I don’t know why I stay.
Every day, I check Facebook and Twitter. Usually multiple times a day. And every time, I read something heinous that turns my stomach or makes me anxious.
Why do I stay? How do I justify continuing to give my most valuable commodity — my data, my ideas, my words, my photos — to Jack and Zuck, with all the terror they’ve endorsed?
Jack has never protected his users. Ever. He has chosen his business over human lives, every time. He chose data over GamerGate, over Pepe, over our President’s daily threats of nuclear war. Women and people of color are continuously harassed and stalked on his platform. He shrugs. Calls it free speech. Puts it back on the victim. Report. Block. Mute. Maybe it’s all in your head.
And Zuck? He sold ads to Russians, and those ads were shared and liked endlessly by our own family members, you know, the aunt or the grandparent that you hope you won’t have to sit next to at the holidays. You unfollowed their posts on Facebook so you don’t have to see the Breitbart posts they share.
In such a short amount of time, Jack and Zuck have made the Internet a terrifying place for women and for people of color. And yet we stay. Why?
It feels hard to justify.
It feels hard to justify my Gmail account, knowing that Google is reading every word that comes and goes from my inbox, and that Google uses that information to feed an algorithm they keep secret. But I know it’s the same algorithm that told Dylann Roof what he wanted to hear before he murdered Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, and Daniel Simmons.
And the sick part is–and this is what really makes me angry–I tell myself the dumbest things. I say things to myself like, “This never would have happened if librarians were in charge.” Because I know it’s bullshit. I hold librarians on some higher pedestal, blindly believing some nonsense about how good we are, how our well-meaning (and generally socialist) ideals would have kept people safe from their worst selves. I know it’s true that libraries are in a continuous budget crisis, but still, I think, we never would have sold ads to the Russians!
These things are also true: Melvil Dewey was a rampant sexist. White librarians kept people with dark skin out of libraries until forced to integrate. The President of the American Library Association was quick to announce her willingness to work with the new administration. Some librarians think we should do outreach to the KKK. Others think we should just “be neutral”, as though neutrality is attainable. We are advised to develop strategies for dealing with “difficult patrons” (librarian-lingo for people living in poverty, or with mental illness, or without housing, or anything else that makes them “difficult”). Until very recently we still organized books about undocumented immigration using the pejorative phrase “illegal aliens” and, when it was finally changed, at least one librarian made it well-known that they couldn’t care less. The whiteness of librarianship, especially in colleges and universities, is oppressive and unyielding. So the idea that librarians could have somehow done better, that Twitter would be a better space if we had designed it, or that Facebook wouldn’t be full of racist memes if we curated the content as well as we curate our collections–well, all of that is a symptom of my own white wishful thinking.
I don’t have children. Yet. But I hope to, someday. And what will I say to them, when they ask me to explain why I stayed on Twitter, why I gave my information so freely to Jack and Zuck? Why I continued to endorse a platform exploited by Russian operatives to disrupt our democracy? Why I kept clicking on Facebook, knowing that Facebook profited from ads that spread lies like a virus?
Will it be enough when I say that my mom liked to see my pictures on Facebook, and I liked to talk to my librarian friends on Twitter?
I can see it now: they will scoff, twist their multi-colored bangs, and sigh, “How could you have been so stupid?”