Thrown for a Loop

Okay, so, let’s talk about Vine. I was never really “into” Vine as a platform because, first, I grew up on the internet of text, so I’m much more in my element when I’m here in the blogosphere, or trawling Twitter, Facebook, et al. I also never really had anything funny or poignant to say that worked well in Vine’s short-clip video format. That said, I did my fair share of checking out some of the stuff there, and there was a lot that was pretty great.

There was also a lot of content on Vine that I just didn’t get. It took me a bit to really put together why, but the primary reason is that it literally wasn’t for me. As a white American on the internet, spaces that aren’t dominated by content directed at me are not particularly common. If you don’t think that white Americans — in particular, white American men — dominate the online space, then you’re likely not paying much attention.

Now, this isn’t a knock against the content that’s not for me. Far from it, seeing a space where creative people of color could freely express themselves, showcase their culture, poke fun at the Internet as a whole — that’s a great thing. Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it’s not for anyone, and I’ll be the first to admit that it took me some time to realize this.

The missing piece, for me, I think was the fact that many of the ways Vine was presented cultivated a space where, by my reckoning, the more abusive and gross sections of White American Internet folks just didn’t tread, or tread more lightly. This is largely a guess I’m putting together by cobbling together things I’ve heard and read, but it seemed to have been a space with less racist garbage shitting on the content-creators who were doing their thing.

Fast forward to today, a bit over four years after Vine was acquired by Twitter, who has announced that they’re shutting the service down. To many, including myself, it seemed innocuous at first, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to see just how menacing this really is. In order to get to the bottom of that, though, you’ve got to look at a few other facts that build up to today’s “reveal”.

Let’s take a step backwards a few weeks, when major investors were looking at putting up some serious cash for Twitter. Salesforce, Inc., The Walt Disney Company, and other potential suitors backed off for a variety of reasons. Among the ones that have bubbled to the surface in the wake of these non-deals is the declining user base and serious, endemic problem that Twitter has with harassment and abuse, particularly of women and — surprise! — people of color.

This abuse problem has plagued Twitter for quite some time, and always seems to circle back to one thing: Twitter is too afraid, or too unsure, to approach the problem without alienating the (white American) group that they see as their core. This unwillingness to address their own systemic flaws has been talked about at length by plenty of folks more intelligent and eloquent than myself, so I won’t dive into it, but rest assured: Twitter has a problem, they know it, and they wilfully avoid attempting to address it because they’re scared of frightening off the abusers; this, in turn, frightened off investors. Weird how that works.

So, what’s that got to do with Vine? Well, Twitter has to address the fact that, as their user base thins, they’re bleeding money. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to cut out the pieces that they don’t see as vital to their “core” operation. The things that the abusive heart of their twisting online empire don’t see as necessary. The spaces where the abusers aren’t as bold and vocal, and the oppressed are more free to express themselves.

In summary, Twitter is responding to a financial threat that they’ve created for themselves by fostering a protection of abusers. They’re shutting down one of the largest online spaces for creative people of color in response to being told by potential buyers that they’re not doing enough to cultivate spaces for these people. They are responding to criticism by doubling down on their own awful history of enabling and supporting abuse. It’s that simple.

It’s easy for me to write off Vine. It really is — like I said, it wasn’t really for me, and it didn’t need to be. Writing off what it was to the people who grew there, though, is something I refuse to do. I won’t claim that it was a useless service simply because I wasn’t in its demographic; hell, if the only useful services are ones I’m the target audience for, then there’s not much of this world worth exploring. That’s bullshit.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, now. I’m angry about the two-faced crap that Twitter has decided to double down on. I’m sad for the folks who created awesome expressions of themselves in a place that’s now being shut down. I’m baffled that Vine is being forced to close up shop for being something that Twitter isn’t, and that Twitter doesn’t understand what that means. I hope something new, something else, moves into the same spot, but who knows?

All I know is that if it weren’t for the friends I’ve made on Twitter, the people with voices I’d have never heard without it, I’d be among those jumping ship. By fostering these friendships, I’ve become somehow entangled in the same platform that gives more power to those that would silence those voices than to the ones being silenced, and it feels terrible — but I don’t want to give up on those people, even if we’re only able to connect there.

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