Why Jewish Twitter is so different from other online communities

It says much about our community that Jewish Twitter is random people doing their best to speak out against trolls

October 06, 2022 10:07

On the vile, hateful and often disgustingly antisemitic website known as Twitter, I had some jolly Jewish fun the other day.

A chap called James Hannah issued a challenge, which was: “Depluralise a film. I’ll start. Jaw.” This sort of word game thing happens a lot on Twitter. I remember one called Ruin A Beatles Song By Adding A Word, and the suggestion, among many, Fixing A Glory Hole. James’ challenge went well — it’s still up, and you can go and see the many funny replies, of which my favourites were Lion And Prejudice and Tree Gump. I said: “Minion. Although actually that’s ten Jews.”

I didn’t expect this to get many likes. I really just did it — as I do a lot of jokes, as my audiences can tell you — for me. Rather surprisingly, it got 187. I assumed most of these were Jews. In fact, since you can go and see the names of the people who have liked your tweets, I can check and…yes. Most of the likers are called Abrahams and Schwartz and Feldman, so I seem to be speaking to the congregation, who at 187 do make up more than a minyan. Although having said that, the first liker has #FreePalestine next to his not particularly Jewish name, but that’s social media for you.

This got me thinking about something, which is the existence of collective voices online, the most powerful of which is Black Twitter, described by the writer Feminista Jones as a group of “active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community… [and are] proving adept at bringing about a wide range of sociopolitical changes.” This is undeniably true, but there’s also obviously LGBTQ+ Twitter — whose issues dominate the trending topics sidebar much of the time — and many others.

My friend Peter Bradshaw, who is the Guardian’s cinema critic, often talks about the existence even of Film Twitter, meaning a large group of cineastes who when they fancy it, can get a movie a lot of attention, either good or bad. I’m not suggesting that people who like films are a minority, but that a dedicated minority of film fans have the power to affect their chosen issue by making a lot of noise on there. The same would be true of Food Twitter.

You’ll know where I’m heading with this. Is there such a thing as Jewish Twitter? As ever with Jews, particularly online, there seems to be little evidence of it. When you google Black Twitter, there’s a Wikipedia entry about it (that’s where I got the Feminista Jones quote) and its influence. When you google Jewish Twitter, you get a number of results directing you to, um, here — to the Jewish Chronicle, and its Twitter page. But nothing about the discourse-changing power of Jews online.

Jewish Twitter does exist, but it feels less like a collective, more a random few people who, every so often, do their best speaking out on behalf of the community against overwhelming trolldom. This is a pity, as a lot of what goes on in the fight against antisemitism takes place online. I went to see the very fine production, Jews In Their Own Words (discussed by Kate Maltby on page 22) this week. Much of it involves storytelling of events IRL (in real life — come on Grandpa), but parts of it also show the horrific reaction any Jew gets when they speak out about anti-Jewish racism — or indeed, say anything at all about being Jewish — online. This is worse for women. In fact, there was an interesting moment for me when Louisa Clein, the actress playing the actress Tracy-Ann Oberman (stop me if I’m getting too meta), was describing the awful rape and sexual assault threats that Tracy-Ann has to endure when speaking out against antisemitism on Twitter — and then, says, out to the audience: “David never got these.”

True enough. It got a laugh from a large section of the audience, including me. I may have been being presumptuous, of course. She may have meant Schneider. Or Beckham, although I doubt that, despite his occasional self-identification as Jewish. I bring it up because when I hear Jews laughing at Jewish jokes, I remember how connected we actually are. The audience laughing were sharing my assumption, and shared assumptions, shared experiences and shared reference points is what in fact makes a collective. If Jewishness is anything it is that — a bunch of names, traditions, ceremonies and words Jews all know about, that not everyone does — and if we could be as confident in speaking out about antisemitism as in recognising those reference points, we may find the beginnings of Jewish Twitter.

Then again, one Jewish responder to my Minion joke just wrote “Minyan”. So turns out not every Jew gets a Jewish joke.

October 06, 2022 10:07

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