Online Connections: On Going Viral

I’ve been on Twitter on one way or another since November 2010. Like a lot of people, social media is a conflicting place for me. Sometimes it’s a fun and exciting playground where I can make connections and find new friends. Other times it can feel like a toxic sandbox overrun by spiteful trolls. I tend to stay in my little online bubble and don’t bother engaging with those who bring their negative energy to the platform.

I don’t do follow-trains or like-for-likes, and I rarely add anyone who I don’t have similar interests, ideas or a real-life relationship with. I’m not “here to debate” and I block unsavoury users without pause. My DMs are definitely not open. I don’t even have a user icon which shows my real face. Living in New Zealand I’m a reasonably active participant in NZ Twitter — which really emphasises how almost everyone on the islands are only two degrees removed from each other — but I’m definitely not an “influencer.”

On the morning of the 17th January I was actively considering deleting my account for a while. Not for any particularly bad reason, but I was aware that it was significantly reducing my productivity. I felt like I wasn’t quite getting the quality engagement that I wanted — the signal to noise ratio was way off. As an introvert who pays lot of attention to mental health issues, I was also aware that I had fallen back into old, bad habits that were contributing to my rising anxiety levels.

But I also knew, like the Hobbit Samwise Gamgee, “There’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” I felt that I just needed to keep searching for it.

Out of curiosity I composed and sent a tweet.

“Please give me recommendations of amazing kick-ass women on Twitter to follow. Women who are strong & confident, who take absolutely zero shit and have powerful, thoughtful voices. I need more connections to Wild Women. Earth Mothers. Warriors.”

Within half an hour the ball had begun rolling, with people tagging many influential women in the maker and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) communities. Then New Zealand Twitter joined in, adding suggestions of mana wahine — strong Māori female figures. (Mana wahine is often understood to be a type of Māori feminism, although it is not as simple as that.) Writer Twitter was the next to add suggestions — mostly horror writers and poets, being the two “scenes” I am an active part of — with both well-established and beginner female writers being tagged. And so it went on.

“Cool,” I thought, as I muted the replies to stop my mentions blowing up. “That got a lot more attention than I was expecting.”

It was a gorgeous, sunny day. A friend of mine and their daughter were walking 59km in the name of kindness, and promoting their walk on Twitter with the hashtag #kindnessmatters. Pretty damn inspiring. I didn’t think I was up for walking 59km, but I could definitely manage 10km into the city. I guess acts of kindness and giving back were mingling together in my head that day. Somehow it felt important to add my own steps to their journey.

I went out and forgot all about Twitter.

Six hours later I checked my feed and almost spat out my coffee. My curious tweet, to which I had expected maybe a dozen or so replies, had gone viral. With over 600,000 impressions and 13,000 total engagements, the comments and likes had escalated monumentally. It would have been impossible to read through them all, but a skim read told me something incredibly important: there was zero negativity here.

Every single comment was from someone using their words to lift up and celebrate the women that they considered strong and kick-ass. Women they admired or found inspiring in some way, who meant a lot to them or who had a positive impact on their lives. Some used the thread to celebrate their friends, or women that were close to them. Others added strangers and celebrities; politicians and party leaders. There were movie-stars, singers, writers and artists. Women who did important work for charity or gave back to their community in some way. There was a fabulous wide range of diversity and inclusion, with women of colour and from the LGBTQIA+ communities equally tagged and praised.

It’s good, healthy & empowering to reject labels, especially those that others may try to put on you, as much as it is to find ones that feel right.

Some women said that while they chose to reject the labels I’d used as they did not feel like they were appropriate, they appreciated the mention and acknowledgement. This in itself was a powerful affirmation and a reminder that it’s good, healthy & empowering to reject labels, especially those that others may try to put on you, as much as it is to find ones that feel right. Others embraced and claimed those labels and were delighted that other women thought of them in such a way. The level of positivity and mutual support was absolutely astounding. Apparently my tweet had tapped a nerve, or exposed a need which hadn’t otherwise been addressed. It spoke to women (and a few men too) and fostered a sense of online community and mutual recognition. Women were being seen for who they were and what they do, and showing other women the importance of that.

Eventually, I killed the thread by protecting my tweets for 24 hours. By the next morning it had amassed over 700,000 impressions and 14,500 engagements. Sadly, but predictably, by this time a few trolls and bots had sneaked in. Not enough to even make a dent on the overall vibe of positivity, and their comments were more weird than abusive or unkind, but it was enough to make my uncomfortable introvert side say, “Time to stop now.”

For me, saying “no” is essential self-care, and knowing when to walk away from something is as important as speaking out. It might seem strange but while I value being seen, I don’t necessarily want to be looked at.

I am highly unlikely to ever be famous for anything I do, and I have to be completely honest, I’m totally happy with that. I found the intensity of attention rather unpleasant, despite it only being online attention and overwhelmingly positive at that. I always feel wary about sticking my head above the parapet, knowing that the mood online can turn sour quickly, and there are as many dark corners of the web as there are light. For me, saying “no” is essential self-care, and knowing when to walk away from something is as important as speaking out. It might seem strange but while I value being seen, I don’t necessarily want to be looked at.

However, for this specific tweet to go viral seems amusingly “on brand” for me. The work I did last year facilitating Wild Women workshops with my Well Written group was aimed primarily at providing safe spaces for women to speak and write honestly and openly about themselves, and to foster connections with other women in areas that they felt they were missing. Finding your community, and deriving strength and encouragement from that, is something I feel incredibly passionate about, as well as sharing that sense of connection and providing spaces for those who need them.

I’m incredibly happy to have found so many kind, supportive and kick-ass women via my tweet, and it’s great to know that others have found the same. Seeing so many strong women lift each other up was truly heartwarming, and I’ve decided I won’t be quitting Twitter any time soon. In fact my tweet has shown me that it could be extremely beneficial to expand my Wild Women work into more online places and, if possible, increase accessibility to supportive sessions for women.

Until then, I will keep on searching for, and promoting, strong and confident women. All those doing good work and supporting each other. The Wild Women, the Earth Mothers and Warriors who have powerful, thoughtful voices and take absolutely zero shit.

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