This has been pissing me off for a while, and it continues to piss me off. When receiving criticism, an altogether-too-popular retort is “Well what have you done lately? You’re just sitting there snarking on the internet.” From the dick-swinging manarchists deflecting from sexism, to the liberals upset that you criticised their precious petition, the war-cry is howled across digital space with alarming regularity. And there is not one thing about this silly little statement that is OK.
Let’s deal with the fact that it is an obvious deflection first. Rather than an attempt to address any criticism of tactics or ideology, asking “well, what have you done?” is a clumsy sidestep, an admission of having no actual answer or will to engage, and about as strong an answer as “I know you are, you said you are, but what am I?”
Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, it makes you sound like an undercover cop. If you ask someone to list their activist credentials, I find it very difficult to believe that you are not attempting to gather intelligence and will add any answers to a dossier. In its own clumsy way, it is a fairly decent tactic for the undercover cop to employ, the request to produce an inventory of personal involvement in activism being such a ubiquitous demand. It can goad people into divulging information that it is not necessarily safe to divulge in a climate of surveillance and a hard line against anyone who dares to oppose the murky forces of the state.
And, to further the comparisons with the police, saying “what are you doing, except snarking on Twitter” is ableist as all fuck. The advent of social media was a boon for a lot of people, finally broadening the possibility of involvement to people who had been excluded from many more traditional channels of engagement. The fact of the matter is that for some, it is only possible or safe to get involved through social media. And is that a problem? No, not at all. As this case study from Zedkat shows, Twitter feminism has real, tangible results.
And the intangibles are just as important too. What is dismissed as snark is something which too many privileged people fear: criticism. Social media allows for instant accountability, which is one of its strengths. Unfortunately, a lot of privileged people don’t really like this instant accountability, which leads them to be so dismissive in such an ableist way. Yet it is criticism which makes us stronger, and criticism which means that we can get our theory and our tactics in order. We absolutely should discuss the problems with what we are doing, and criticisms which come from those whose voices have been silenced are perhaps the most important. The voices of the people who are “only on Twitter” are ones which have seldom been heeded throughout history, and now is the time to listen.
We are facing a seemingly insurmountable enemy, a hydra with many heads, and ultimately our struggles all intersect. The class struggle is bound to other oppressions, and every liberation struggle is connected. As such, we need a diversity of tactics. But this does not mean we should be uncritical of tactics used: far from it. We need to be open to criticism, rather than dismissive. What is thrown away as an irrelevance is crucial. It is essential our revolution is done without pissing on those already pissed on by this vile state of affairs. And for that, once again, we need to listen to this criticism. If your response to criticism is this flavour of ableism, you’re probably a bit of a bellend, and you should try not being a bit of a bellend.
And so, let’s stop hearing this risible demand, this feeble deflection bound up in ableism. We should be better than that.