Good morning, afternoon, or evening wherever you are, my friends. I’m Alan Henry, your host for this email. I’ll bring some bread for the table if you like, but don’t worry, we have more than bread on offer, I promise. Oh, and also, see that shiny new banner up there? It’s your cue to, if you haven’t already, pre-order Seen, Heard, & Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized, which comes out 6/7/22. That’s all you have to remember: six-seven. Easy, right?
Anyway, if you’ve preordered already, again, thank you. If you haven’t yet, or you’re planning to, thank you. If you’re not planning to at all, thank you for putting up with me asking you to do it over and over again.
Now then, with all that out of the way, let’s get started, shall we? I feel like so much happens between these dispatches, but this week I want to talk about the value of social media, and the importance of social media for people who have to build their own “brands,” as in, the dirty way we describe people who have to build their own reputations for good work, and for being good to work with.
In journalism circles, the big inside-baseball news was that The New York Times said it would update its social media policy and training to help journalists who suffer harassment and bad faith attacks. They also suggested that their reporters should just spend less time on social media. Now, I don’t want to get into whether what The Times is doing is good or bad. Lots of people have weighed in on that. But the one thing that I do want to object to is the notion that the solution to internet harassment is to…just get off the internet.
I’ve heard it before, of course. I remember sitting across a table at lunch with a few other editors at a previous gig when one of our bosses suggested that very same solution to internet harassment: that Twitter isn’t real, and that you can always just close your laptop and walk away. And I mean, that’s true and fair! You can definitely do that. But what you can’t do is be sure that when you’re absent, getting dogpiled or getting insults slung at you on social media, someone isn’t plotting to doxx you, or assault you in the real world, or isn’t sharing private or personal information with people who want to harm you.
And I think that’s an important distinction to make: taking your lumps for a bad tweet or a poorly written article is not, and never has been, and never will be the same as the kind of persistent harassment that women and people of color face on social media every day.
So yes, you should absolutely log off whenever possible, especially if a bad faith discussion on Twitter is turning into the kind of “mild” harassment that you get when people reply to unrelated posts, derail other conversations, snitch-tag other people to fan the flames of harassment, or just generally won’t leave you alone until the moment passes. I’ve certainly had moments where someone’s come for me on Twitter or by email because of a specific event, and all I could do is wait for them to get bored and move on to their next target. I’ll leave my favorite Twitter tools in the recommendations section below for moments when that may happen to you.
However, to just imply that none of it is real, and you should just “use social media less,” makes a very broad assumption, one I explain in this Twitter thread, kind-of-ironically. The short version is that if you can be sure that all of the power and tools and levers that your organization—whatever organization it is, not just newsrooms for journalists, this extends to teams are a large company with a specific manager, or whole department with lots of staffers—operate equally and equitably for all employees when it comes to promoting their work, raising their profiles both internally and externally, giving everyone an equal shot at career advancement, and giving everyone the opportunity to be praised for their good work, and to excel, then fine. There’d be no need for people to be on social media promoting their work, sharing their experiences, and trying to “build a brand” for themselves.
But that’s a provably false thing in most workplaces. Regardless of the kind of work that you do.
So what are the marginalized left to do instead? They have to promote their own work, they have to create their own networks, and they have to use the levers they have to raise their own profile when their institutions or businesses, managers or colleagues, won’t help. They have to create their own spaces where they can fearlessly advocate for themselves when their managers, employers, or peers won’t do it for them, even if it’s their job to do so. And this burden falls disproportionately on women, workers of color, LGBTQ workers, disabled workers, neurodivergent workers who don’t fit the traditional “office-friendly” mold, and so on.
When I worked at The New York Times, when I wanted the stories that I worked on to get promotion, I often had to go hat-in-hand to folks on several different teams to convince them why the story I worked on was worth sharing with our readers. Some of that makes sense when you’re a news organization the size of The Times, where you produce quite literally more stories than your readers can possibly absorb, or any of your promotional levers—whether they’re social media posts, newsletters, roundups, spots on the homepage, or anything else—can account for. But when I tell you how strange that environment was for me compared to the team I work with now at WIRED where there’s a procedure for that kind of promotion, and when I was the editor-in-chief at Lifehacker, where I and my team crafted our own social media (because we couldn’t afford social media managers,) it was difficult to reconcile.
The point I’m making here though is that these issues are institutional, and pushing the problem back on employee to protect themselves without organizational support when the reason this is happening to them is because of that same lack of organizational support is…problematic, no matter where you work. That means the solutions also need to be institutional, and not designed to shift culpability or responsibility to the people who are just trying to find some career success.
Of course, the people who crow the loudest to “just log off” are the most privileged among us: the people who can trust their their columns will be in front of everyone’s eyes, their presentations lauded at conferences, their invitations to industry events already in the mail, and their work never overlooked by their peers or authority figures. And that is precisely why I find that sentiment so insulting.
For the rest of us, here’s what we can do right now: Build smaller networks of people who’ll look out for you while you look out for them. Boost your own work fearlessly, like your most mediocre privileged colleagues don’t hesitate to do. Nominate your own work for awards and accolades in your field. Go to those conferences yourself, or pitch panel ideas to the conference organizers so you get the chance to speak on your expertise. Again, it comes down to the marginalized folks to do the extra heavy lifting, but if you’re doing that while your mediocre, privileged colleagues are telling you that you should just log off, you’re probably doing something right. Especially if they actually log off themselves (which trust me, they likely will not do.)
Stop Asking Women of Color to Do Unpaid Diversity Work, by Joan C. Williams: I spoke to Williams for my book, and I mean, truly and honestly, talking to her was life changing. She was able to cite research offhand that she’s been doing her entire career that exemplifies and highlights not just what I’ve experienced in specific situations that made me uncomfortable, but in entire career arcs that I simply didn’t understand until I had someone tell me that it wasn’t just me. Everything she writes is worth reading, and this is no exception. She’s a fearless advocate for women at work, especially for women of color, and she’s one of the people who more or less invented the term “office housework” versus “glamour work.” (h/t to Lydia Kan for linking me to this story!)
Viola Davis, Inside Out, by Jazmine Hughes: This is one of the best profiles of a person I’ve ever read written by one of the best profile writers I’ve ever read. There’s so much more here than you may even want to know about Viola Davis, but you’ll be glad you read every word. It’s incredible, and I came away with not just more awe and appreciation for her than I already had, but as always, an understanding of her life, her struggles, and her joys and accomplishments that I didn’t have before.
Pokémon Crystal Unlocked My Trans Girl Heart, by Anya L. Archer: I’m cheating again because I edited this story, but I thought it was important to a: let trans folks speak in their own voices, which apparently seems to be a challenge for some media outlets right now, and b: to highlight yet another example of games where, instead of being some amorphous threat to people, actually offers them an opportunity to find their true selves and meet people like them. Also Anya’s copy was so good I didn’t have to much editing, nor did I want to: it’s a touching personal essay about her childhood and the first time she played Pokémon Crystal.
So earlier in the newsletter I mentioned some tools to help if you’re getting dogpiled on social media, and two tools that I turn to relatively frequently are:
MegaBlock, which lets you completely nuke a tweet—as in you block the person who posted the tweet and everyone who’s liked that tweet at the same time. I kind of wish it would also block everyone who follows that person unless it’s a mutual, but it’s okay, you can’t have everything. But this is a great way to, if someone quote-tweets you in a shitty tweet, or replies to you in bad faith to get likes or go viral, it’s a good way you can make sure that person and no one else who liked the thing they said to you ever appears in your conversations again. Sit back, press one button, and then grin knowing all of them are super mad you blocked them and, in their own anger, pretending they won in front of their followers because you did.
Twitter Block Chain is a Chrome extension that I keep installed on pretty much all of my machines. It fills in that gap from MegaBlock where all you need to do is look at someone’s following or followers page, and it’ll block everyone there. It’s another kind of nuclear option, but I love it because, for example, if you’re under seige by, let’s say, crypto bros, it’s highly unlikely that you need to hear from anyone who follows that crypto bro, so you can just go to their followers page and block everyone. It’s also really good for those bot or bad faith accounts with like, 11 followers, most of whom are their own sockpuppets, you know?
TweetDeleter does what the name implies. It’ll delete your backlog of tweets, delete any tweets older than a certain age range, delete tweets from certain times of day, or tweets with images, and so on. It’s super useful, and I’ve used it once before: when I got dogpiled by crypto bros, I wound up deleting my oldest tweets because it was clear a bunch of them were mining my old tweets for anything that might have looked bad or that they could hold up in bad faith to paint me in a bad light. So I took the ammo from them before they could use it. Simple as that.
Those are just three I keep in my back pocket at all times. There are probably plenty plenty more, and if you have tips or suggestions, just hit reply and let me know! That goes for any or all of your thoughts too - if you reply to this message, I’ll see it! And I read every response I get, promise. I may not be able to reply (mostly because I’m shy, I know, it’s surprising to me too,) but I definitely read and appreciate all of the feedback you all give me. So thank you for that!
Anyway, I hope that helps, and I hope this whole newsletter helps. I’ll see you back here in two.