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‘Woke’ on Twitter

04:02 AM September 25, 2019

These days, many of my students say they enroll in Sociology because they want to be “woke”; in today’s internet language, that means being critically minded, and being able to point out oppressive structures that are often overlooked.

Wokeness appears to be most stark on Twitter, which offers a convenient way for people to post their opinions and share events in their lives with little worry of overposting or oversharing, and without the risk of family members and workmates seeing their posts, unlike on Facebook.

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Most of us grow up seeing manifestations of sexism, classism, ethnocentrism and oppressive systems in society. Expectedly, our personal thoughts may also exhibit vestiges of such problematic structures and mind-sets. This is where woke Twitter comes in.

Many social media personalities have become front-liners of wokeness. They have earned social media following, or “clout,” because of how they call out problematic tweets and how they “cancel” the people behind them through their posts. This is not necessarily a problem. The problem begins when the front-liners of woke culture become contributors themselves to a culture of oppression and bullying, and when wokeness gets reduced merely to the act of calling out and humiliating other people.

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As a member of the academe and as an active Twitter user myself, my tendency to conform to an aggressive wokeness is admittedly kept in check by the intellectual humility my line of work instills — the recognition that I am not always right, and mistakes need to be dealt with in a dignified manner. It is always a breath of fresh air to see other like-minded users who welcome constructive comments that point out inadequacies in thinking and argument.

But many users who chase clout online through aggressive call-outs of other people behave differently. This is where toxic, predatory wokeness comes in.

There is a sea of people out there with their own individual opinions on anything and everything, and there are likewise sharks who aggressively prey on these people under the guise of wokeness. This predator-prey power relationship differs from the simple concept of woke people calling out problematic ideas, which is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an essential feature of progress and community care.

What pollutes the interaction is when social media users do it for clout, to go viral and secure clicks and following by scouring the daily ocean of ideas for something to call out, and then attacking the idea and the person behind it with glee, often helped along by the full force and bile of their followers. However, when they themselves are called out for their problematic, harassing behavior, many of these woke users refuse to see their lethal ways, and once again sic their followers and minions on contrary commenters.

This predatory exercise eventually morphs into an interactive, free-for-all spectacle, with a huge audience able to join in on the aggression. The only payment required to be able to jump in is to click the follow button or feed the shark’s hunger for attention.

The theatrics of wokeness is at the core of Twitter’s toxicity. The social media site becomes an online stage that enables the performance of superiority and the display of power through strident voices amplified by the troll-like behavior of followers. It is, after all, way too easy to resort to aggression online. The inability to see face to face the people one is interacting with renders social media users vulnerable to judging others, and likewise being judged, based on cherry-picked posts and illusory follower count.

The predatory world that Twitter wokeness can promote should be tempered with the urge to be kinder, more reflective and more open-minded. Call each other out if need be, but without the automatic aggression to generate controversy, and accept criticisms as well in the same vein. Or Twitter becomes just another slag heap of toxic, fetid human behavior.

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Athena Charanne “Ash” R. Presto graduated summa cum laude and currently teaches at the UP Diliman Sociology Department. She tweets at @sosyolohija.

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TAGS: Athena Charanne R. Presto, being woke, critically minded, Inquirer Commentary, Opinions, social media, Twitter
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