This is where social media’s false friendship is especially deadly. When you vent your anger and despair, it feels like you’re shouting into the compliant void, the digital equivalent of screaming into a pillow. Who cares about “organizing strategies”? You’re in pain, damn it, screw everyone else, you just need to yell, cry, scream. The trouble is that you’re not exclaiming into a void, you’re screaming where everyone else can hear it. And your words will affect them.
The insidious thing is that social media drafts us into spreading the evangel of impending doom. Social media doesn’t just show us sources of despair. It shows us living in despair. That creates a dark resonating effect, feeding back and amplified again and again, until it’s the only thing some of us can hear.
“I do wonder,” Branstetter continued, “if people are losing sight of the frame and getting lost in the picture.” The frame, of course, being social media’s conflict-driven emphasis of bad news. She added that people—especially trans people—were at risk of “not seeing the ways they’re being guided towards certain ends [by Twitter].”
This has always been a problem on Twitter, but it’s exponentially worse now that the platform isn’t even pretending to moderate or otherwise control bigotry. For instance, I’ve noted many people reporting an extraordinary amount of far-right bigotry on Twitter’s new For You tab. I’ve not seen the same on my own, but then I don’t post anymore save to very occasionally promote my work. Still, the far-right onslaught never materialized for me. Part of that, likely, has to do with the fact that I’m not asking the platform to show it to me. But others may unthinkingly doomscroll their way into telling Twitter’s dying algorithm to show them ever more exotic sources of misery.
It’s difficult to overcome the momentum of algorithmic suppression, but our hearts and minds remain our own. We can defend them against colonization by hate-campaigners, who feed on our despair like some demon in a German fairy tale.
What is needed instead of ceaseless portents of doom is a constant reminder of what we’re fighting for—especially for those trans people that rely on social media to have any sense of community at all, a point Branstetter returned to frequently. It’s especially important that they be able to see what trans thriving looks like. Especially our youth. As sociologist Tey Meadow put it over a decade ago, we need “inspiration for the kids who are still here … They need stories of teenagers just like them who are safe and happy now.”
In that way, every trans person who’s ever posted a cute selfie is doing their part. But beyond that, there are weddings, graduations, parties, new homes, families, smiles, and beauty that transition made possible. It’s important for people to see, for trans people to get the reminder that their lives are worth living, and for cis people to see that our lives are more than tragedy and precarity.