Sep 09, 2021
8 mins read
Why Twitter Followers are Scary
I love my Twitter followers. Like a lot. Way more than I should. Many of them have become my dearest friends. They’re my cheerleaders, my shoulders to cry on, my crutches when my legs are wobbly, and my knees suck at being knees. I’ve learned many names, memorized faces, fallen in love with their words.
I’m not talking general Twitter as a whole—which, let’s face it, can be an absolute turd fest—but specifically, the Writing Community. A stunning oasis of nerds and booklovers and storytellers. When I joined 6 months ago, I felt like I found my people. Writers welcomed me and clicked that follow button. They cheered for me when my short story was published and sympathized with me on days writing felt like trying to squeeze a dollop of toothpaste from a very nearly empty tube. Frustrating, unsatisfying, and ultimately, with only myself to blame. They, my beautiful friends, were there through it all.
So, in a place where I related to almost everyone on some level, I was finally in a safe place on the internet… right?
I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that I was very fortunate to gain followers very quickly at the beginning. I’m acutely aware how all this may seem like a “champagne problem.” (Are champagne problems only champagne problems if they’re from the Champagne part of France? Otherwise, they’re just sparkling problems?) I know how frustrating it can be when it feels like you’re screaming into the void and not getting engagement. I happened to do a number of things right, got very lucky, and gained my first thousand followers in 12 days.
Which came with approximately one metric buttload of trolls, Reply Guys™, and creeps. And, well, let’s not get into why that’s a thing that happens. At least, not today.
Besides, they are not the reason I think Twitter followers are scary. In fact, the reason has nothing to do with followers at all.
The reason I think Twitter followers are scary, is me.
So, there are many ways to be “successful” on Twitter. And many ways to define what that success looks like. Twitter is easy for me. I am naturally outgoing and love making stupid jokes, dropping witty comments, and making friends. *Insert horn-self-tooting here*
I quickly gained followers and grew my engagement. But, like many others, the main reason I joined Twitter was to connect. To find other writers, maybe even future readers, to become a member of a supportive community I admired and adored. In this measure, I succeeded. I have friendships with people I still think are way too cool to talk to me. I have friends that I love and would die for. And in return, so many people love and support me.
Except… do they?
The thing with online platforms—and probably also life—is that it’s impossible to show all of yourself in a completely authentic way. We’re complex, multi-faceted, capable of thinking and feeling multiple things at once. And on Twitter, where human attention is currency, I liked to share thoughts that were funny and/or relatable. On days where I was sad, worried about work or relationships, or overwhelmed with the absurd responsibilities of being a human, I’d think of a stupid dad joke. So, I’d tweet the dad joke. Engage with replies in an amusing way. Or maybe I’d even share something vulnerable. But not too dark, not too angry. Something palatable.
Revealing only a very small fraction of the whole.
I’m honest in most respects. My self-deprecating humour truly is how I feel. I make jokes and quips and spew weird inappropriate word vomits like I do offline. I share, even overshare, mental health struggles because it’s important to me to normalize the conversation. I adore the people I adore.
But mostly, especially at the beginning, I was entertainment. A persona. Partially because it’s impossible to encapsulate the complex and convoluted traits that make up who we are in 280 characters. Mostly because only very carefully curated versions of me felt worthy to display. Like make-up for my personality. Just bright red lipstick to catch the eye.
And at first, this was fine. Until I deeply connected with people.
I’ve had people tell me they thought I was “real” or “cool” or “perfect.” I am not any of those things. That last word terrifies me most of all. Perfect. Something, that my friends who know me, would now admit I am definitely not. But for a while… what a horrible, terrifying thing to live up to.
Soon, it felt like when people supported or loved me, they didn’t really love me. But this one version of me. Who was not me—just a handful of traits that are part of a much messier, deeply flawed whole. The likeable and entertaining bits. Lipstick Me. Still me, still honest—but also not the truth.
And now, these followers, friends, who I cherish, admire, and connect with, don’t care about me, but this persona that is much funnier, kinder, and happier than I really am. And what if they get to know me better and are deeply disappointed? And worse, what if I am not deserving of the value others have assigned to me?
It is a strange thing, being so visible yet feeling unseen. In truth, I fear being seen. Because the real, messy, foolish, and frankly, boring version of me – that is not the version people will love.
I have tried my best, for a long while now, to be as authentic as possible online. I share my flaws, my bad moods, my darker thoughts. I’ll reveal my low self-esteem, my inability to get out of bed. See me, I want to scream in all caps, see the person behind the screen. I’m not funny or smart or interesting. See me, see me, see me.
And when this wonderful, beautiful, generous community meets me with love and patience anyway, I think to myself, That’s not really for you. That is not your love to keep. You’re not the one they love.
This is not exclusive to the online experience. Even though I’m honest and overshare IRL, it doesn’t feel possible for someone to know all of me. But this platform has alerted me to the fact that it’s impossible for everyone—or maybe anyone—to know you as well as you know yourself. That the majority of the people in your life, every person you meet, see a version of you that you don’t necessarily identify with.
They see a version without nuance. The lights, not the wiring. They slap your name tag on it. And when they love that version… is it really you they love? Or just what they made you up in their minds to be? Are all these versions equally real?
Maybe. I don’t know.
It might sound stupid to care so much about what these people think of me. People who I have never even met in person. But for better or for worse, online platforms have become places where we exist and live our lives. And just like how, as writers, our words can build worlds, make us fall in love, make us ache with grief, or cry with joy, these people who are pixels on a screen, are their own form of reality. They are as real as this keyboard I’m tapping on. Maybe more so. And when they find ways to hold my proverbial hand, that’s real too.
I know not everyone uses or experiences Twitter in the same way. For many, it’s purely a marketing and networking tool. Or a place for fun, or venting, or yelling about sports. But for me, it is very much a beloved community. These people are real. They matter to me. How they value me, matters to me.
And I know value stems from within, or whatever the “correct” way to think about it is, but we also live in a collectivist society. We may feel like individuals, make decisions as individuals, but I believe we are inseparable from the whole. We are us, but we are also our relationships, our communities, our conversations. We are the people who we love, and the people who love us. Like it or not, this extends to those pixel-people on your screen.
In the end, aren’t we all here to feel valuable in some way? Maybe I am fortunate that people have assigned value to Lipstick Me. I like her. I want to be her. And for some fleeting moments, I am her. For a breath or two, I do deserve all that support and concern and affection. Even though the rest of the time I have imposter syndrome for my own personality, those few breaths are fucking incredible.
I am indescribably and eternally grateful for those who have seen more and more of me and have never left. Who remind me that whoever I am, with my flaws and fuckups and all, I’m still worthy.
Maybe we don’t have to be seen to be loved. Maybe we can just be loved.
If we are inseparable from our communities, even online ones, then we are never alone.
And that makes this whole shitshow a lot less terrifying.