I was taught growing up that if someone was bullying me or hurled a hurtful comment toward me, I should ignore it and not let the malice get to me. I did my best to follow that mantra, but I sometimes retaliated against those who would provoke me.
In retrospect, it makes sense that I didn’t always react in the mature, level-headed way that I should have when it came to those kinds of harmful situations. Nevertheless, it seems like that pattern of retaliation still exists today, but in a virtual form that intensifies its impact. With the anonymity of the Internet, social media users can say whatever they please almost without consequence. Simultaneously, the online deindividuation makes people much more susceptible to being offended by and easily drawn to provocative comments, particularly on Twitter.
This kind of instance in particular is relevant to the most recent Twitter controversy with Donald J. Trump, (a well-known cyberbully) and our President-elect. Last week, Trump caught flack for bashing the cast of Broadway’s acclaimed hit musical “Hamilton” for allegedly “harassing” his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who attended a showing of the musical. In reality, the “Hamilton” cast did not harass Pence, but one of its stars, Brandon Victor Dixon, offered a rather powerful, sensitive and respectful message to Mr. Pence about protecting the rights of American minorities and people from all races, creeds and orientations.
Still, that didn’t stop Twitter users from firing back against Trump, as hundreds flocked to respond to his message with snarky, vehement comebacks. Admittedly, Trump deserved the hate he got for brewing such a malevolent tweet against a cast of Broadway actors who gave the American people a statement about embracing diversity and love. It’s also ridiculous how the man who will be running the country for the next four years continues to fall back on hiding behind the hollow, vindictive shell of his Twitter account.
However, the fact that Trump’s controversy against “Hamilton” received way more attention from mainstream and social media is absurd, especially considering that the much bigger story of Trump’s $25 million fraud settlement for his fake Trump University was downplayed tremendously. Even such a notable publication like the New York Times made the “Hamilton” story bigger than the $25 million settlement story on their Saturday online front page.
Most of Trump’s online strategy — and I’m assuming this may be the strategy of many other Internet trolls as well — is intended to provoke people who he knows will get offended by his tweets. This strategy only works depending on how willing we are to retaliate and to let his malice get the better of us.
Though many Twitter users were affected by Trump’s “Hamilton” tweet, some were undeterred. “Silicon Valley” star, comedian and avid Twitter user Kumail Nanjiani retweeted an article from Politico, regarding how the American people are so easily vulnerable to Trump’s deceptive, taunting Twitter clickbait. In an even more direct response, Little Miss Flint posted a tweet, reminding people that there are way bigger issues than the “Hamilton” debacle, like, I don’t know, the Flint water crisis.
A similar situation occurred earlier this week when Trump denounced NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” on Twitter for being “one-sided” and “biased,” implying that there should be “equal time.” Actor Alec Baldwin, who has impersonated Trump since the 42nd season premiere of the late-night sketch show, responded with a series of brutal tweets that put the President-elect in place about focusing on the responsibilities of his impending job and not on trivial pursuits like Twitter bashing.
And while it was sweet to see Baldwin take down Trump, the irony was that it still didn’t solve the real issue at hand, which is that Trump’s tweets should not be the forefront of national issues in the media. To tell the President-elect that what he’s saying is stupid or wrong is just giving him more incentive to continue making provocative statements. Pushing back and retaliating against hateful online comments is juice for Trump and online bullies alike.
It’s not entirely unjustified, though: Baldwin had the total right to call out Trump for continuing to give every single pissed off Twitter user an aneurysm, especially since he is literally about to become president of the United States. However, regardless of how articulate and witty your tweet comeback against Trump may be to you and your followers, Trump will proceed to make a plethora of politically incorrect tweets unless his presidency somehow reforms him to become a more conscientious human being, if that ever happens.
Twitter often acts as a liberal echo chamber, and users like Donald Trump rattle that chamber and consequently grin about the worthlessness of our complaints. Whenever people are filled with strong emotions about something, they often go to Twitter to share their unfiltered thoughts, whether to vent about Trump or say something clever about life, pop culture nostalgia or the brokenness of society.
I’ll admit that I’ve definitely been guilty of retaliating online to stuff Trump has said, especially when he wrote his infamous “Appreciate the congrats” tweet after the tragic shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando last June. This was when then-Democratic presidential canidate Hillary Clinton retaliated with the phrase, “Delete your account,” a comment that, while fantastic in execution, didn’t end up swaying Trump’s Twitter followers to unfollow him.
What, then, are we supposed to do as the 21st century members of a flawed democracy verging on a fascist regime? Do our tweets, Facebook statuses and YouTube videos possess any positive influence against the pushback of the alt-righters and trolls of the Internet? How can our passionate online venting create any change if our audience is predominantly like-minded?
I’m not sure. I fear that social media has become too toxic at this point for anyone to take down radical online contrarians. Though Trump’s tweets may continue to be laced with veiled and direct misogyny, racism, sexism and blatant stupidity, the best way to react to a taunting cyberbully like Trump is to ignore him and show him that his words cannot get to us.