Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
“Your account is deactivated.”
That’s the message I got 30 seconds after I deleted Twitter on the day Elon Musk became the platform’s new owner. After a mostly dysfunctional 12-year relationship with Twitter that I admit brought some moments of joy, it was time to exercise my freedom of speech to say goodbye and good riddance.
That small act may not change much in the Twitter-verse of 237.8 million users. But for me, quitting Twitter was an act of power and self-care. I was setting boundaries for what I will, and will not, allow in my life.
And surely, it was an act of silent defiance, because I know as a media professional so much of what we do in newsrooms, the stories we choose to tell, the assumptions we make about the world have depended on what the Twitter-verse is telling us.
Many media professionals are mandated to have social media accounts. In fact, covering trending stories on Twitter is an integral part of journalism today. So, in quitting, it’s a given that my media opportunities — and my bank account — could be affected negatively.
But choosing peace of mind over any work mandate or financial gain feels right for me.
According to an Amnesty International report, Black women are the most hate-targeted Twitter users. They were 84% more likely than White women to be the target of an abusive or problematic tweet. And those numbers are from a 2018 report, before Musk. After he closed his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter on October 27, that abuse has skyrocketed.
According to one cyber research organization, Network Contagion Research Institute, the use of the N-word jumped by nearly 500% on the platform a day after Musk, the self-declared “free speech” absolutist, took over.
A study out of Montclair State University also found that homophobic, antisemitic and racial hate terms have dramatically escalated.
Welcome to Musk’s Twitter.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing over this rise in hate speech despite Musk’s statements about forming content moderation and safety measures to ensure the platform does not become a “free-for-all hellscape.” In a recent meeting with the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and other civil rights groups, Musk discussed forming a yet-to-be named “content moderation council” that will review company policies. Some top advertisers are talking about pausing Twitter advertising.
Talk is good. And hopefully, Musk will work to reform Twitter so it holds users accountable who promote dangerous conspiracy theories, hate speech and threats so vile that they incite violence.
Maybe he’ll even work on his own penchant to promote lies and conspiracy theories to his 114.5 million followers, as he did in a now-deleted tweet regarding the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, in the early hours of October 28 at their San Francisco home.
But don’t expect a great Twitter exodus — not in a world where everyone craves attention and adulation. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a virtual brand ambassador or an influencer.
Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see a few famous faces leave, including Shonda Rimes, Sara Bareilles and Toni Braxton.
Yet Black Twitter — the platform’s community of largely millions of Black users — has remained on the site. The reasons vary for staying in the face of blatant disrespect and hatred. For some, it means keeping a job. Others may be convinced Twitter is the best way to attain global influence, or that it’s better to stay and fight for change from within.
I’m not here to judge, but good luck with that one.
One Black twitter user, Billy Dixon (@atwmpastor), tweeted about one of the offensive posts he saw: “Saving every racist tweet to prove that the new twitter is causing harm and violence to Black People. People only understand when they lose money.”
Another user, @lana_lovehall, wondered if hate speech would be dealt with: “Now that Elon Musk owns Twitter let’s see if our reports of racism will be taken (seriously) or continue to be ignored …”
Musk has said Twitter has seen a “massive drop in revenue,” citing “activist groups” pressuring advertisers.
But when you’re the richest man in the world, it’s hard to believe a few advertiser threats will break you.
Data points about rising racism on Twitter can be illuminating, but they generally reinforce what we already know to be true. Like many Black women on the site, I can testify about what it feels like to be harassed and threatened with violence. I’ve experienced it all.
In one particularly vile incident that spilled over into my personal life and became a matter of my family’s personal safety, authorities had to get involved. Never one to back down to bullies, I stayed on the platform and battled haters one tweet at a time for years.
What a waste of my time. Waking up to toxic attacks on Twitter kept me in beast mode, on and off the site. That’s what the Twitter-verse will do to you — make you angry and keep you distracted from the real work at hand.
Twitter will have you fighting anonymous bots meant to misinform the masses and real people who don’t have the courage or the intellect to challenge you in person.
So, nah, I’m done. I’ll take my power and my voice and walk in the real world.