Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: Why I quit Twitter

On Twitter, I was perfect troll bait. Photo / Supplied
On Twitter, I was perfect troll bait. Photo / Supplied

Leaving Twitter was, in the end, not a tough call. I originally joined because I wanted my news headlines fast. I liked the idea of people randomly on the scene at breaking news events reporting in real time. Twitter offered BBC, CNN and E News at the speed of light.

I remember the news of an ambulance arriving at Michael Jackson's ranch being tweeted long before any major news organisation reported it online or on TV. Twitter was right up my happy valley. I didn't care who followed me or why. I learnt to say things with limited words and some comedians were incredibly funny when only given 140 characters. I decided Twitter was on point. Yay Twitter!

When Charlotte Dawson took her own life, some of that was attributed to Twitter trolls. I was appalled. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to bully anyone else online, in real life or via any form of social media. I certainly didn't understand how people could be so collectively beastly that they could push a fragile person so close to the edge of life.

How could they live with themselves? How damaged were they? Who on earth could these faceless demons be? I wondered a lot who these trolls were and was shocked to find out that many of them were educated women. That made no sense to me. It horrified me.

I deduced that trolling was some kind of perverse sport and that there were champions at it. Not being a sadist, I failed to compute the joy they must feel. Clearly, orgasmic or ego-satisfying but still I didn't get it.

I was on Twitter for a while before two things dawned on me: Firstly, I was sh*t at Twitter. I wasn't vaguely funny. I completely miscalculated how things I said would be taken. I had a soft underbelly (literally and figuratively). My hashtags were lame and I was like a gormless gorilla.

Second: I was perfect troll bait. I think anyone vaguely recognisable joins the Twitter Hunger Games without realising they've actually registered for the blood sport. For me, my gorilla act made me perfect troll fodder.

I was the nice, chubby kid at school again. Like I really needed to relive that hell. I screwed up several times too with poor attempts at humour, misunderstood references, and by simply just breathing.

The attacks were brutal and relentless. Wow. This was social media lacrosse. I could see how you could break a collarbone or lose an eye or, at the very least, have your confidence rattled.

I wasn't about to give up though. I was verified. I had the "blue bird" of Twitter "greatness". I was told this was a big deal. I was "somebody-ish" in Twitter land.

Among the angry atheists, faux feminists and evil invisible monsters there were real fans and great news sites to follow. I could soldier on, learning as I went. I could nail this. I could become hilariously funny, popular and devastatingly astute. The trolls would eventually see I wasn't just a fat kid with good manners. I was capable of being cool.

Wrong.

I realised last week that no matter what you say, don't do, or don't say there are people just looking for a bit of argy-bargy. There are people desparate to be offended. Trying to reply, defend, deflect, engage or delete is just thousands and thousands of moments of wasted joy.

Twitter was like a frenemy. I never knew if I was going to be liked or loathed from hour to hour. It was like being back in school detention wondering how the hell you got there. "I wore non regulation Nomads sir? Really?"

Facebook may be too popular to be cool. Instagram is too beautiful to be taken seriously and Snapchat is too gimmicky to be grown up. But none of them seem to attract the hate and fake indignant sword fighting that Twitter attracts. Twitter is a dark art and I'm no Harry Potter wizard. I'm pure muggle.

So I quit. I quit wondering if what I innocently commented on would get turned into a tabloid headline. I quit reading celebrities beefing with each other. I quit caring if anyone cared I was even there. I'm fairly sure very few people gave a flying stuff as to whether I was there or not.

Because I figured if I left the party amid all the noise and the screaming and brawling absolutely no one would notice, or give the slightest damn.

I was right. No one did notice or cared in the slightest. And now I get all my breaking news via the Herald notifications popping up on my phone every minute or so.

I get all the news alerts immediately, just like I did on Twitter, but without being called a stupid, racist, moronic, misguided, God loving, God hating, ridiculous, fake, ugly, fat, vapid, smelly, offensive, irrelevant, man hating, woman hating, disabled people hating, perverted, Trump loving, Trump hating, talentless, mindless, hideous mole.

I'm sure other people will pick up the slack for me, but to be honest I doubt very much anyone has noticed me slip out the back door. It's a big, loud, emotionally charged party. One less fork will make zero difference.

Mind you, I'm screwed if I ever want to go back. Because I have no idea what my password is. I think I made it up about five years ago when I was drunk.

Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If the story is about Christchurch and/or the quakes, please add this:
• Canterbury Support Line: 0800 777 846

- NZME.

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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

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