Along with the new Dr. Who, the U.K. feminist Twitter boycott (#twittersilence) was a trending topic last night. Success? Kind of. Since those who participated in the boycott weren’t around to tweet, the hashtag was largely used by people making fun of author Caitlin Moran’s walkout, which was inspired by the deluge of rape threats received by activist Caroline Criado-Perez, as well as the cynicism she’s encountered.
You can check out the still-active feed yourself, but in general the criticism fell into three categories. The first was that the nature of the protest — fighting efforts to scare women into silence with organized silence — was self-defeating, if not comically futile. Boycotting Twitter to protest trolls is like screwing for virginity! The second was sarcastic: I love #twittersilence, why don’t you preachy Feminazi bores do it forever? The third was ad hominem: Caitlin Moran is personally unfit to lead a boycott of Twitter because she has used words like retard, mong, and tranny, and made jokes about AIDS on Twitter. (You know, preachy bore stuff.)
Many Twitter feminists fell into the first category, including, notably, Criado-Perez, the abused activist who started it all. As a result, the whole event seems ripe for the standard narrative of feminist failure — thwarted by internal, woman-on-woman bickering. But it didn’t exactly pan out that way. Before signing off Sunday, Moran asked her followers “not to hassle anyone who didn’t join in.” Criado-Perez recommended “shouting back” at trolls as a complementary alternative to #twittersilence even as she begged others to respect Moran’s boycott.
It wasn’t just Twitter diplomacy. People use Twitter for lots of different reasons, and have varying amounts of power within the social-networking service. Large, impervious brands like Caitlin Moran (400,000 followers) could send the same message by not tweeting that a smaller, scrappier activist account like Criado-Perez (25,000 followers) sends by refusing to stop tweeting. Two women could do different things and simultaneously be doing “good” things for women! A Twitter walkout is only superior, in my opinion, because you’re not obligated to hear people say otherwise. But I just call that “the weekend.”