an oral history of @arb
I joined Twitter in September 2008 as a 19-year-old college sophomore, alone in my dorm room in Athens, Ohio. I didn’t really know what the website was for. My first tweet was about what I was doing at the time (eating canned pineapple, watching episodes of Daria someone had ripped and uploaded to YouTube). I did not have a smartphone then, so instead I texted the occasional musing or very emo song lyric or passive-aggressive quote about how people will prove if they deserve to be in your life to 40404, which is how we tweeted in olden times. In retrospect, I think a passive, apathetic relationship is ideal with Twitter.
I’m 30 now. I’ve seen some shit and I tweeted most of it.
I tweeted through the breakup of my college relationship, my parents’ divorce and after that when my mom moved into my one bedroom apartment, my nervous breakdown and return to work, six thousand Tinder dates, my wedding, and the discovery and subsequent death of my biological father. I’ve met dudes I’ve dated on Twitter. I cheated on my college boyfriend with a guy who slid into my DMs. My tweets have gotten me hired––not fired yet, though I’ve had more than one stern talking-to. I’ve won some stuff (a $25 gift card to Urban Outfitters, a t-shirt that says “I ❤️ to fart,” a case of Martinelli’s apple juice). Sometimes people who aren’t very online are impressed that Barack Obama follows me, even though he also follows like 600,000 other people.
My career has existed predominately on Twitter, which makes for an endless number of stories. I was once late to brunch because Chrissy Teigen received about 200 limes when she only Postmated four (4) individual limes. I once spent an evening on the phone with a patient but confused Miami-Dade police officer after a teenager sent a tweet threatening to shoot up his local fast food joint — he’d only gotten three nuggets in his four-piece. I once had to brainstorm synonyms for “ass” with a presidential candidate. He wanted to say “derrière” but I thought that was, frankly, too classy for Twitter. He said “butts” didn’t sound like him. (I think we landed on “rears” but don’t hold me to that.)
For all its faults, I’ve been crawling back to Twitter for more than a decade. My friends are there. My job is there. The news happens there. My mom checks it from across the country when she hasn’t heard from me in a few days, just to make sure I’m alive.
Until last week, when I quit.
a note about my time as a cheeseburger saleswoman
A thing you should know about me if you don’t already is that I used to do social media for Wendy’s. I am not the only person who has ever done social media for Wendy’s, but I am the one who gave an interview in early 2017 that still ranks very highly in search results. I have also occasionally gotten in fights with people like the scary NRA lady and the potato-faced guy who makes memes for the president, and one time I wrote a viral tweet about Fleetwood Mac in which I misspelled the title of “Rumours” but on the whole, the Wendy’s thing is mostly why I have 33,000 Twitter followers as of this writing.
An unrelated thing you should know about me is that I was diagnosed with major depression at 11 when my mom found my online diary and all the suicidal poetry I was writing in it. For a long time, I did not talk about this. I didn’t go to therapy or a psychiatrist from the time I was a college freshman until I was 26. I was fucked up the entire time (ask anyone who tried to date or be friends with me), but I didn’t want anyone to know that I was Crazy™️. Besides, my family doctor was fine to keep refilling my prescription for anti-depressants.
After years of not taking care of myself, I had a major depressive episode at 26 and took medical leave from work to participate in an intensive outpatient therapy program for 20 hours a week. And I didn’t feel like that was enough to upend my entire life, so I wrote a Medium article about it too just to make sure everyone knew what was happening. There were people who reacted poorly. Someone sent my writing to HR, claiming it made them uncomfortable. (I can’t tell you what happened next because the NDA I signed upon my departure included a mutual non-disparagement clause, but I left within six months.)
At the same time, my inbox started to fill up––first with messages from online acquaintances, and then from complete strangers. Some said I’d convinced them to seek treatment. Others just said thanks. For a single moment in time, the internet made me feel like maybe a lifetime of fighting with my own brain had been worth it.
It felt good to have purpose. I decided maybe this would be My Thing. It felt––and still feels––incredibly stupid that 33,000 people decided I was worth listening to, and I figured that meant I should actually have something of importance to say.
some jokes aren’t funny and that’s okay
Back in July I read an article in VICE about a guy who got banned from Twitter for sending death threats to the Mr. Peanut Twitter account. I did not think it was very funny for reasons that should be clear to you by now: I have run a corporate Twitter account, I know what it is like to drink from the fire hose of unfiltered thoughts that people send to corporate Twitter accounts.
You don’t have to try to make that experience bad. It already sucks.
At a very basic level, I just don’t think it’s funny to make someone’s day worse if they don’t deserve it. Prank shows? Generally not funny to me. You might not agree! That’s fine! Not everyone likes every joke! Somebody should probably tell Michael Che!
Anyway, I read the article and thought about how social media managers have to deal with threats of mass violence over minor things like a single missing chicken nugget as just a routine part of the job. You’d think maybe I was on the receiving end of more death threats working for a prominent billionaire and presidential candidate than I was working for a fast food chain, but you’d be surprised. People will threaten lots of wild shit when they’re empowered by a keyboard and can’t see who they’re talking to. My response was probably also informed by having worked in an office that was targeted by a literal mail bomber.
So I tweeted that the article wasn’t funny. I think I said it was like calling up a customer service line just to yell at people. In my experience, that’s not a false equivalence––lots of major companies handle customer service via social media the same way they do via the phone, right down to the call center setup (your airline, your bank, at least one fast food chain, etc).
Some people agreed with me. Some people didn’t. I forgot all about it until Planters killed Mr. Peanut.
why are all the brands trying to fuck me
Have you noticed the horny brands? Mr. Peanut makes jokes about nutting. Netflix is my mortal enemy for setting off the worst Twitter thread in history. Apparently you can do unspeakable things to Kettle Chips. Boston Market accidentally got a bunch of people to tweet them photos of a dude fucking a chicken this week. And in my personal opinion, as a human being who lives in society and sometimes has to buy food products, this is extremely gross. Why. Why is my food so horny. Am I supposed to want to fuck the food. I have a lot of questions.
So I fired off a since-deleted tweet about how I was glad Mr. Peanut was dead because, of course, he was too horny. I said I hoped he was in hell. Approximately 1000 people, including the writers of Saturday Night Live, made the exact same joke. I did not think about the VICE article at all because every news cycle lasts 200 years and I can barely remember what happened last week.
The guy who wrote the VICE article was still thinking about it, though. He seemed upset that I liked the joke now that Planters ~stole it. The woman who crash-landed screaming in my mentions––to say nobody gives a fuck about the mental health of social media managers because we’re just going to steal your jokes anyway––was still thinking about it.
(Side note: I have no idea if Planters and their agency Vaynermedia stole the idea to kill off Mr. Peanut from a random comedian who sent them a bunch of wild tweets. I hope they didn’t because that would be an insanely shitty thing to do! And because also that would mean they stole a joke for an ad campaign that mostly isn’t even running now anyway because it was a terrible idea. Just an all-around clown move.)
Joke theft by corporate social accounts and meme aggregators is real! So is the co-opting of Black Twitter. So is digital blackface. So is the fact that the advertising industry is overwhelmingly white. But that doesn’t negate that burnout and mental health are also legitimate problems in this field.
What happened next is that I tried to be very earnest. On Twitter. I should not have done this. I should not have done this for a wide variety of reasons, but mostly because it makes me emotionally raw to dig back through my damage and put it on display. I don’t talk about that time in my life much for a reason. But I dug down deep, because I thought there was a potential to have a real conversation.
But that didn’t happen. What did happen is I started to feel something familiar creeping in around the edges. When I dig down into my past, I’m picking at wounds that aren’t quite healed yet. That doesn’t come without consequence.
This argument felt like the most important thing in the world. I was obsessed with it. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I learned a lot of coping strategies in therapy, but in that moment I didn’t give a shit about being better. I let it consume me. I actively sought out people shit-talking me. It felt awful; I couldn’t get enough of it.
And the moment I knew I needed to step away from Twitter completely is when a little voice in the back of my head reminded me that everyone would be really, really sorry if I fucking died.
if you die on twitter do you die in real life??
Twitter is not the reason I have depression or suicidal ideation. But it’s not helping me heal, either. I’ve had the occasional suicidal thought in the last four years. My friend Ella calls it suicide radio. My suicide radio plays louder when I spend too much time with my brain hooked up to a website where things like “getting yelled at for two days because you didn’t think some guy’s article in VICE was funny six months ago” happen.
I tried logging off, but after I tweeted that I was quitting I tweeted “oh yeah one more thing” with a YouTube video, and then I realized I had what I’m referring to as dril’s disease.
So I deactivated. At first it was really hard. Every thought I had, I wanted to tweet. I was on BART thinking: “Party for One” by Carly Rae Jepsen is a great song about masturbation but is it better than “Love Myself” by Hailee Steinfeld? I should tweet that. I’m the only one who moved to the center of this car unprompted. I’m braver than the Marines. I should tweet that.
But then a crazy thing happened. When I stopped barfing my thoughts into the internet the second I had them, I realized I was actually…processing emotions. Noticing my surroundings. Stringing multiple sentences together to make paragraphs. After a few days off of Twitter, I felt like my attention span had improved a little bit. I almost read a book.
I’m back on Twitter now, mostly because I have developed relationships with people there that I don’t have outside of the site and I’d hate to lose them. But I’m taking things slow and reevaluating a lot. I’m not logged into my personal account on my phone. I don’t look at it during the work day or on weekends. Until Wednesday of this week, I wasn’t even sure I actually wanted to tweet again or if I just wanted to passively consume content. This probably all sounds drastic, but I’d like to remind you that I got dragged into a 48 hour fight and ended up extremely depressed over a peanut.
I’m also reevaluating what it means to advocate for myself and others. After all, you can’t be a good advocate if you’re dead. Not every fight has to be my fight, and I don’t have to explain myself to people who are dedicated to receiving what I have to say in bad faith.
I still think we could all stand to be a little nicer to each other. I’m still glad Mr. Peanut is dead. Netflix, you’re on notice.
if you made it this far, here’s a gift for you before you go