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Thursday, December 28, 2017

December 28, 2017: Reviewing Resistance: Twitter

[Whether we like it or not—and it likely goes without saying that I don’t—2017 has been defined by Donald Trump. So for this year in review series, I wanted to AmericanStudy five forms of resistance to all things Trump. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the year, Trumptastic or otherwise, in comments!]
On three Twitter accounts that exemplify three forms of social media resistance.
1)      Ted Lieu: The conversation about elected officials using (or abusing) Twitter has to start with the current occupant of the Oval Office, of course. But while Trump may have pioneered that consistent use of the social media platform (Obama Tweeted very sparingly from his official presidential account while in office), that doesn’t mean that all elected officials who Tweet regularly have to do so in such aggressively awful ways. And I would highlight California Congressman Ted Lieu as a model of a very different form of political Tweeting. Lieu certainly seems to revel in a form of social media celebrity that is not unlike what Trump enjoyed in the years before his presidential run, and that’s a complicated identity for any political leader to inhabit. But to my mind, Lieu uses his Tweets most consistently not to self-aggrandize, not to attack or demean, and not to gain attention for its own sake, but rather to attempt to shape and move the conversation in ways that will be both opposed to Trump’s narratives and productive for our civic community. Those are vital goals for any political Tweeting in 2018, to me.
2)      April Reign: I’ve written a good bit about hashtag activism in this space, and April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite and co-creator of #NoConfederate (among other hashtag movements), is one of our most prominent such social media activists. In that role, I’d say she’s using Twitter for even more important and enduring—and more innovative—causes than resisting Trump. But at the same time, I would also argue that Reign—like the three young women who started the #BlackLivesMatter movement, like Shaun King and Deray McKesson and many other figures who have achieved their prominence and power online—is a leading voice in a 21st Century, digital Civil Rights Movement. Such a movement itself represents a potent alternative and antidote to Trump and the white supremacism for which he so consistently stands (especially in his Tweets and online presence). Moreover, Reign’s Tweets and voice, while of course unique and individual to her, also represent one of our most important social and political communities (as we just witnessed in the Alabama special election for Senate), and a group that is at the forefront of the resistance: African American women.
3)      Stephen King: While both political engagement and hashtag activism are key elements to Twitter, I think it’s fair to say that one of the platform’s most enduring features remains the chance to hear from celebrities in a more direct way than offered by most other media. Over the last year, numerous such figures have used their accounts to offer pointed critiques of Trump: George Takei, J.K. Rowling, Ron Perlman, Alyssa Milano, and many many others. But I’ve been particularly interested to see how Stephen King, one of the best-selling and most beloved authors of the last few decades, has done so. To my mind (and I’ve been reading King since I fell in love with The Dark Tower series and The Bachman Books in early high school), King has never been an overtly political writer; indeed, I would say that he is primariliy interested in fears and flaws that plague us all, regardless of any particular affliations or allegiances. So to see how fully Trump has pushed King to overt online political engagement, and then to follow the thread of King’s blunt and powerful Tweets, makes plain just how much none of us can remain neutral or voiceless in this moment. The resistance is all of us, and King, like these other Twitter voices, is helping fight the good fight.
Last review tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other 2017 stories you’d highlight?

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