You may have noticed some odd things going on my blog today. Around 11:45 a.m. I published a post that was part explanation, part make-myself-feel-better regarding a situation I found myself in moments before.
This is where there’s danger in giving me a laptop and somewhat fluid freedom for eight hours a day.
I originally posted the following post about an encounter I had this morning. You can read the original piece below, but first read my explanation of why I put it up, then took it down, and have now decide to make it live again.
When I published it, I meant for it to be a way to communicate my meaning to a woman who had turned me down for an interview in a brash fashion. I realize that there’s definitely a reason why she responded the way she did. From her perspective, I was out of line and exploited her bad experiences with the media by saying, “Hey, want to talk to the media again?”
From my perspective, blocking me was totally within her rights, as was calling me out to her followers as she does to most people who disagree with her. That’s a risk I took when I contacted her, and I was well aware of it (even if I didn’t want to believe I’d be lumped in with the many trolls and sexists who have harassed her).
But I also believe that we’re fighting for the same things — equality and diversity — which means that I have just as much a responsibility of carrying that torch as she does. Her followers will hate me for this post. Some have already displayed their frustration through social media by saying that I demonized her even further, and that’s part of what made me reexamine how I presented the story. But after taking a step back and speaking with other feminists whom I respect and idolize, I’ve realized that I have the same right as she does to voice my opinion, and in whatever graceful or graceless manner I choose. The lesson of the day is that insensitivity is something all of us are guilty of, both feminists and misogynists, especially when click-clacking behind the safety of a computer screen. I’m not immune. She’s not immune.
The original post follows:
So this happened today, and it isn’t even noon. For the first time ever, I got denied an interview through 140 characters of pure defensive rage.
A while back, I followed a woman on Twitter who started a media group focused on promoting diversity in technology culture. She’s pretty controversial, but I found a lot of worth in some of the things she would write or share. Today she was tweeting about how the media has abused her in the last year, and I immediately thought this would be an interesting story for one of our magazines. How does someone recover from having their diversity idea become a source of harassment? So I asked, as professionally as possible in the short amount of text allowed: “I’m with @DiversityExec & wondering if you’d be interested in doing an interview for a mini-profile?”
As they say, hindsight is 140 characters. An hour out from the incident, I fully recognize my stupidity in this situation.
I was operating under the delusion that “I’m not like those other reporters. I’ll get her story right.” But unfortunately, that’s not how she saw me when she responded “I’m literally tweeting about how abusive media has been to me and you pick now to ask for a profile? No way”
(I’m leaving her name and handle out on purpose. Seems like the right thing to do.)
You would think someone in her position — a media manager — would recognize our publication as a magazine that focuses on the very same topics as she does, but in her case I don’t think she took the time to even look at where I was coming from. That’s the problem with this Twitter thing. Everyone has time to bang out a 140-character message, but no one has time to read said 140 characters. That includes me, by the way.
Anyway, I felt I had to justify myself so I responded: “That’s exactly why I want to talk to you! I want to learn about your experiences and what media can do better.”
And then I got cussed out and blocked from her account.
I guess I had it coming, even though common courtesy and humanity dictates that you don’t tell someone with a sincere inquiry to “omfg leave me the f*** alone.” Then again, I’ve seen how people have reacted to what she writes. This is a woman who’s never seen a kind response displayed to her through Twitter (including my jump-on-the-possibly-great-story-this-would-be-bandwagon), so why would I expect her to give better than she gets?
Maybe she’s actually a nice person, despite her Twitter bio actually declaring her as “Not a nice girl.” Maybe I’m the mean one for being insensitive to something that’s clearly gotten under her skin (and has been there for a long time, judging from her Twitter history). The fact was that I wanted to talk to her about the media’s treatment of outspoken women, particularly those working to improve diversity in the technology field.
As long as you’re not living under a rock, you’ll understand what I mean when I say there need to be more women and minorities in technology, and they need to be treated better — this woman has devoted her life to making that part of the discussion, but has been met with a barrage of harassment. Our audience at DE is made up of executives who have the clout to make the changes she wants to see, and I thought she might have some good insights.
In journalism school I learned that if you don’t reach out to someone asking for their opinion, you’ve denied his or her free speech rights. That’s at the core of what I do and why I wanted to help her get her perspective out to an audience that will respectfully listen. Another Twitter user commented to me that her last interview sparked a harassment campaign. With business leaders, not gamer trolls, reading our content, I don’t think that would be a risk with the audience I target. Then again, I didn’t think asking her for an interview would result in such a Twitter tumult, either.
My suspicions are confirmed: I’m still in the naive stage of my career. God, when will it end? Remember that last post about ego that I wrote? Here’s a prime example of how it can bite you in the ass when you’re not looking because your blinded by your own righteousness.
But it doesn’t just happen to well-intentioned but stupidly-self-important people, i.e. me. One of my many reporter friends received a handwritten note faxed to her by a disgruntled reader who said “If you wish to become a professional writer, it would improve your chances to learn basic English grammar.”*
*Hey, ace: Alicia gets paid to write for the newspaper, so she’s already a pro. And it should be “you would improve your chances,” because “it” is a passive, undefined pronoun in this context.
But anyway, Alicia got hers through fax. I got mine through Twitter, although the response to my request had a solid foundation (what Alicia’s grammar error was, I’m not sure). Seems like there’s no pleasing people sometimes, no matter how hard you try at your job or how hard you want to save your entire profession’s reputation in the eyes of a mistreated public. One person cannot save an industry that’s proven itself abusive to someone, and my ego has gotten in the way so much that it made me think otherwise. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and misjudged Twitter conversations.