Giving Up The Snark

I made the commitment to myself a few months ago: I was no longer going to be sarcastic, snarky or small-minded on Twitter.

I didn’t tell anyone. I just made a little agreement with myself: first, to notice the seduction of the clapback, and second, to not indulge.

And I can tell you, it is hard.

It’s so tempting to write, “Hey [insert person or brand name here]. Do better.”

The giddy smugness! The intoxicating self-righteousness! Could anything be more sublime?

Look back through my timeline, and you’ll see more than one deleted tweet, where I couldn’t resist: The devil on my shoulder took over the keyboard and hit “send” before my better self had a chance to intervene.

I’ve been reminded regularly of a column I wrote last January, ”On The Culpability Of Social Media.” I quoted the marvelous Reverend Frank Ritchie, who had been ruminating along a similar line: “My mockery achieves nothing except furthering division… I believe in a world where we can profoundly disagree but still see the humanity in each other. I didn’t live up to that today.”



In response, I noted, “It’s not Twitter’s fault that snark lies within me, waiting to be activated. But we must recognize the phenomenon: Social media supplies the conditions that activate the snark within us, the animosity within us, the polarization within us, the radicalization within us. Social media is beautifully designed to amplify the lesser angels of our nature.”

I believe it was not long after writing that column that I decided to give up the snark. And every time I’m tempted to throw out a quick one-liner, I ask myself: Am I trying to make things better, or am I trying to make myself feel better?

Owning someone online makes us feel better. But it does not make things better. It does not invite dialogue or learning.

And yet dialogue and learning should be our objective. As Joseph Joubert said, “The aim of any argument or discussion should be not victory, but progress.”

Two weeks ago, I was filling in an online form for a bank and they asked my gender: a radio-button question with only two options, male and female.

Now, if ever there were a place where a bit of well-aimed snark about a corporation’s lack of wokeness gets rewarded, it’s Twitter. And a bank, no less! Such an easy target.

I started to craft my tweet, using the time-honored formula above: Do better. But then, just before I hit send, I caught myself. I’m asking them to do better. Shouldn’t I do better?

So instead, I wrote, “Hey [bank], might I recommend updating this form to be more inclusive please?”

To which they replied, “Hi Kaila, thanks for this. We know our systems are not where they need to be, and we have a committed group working on getting our systems sorted so our customers can identify as their true selves. We're definitely working on this. Thanks, Will”

I know there are huge challenges in this world that cannot be fixed by saying please. I know that issues of systemic racism, bias, injustice are not solved by being polite, and I am not interested in that obnoxious peace described by Martin Luther King Jr. as the absence of tension rather than the presence of justice.

I am not asking anyone to stand down from the work of justice. What I am saying is that it would be unusual for snark to further the cause of justice. It would be unusual for sarcasm to drive progress. So I’ve made the call to opt out of that style of communication.

Wanna join me?

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