What writing about ‘Supergirl’ taught me about other Twitter users

A lesson on how ‘the media’ is misunderstood by so many

Recently I had a new experience on Twitter.  For the first time I had numerous people – all complete strangers whom I had never interacted with before – send me unsolicited messages voicing their grievances with something that I had said.

I have in the past received the occasional response from somebody I didn’t know.  On one such occasion, I was informed that the reason why there are few female characters in the Star Wars franchise is because women don’t fight in wars.  I was struck by this gentleman’s unsound grasp of how storytelling works, but decided not to engage him.  Another time, a man told me that I had illustrated exactly why feminism ‘fails’ when I presented the fact that 16/18 episodes of ABC’s Agent Carter were directed by men.  He did not expound on this assertion, so I was left none the wiser about his reasoning.

But a few nights ago I drew the ire of people who for the most part seem to share an interest in common with me but who apparently could not recognise this.

It began when I sent out a tongue-in-cheek tweet about the recent trend of heightened media focus on the appearance of Superman in the upcoming second season of The CW’s Supergirl.  The casting and development of this character on the show has generated a lot of buzz in the various industry trade magazines and websites, disproportionately so in comparison to any other casting announcement or story information related to the show’s second season.  This is something that a lot of fans have noted in the past week or so, and many have become vocal in their disapproval of what appears to be a male character taking the spotlight away from the show’s titular female lead, despite producers’ earlier comments that Supergirl was very much the star of her own story.  As it happens, the character of Superman (to be portrayed by actor Tyler Hoechlin) is so far confirmed to only appear in a few episodes throughout the season, but the way that his presence in the show is being reported does seem very misrepresentative considering it is simply a guest-starring role, compared to say Floriana Lima’s casting as a new series regular, which is noticeably less thoroughly reported on.

After posting a couple of jokey comments that included the ‘Supergirl’ hashtag, I then attracted some attention.

hes in two eps to support her & only has one friend there aka james who was in s1 & is kara’s boyf stop reaching” responded one person.

Bemused, I decided to respond politely and with humour: “lol I know, I was being facetious“.  I received no reply.  Not long after, somebody else decided to tell me what they thought of my attitude: “what are you even talking about? He’s contracted for 8 eps total. You’re being pissy for no reason. You’re just wrong.”  I was intrigued as to where they had got their information from (considering that the news reports had mentioned Superman was only set to appear in two episodes so far) but I abstained from asking about this.  Instead, I quote-tweeted my previous response to the other user to let them know that I was not being entirely serious with my comments, and neither was I prepared to take them particularly seriously either.  Again, no reply.

Then I decided to visit both of these users’ accounts and read some of their earlier tweets.  From what I could tell, they were both big fans of the show and its cast, and were unhappy to see other fans being critical of it.  The first person had tweeted something to the effect that the media was responsible for the extensive focus on Hoechlin and his character and that the show should not be criticised for the media’s actions.  I realised then that there was a misunderstanding in how the media gets hold of their stories.

Not only that, but they had failed to notice that at no point had I criticised the show itself, nor the cast or crew.  In their naivety they had entirely misunderstood my criticisms, and the very situation that had prompted them.

Some hours later, whilst conversing about promo images with an indie filmmaker/critic I’m acquainted with, I received another message from a stranger.  I had mentioned that Superman appeared in all of the as yet released promotional images for the show.  This new interloper supplied me with a recently released promotional poster and pointed out that Superman did not feature in said poster.  I admitted to him that I had not spoken accurately: “true. I should have clarified: I was talking about promo stills, rather than posters.

His response actually made me laugh: “I’m Sorry you spread this hate vs SG, Is a great show!

All I could do was tell the truth: “you seriously misunderstand me if you think I hate the show. I agree that it’s great & often tweet about my enjoyment of it.

Again, I received no further communication from him.  And so I realised: these people don’t want to engage.  When I acknowledged to this person that he was correct, he didn’t respond to what I had actually said, he just assumed that I was a ‘hater’ and told me as much. These people see an opinion that they disagree with, they get riled up by it, and they respond with a passive-aggressive – or simply aggressive – comment and then they move on to the next frustration.  Trying to deal with these Twitter users is like playing whack-a-mole.  As soon as you think you’ve deterred one with a half-thought-out repartee, another one pops up to make the same complaints.  It’s obvious they do not research the person they are responding to.  It’s obvious they do not try to get a wider picture of what the person is saying.  Reading comprehension is not a skill they exhibit. They focus on the one comment, and lash out at it.  These people do not want a dialogue.  I’m not sure they even have a particular opinion that they want to be heard.  I think they simply react in knee-jerk fashion.

Of course, the people I heard from are at the harmless end of the spectrum of disruptive Internet users.  They may be a nuisance, but they did not send me abuse, or make threats, and they did not persist in their correspondence.  Unfortunately, all too frequently there are people on social media who are on the receiving end of an endless barrage of abuse and hate-speech, particularly those in the public eye, particularly women, particularly women of colour. I am fortunate that as of yet I have not experienced this, but I know that it is all too possible.

I’m not certain there is anything I can do when I receive these comments from strangers, other than block, mute, or ignore.  My replies do not seem to interest them.  Unless, of course, they are looking to be antagonised.  But provoking strangers simply for the sake of getting a reaction does not seem like a worthwhile use of my time, so I think for now I shall stick to what seems to be a useful stock response: “lol I know, I was being facetious.

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