square Cash or PayPal account for a Twitter thread. Education especially through an unofficial source (and for cheap) is blasphemous to them.
As a self-employed artist and single mother, Twitter has afforded me a place to build a platform for myself in order to sell my art and my words and network. There aren’t that many semi-out Black sex workers who are vocal and have the experiences that I have had. I have connected with so many people, not just professionally, but in real life, and emotionally.
I have improved as a writer, and artist. I have been able to parlay my Twitter presence into a small income, and even though I am still barely making it, my bills and rent are paid. Twitter also taught me that a degree doesn’t always equal intelligence, though it may give you access to different sources of knowledge.
There are many educated yet uninformed bigots. And there are some pitfalls to Twitter and Facebook. Even though social media gives us an outlet to express ourselves, the platforms often censor us themselves. A lot of right-wing/alt-right, i.e. racist, groups tend to get away with harassing POC. Queer activists and POC activists are banned from either platform regularly.
Twitter and other social media platforms developed as ways for people to connect to their loved ones and friends and coworkers easily. Even as these platforms grow they are seen as both useful and useless, depending on where the person making the proclamation sits.
Many still see social media as a separate virtual life, as if the way we interact (or don’t) on social media doesn’t reflect our social patterns (in real life). In my personal life I have noticed that the person saying an issue is “not that deep” is usually the less-oppressed party or a person who views social media as entertainment or frivolous – until an issue that centers them or someone they know comes up. Unless it concerns them, “it’s not that deep.”
But as a balance, there are many grassroots organizations and activists who use both Twitter and Facebook to communicate a multitude of things, including vital information about social justice movements. Womanists, Black LGBTQ, American Indigenous, Afro-diasporic ethnic groups, Mexican, etc., are all creating and nurturing movements and supporting each other through these imperfect platforms.
Social media gives people access to different types of education they may have been denied in formal school – social media can also teach you to check your sources and to think critically – especially Twitter. At the same time, if you are not seeking out opportunities to grow when using social media – or your primary purpose is escapism – then of course you will feel like the time spent there is worthless, redundant or stagnating.
This is not to say that every negative experience should be dismissed or that it’s your fault. This is purely addressing those who find it outlandish that learning takes place on Twitter, or who think degrees determine your ability to teach or seek out accurate information. Womanists, sex educators, and queer POC have been my biggest supporters, especially on my (obviously) preferred platform, Twitter. I don’t think I would be where I am today without their support and informal mentorship.