Yesterday, the anti-trans group For Women Scotland accused publisher Laura Waddell of running a “misogynist blocklist” to prevent Twitter users from reading and replying to her posts. Like other claims the group makes – this is the same organisation that accused a cat of sectarianism a few weeks back – it wasn’t true. Like many people on Twitter, Waddell manually blocks individual accounts when she can no longer be arsed with their bullshit. Their account was one of them after previous interactions on the social network.
Blocking people can be crucial on Twitter. If you don’t do it, your feed can quickly fill with awful people trying to ruin your day. I block thousands of people, bigots and trolls of all stripes, using an automated list of known offenders – racist abusers, anti-trans bigots, sea lions (people who pretend to be arguing in good faith but just waste enormous amounts of time) and so on.
Sea lions are among the worst, because they’re the midges of social media: individually insignificant but hugely annoying in groups. Here’s a good cartoon about them.
I’m sure some perfectly nice people are also blocked by accident but I have neither the time nor the inclination to manually go through a list of thousands of people. Unfortunately accidental blocks are the collateral damage caused by bigots and trolls’ online abuse. If Twitter actually enforced its own rules against abuse, hate speech and harassment there’d be no need for a block feature at all.
Yesterday the Equality Network posted a tweet about gender recognition and was quickly piled on by the anti-trans crowd. As the organisation posted today:
We firmly believe that the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act can be done without affecting the rights of women or others, and we are happy to see that genuinely discussed and to engage. However some of the responses to our tweet [yesterday] illustrate a different agenda…
The important word here is “genuinely”. Many of the people who pile on trans people and trans allies online are not looking for a genuine discussion; they are coming with a script of pre-decided talking points and have absolutely no interest in the answers. They aren’t coming for a debate. They believe they are waging a war.
This graphic has been doing the rounds on Twitter lately. It’s the “I don’t hate minority X, but…” bingo card, designed to show the patterns that appear again and again and again online. “I don’t hate black/trans/gay people, but we need to protect our children from predators”. “Asian/Trans/women are just too easily offended.” “Black/trans/gay people are erasing us”. “I believe in equality but this lot have gone too far”.
Bear in mind that these aren’t just the odd tweet. People from minority groups and their allies can be on the receiving end of dozens, sometimes hundreds of messages all saying the same thing: I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG DEBATE ME NOW COWARD.
What’s a girl to do?
To take the current example over gender recognition reform, many people are completely wrong about the law. They conflate the Gender Recognition Act with the Equality Act, are unaware of the context within human rights legislation, have no understanding of what self-ID actually means, are unaware of the medical, scientific and legal status of trans people and so on.
Some people believe things that aren’t true because they’ve been misled by bad actors. They think trans children are given surgery (they aren’t), that they’re fast-tracked and forced to identify as trans (nope), that puberty blockers are new, experimental drugs (nope) or that children are prescribed cross-sex hormones (nope again).
If they are willing to discuss these things, to look at the evidence, then of course you can have a worthwhile debate. But if they’re just going to shout “fake news”, accuse trans women of being predatory, violent men and call you a handmaiden of the patriarchy (or worse) because someone on the internet told them to, they’re a complete waste of your time, energy and oxygen. You cannot have a legitimate, constructive or useful debate with somebody who is acting in bad faith.
Some people on the internet are stupid. Some are wicked. Some are both. You have no obligation to put up with their bullshit.
Unless you’re operating it on behalf of an organisation, your Twitter feed (or any other social media presence) is yours, and you decide what you want in it. Think of it as a table in a pub: you’re there talking to your pals. If a bunch of people were to come over and loudly demand you debate them right here, right now, you’d tell them to fuck off. And that’s pretty much what blocking does. It doesn’t censor people. It just stops them from being able to annoy you.
In the case of trans issues, if someone refuses to accept that trans people are not mentally ill, they are no different from flat-earthers. If they refuse to accept that biology is more complicated than they learned in primary school, they are no different from climate change deniers. If they claim that protecting trans people from discrimination will erase women, they are no different from the racists who peddle the “white genocide” conspiracy theory. If they claim trans people are being funded by George Soros, they are no different from any other anti-semite.
These people may deserve your pity, but they do not deserve your attention.