Updated: June 18, 2021 7:45:43 am
We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another,” writes Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in a recent essay, giving fresh impetus to discussions on social media’s “cancel culture”. The essay, posted on Adichie’s website on Tuesday, addresses the allegations of transphobia against her which date back to a 2017 interview in which she said that the experiences of trans women cannot be equated with the experiences of those who are born female. Whether one agrees with her views on this or not, there’s much to chew over in Adichie’s exasperation with those who “pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness”.
On Twitter’s treacherous terrain, where users are forced to fit sometimes complex arguments into 280 characters, kindness is a frequent casualty. The rewards — likes and retweets — come to those who react, not those who reflect. To borrow Adichie’s words, it is not a place where the messy story of each individual’s humanity, flaws and all, is allowed to play out. For some, the cost can be psychologically devastating. To take Adichie’s example, a few of her critics even characterised the death of her parents last year as “punishment” for her position on trans women.
There’s no denying the role that social media, especially Twitter, has played in platforming voices and viewpoints that would otherwise never be heard. It is flat in a way that the real world can never be. But this flatness is also what often makes it a potent weapon for harassment and bullying, especially since outrage can now be crowdsourced. And while it may seem naive to believe that real-world kindness will fix this problem, that is still the most workable solution. Acknowledging another’s vulnerability costs nothing. And, what’s more, kindness is a currency that travels far and well, unlike malice which is all too easy to hand out, but invariably hard to take.
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