On Wednesday evening I had a revelation in the chip shop. Well, two in fact. The first was that I do not have to spend money on individual pickled onions to go with my chips, given that I have a jar of Hayward’s in the fridge at home. The second was that I spend far too much time hate-reading on twitter.
Over a year ago, I stopped hate-reading the Mail Online and have never looked back. I always knew it was a self-indulgent, pointless thing to do, adding to their click rate just so I could feel righteously outraged over things that anyone with the slightest bit of imagination could feel outraged over quite independently. Nevertheless, I’d get annoyed when people told me not to keep going back to the site. Couldn’t they see I needed to know my enemy? Didn’t they realise that the puny ambition of feeling less of a tosser than Richard Littlejohn mattered? Thankfully, I don’t do this any more, but I worry I’ve just transferred the obsession over to twitter, where, if anything, it’s worse.
I don’t vanity search for my name — the thought of what I might find horrifies me — but in bored moments I go and look at the timelines of people who I think hate me. It’s a really appalling thing to admit to (I’m not 100% sure why I am admitting to it!) but it becomes a compulsive, almost reflexive action. I look and I think “yeah, they’re still a baddie. That must mean I’m still a goodie.” There’s an easy, utterly dehumanising logic to it and once you start following it, it’s hard to stop.
I tell myself maybe it’s to do with female socialisation. Maybe men don’t do this. Maybe I just can’t help it, this need to see the worst of what people think, feel hurt by it and decide that these are bad people in order to build my own self-esteem. I know, deep down, that twitter is not a mirror into anyone’s soul. No one’s personality is distilled into the bite and spite of 140 characters. I know that twitter me is not really me, so why should I assume any different for anyone else? But I do. I hate-read and feel any desire to be kind and generous contracting.
There’s an absurd pleasure in giving yourself the right to be mean. It feels anarchic and liberating — for about ten seconds. Then you feel of course guilty, so the excuses come thick and fast — they started it, I’m only looking, it’s better to know these things than not know them etc. etc. They’re all rubbish excuses, of course. You know you could be engaging with people who make you aware of things you didn’t know already, or reading something richer and denser (that’s if your concentration span ever recovers from the distortions of twitter hate-reading).
My partner isn’t on twitter. Occasionally he will ask me why I’m down about something I’ve seen and I’ll tell him it’s because of what “people think”. He will point out this isn’t what “people think,” it is what some people whom I have personally looked up on twitter think, knowing in advance that this was what they’d think. It’s a fair point but I’m always outraged by his lack of outrage. How dare he point out that I’ve discovered a way to simplify debate and absolve myself of any responsibility to see nuance! I was getting really good at it!
But I am resolving to stop doing this (although even writing this makes me think I need one last fix, a quick rummage through the greatest hits of those whom, in my most overblown moments of self-regard, I consider my nemeses). There are few environments where you get to control the level of hostility you feel, but actively looking for it is just bizarre.
I am obviously worried about publishing this. What if I’m the only person self-absorbed enough to have been doing this? I’ll look even more of a knob. It’ll be another of those moments when you go “you know that thing when …” and no one else has a clue what you’re on about (unless I’m the only person who ever experiences that, too). But whatever. People can say what they like but I’m not going to actively seek out the worst of it.