color photograph stock image of a black woman in a white and grey jacket and light blue jeans sitting in a wheelchair looking at her phone
(via iStock)

Like many disabled people on Twitter, I’m watching the slow-burning chaos resulting from Twitter’s change in ownership this past October. No matter how one feels about Twitter, we cannot deny its impact on disabled communities, and our fear of a future where Twitter has dwindled—or even been lost forever—is very real. Twitter is a vital means of connection for many disabled people, and we still don’t have a suitable replacement. This isn’t just inconvenient—for some of us, it will be downright dangerous without access to the community networks of support and trust we’ve spent years building on Twitter.

We’ve already experienced tremendous amounts of grief and loss throughout the pandemic; losing Twitter, even if it becomes a reduced version of itself, would be another devastating blow. 

I’ve written before about how technology has expanded not just the disability rights movement and its focus, but also who gets to create their seat at the table so they no longer have to wait for an invitation. Social media allows disabled people to connect and express themselves while maintaining control over their voices and how they interact with each other and other communities as a whole. Twitter’s microblogging capabilities and structure created a playing field like no other, and its functions and features made connections that no other platform has been able to replicate.  

Twitter is where many of us learn of breaking news in real time, and it’s where we can learn about and follow movements, uprisings, and events in the U.S. and across the globe that many of us wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Twitter offers us access to viewpoints and ideas from beyond our networks, communities, and borders. It’s where I learn what’s transpiring in politics, entertainment, and everyday living and where many people have learned about me and my work.  

When I started to use Twitter heavily in 2016, it was where I shared my activism work and personal musings. Like many in the community, I found friends on Twitter and expanded my platform and professional experience. That visibility led to editors and organizations hiring me to write articles, consult with leadership, speak at events, and facilitate training sessions. It’s also where I met other creative souls to collaborate with and build relationships.  

As someone whose work is primarily online, Twitter is where writers like myself, authors, artists, and other creatives can share their work with others and reach communities we didn’t know existed. Using my words to engage people, whether by sharing a funny meme response or discussing the fun I had on a trip, made using Twitter feel natural to me. I enjoy sharing my photographs from fun adventures and plan to learn to make video content in 2023, but writing allows me to easily convey emotions.    

However, while Twitter had many roses, there were also thorns. I knew the dangers of being an outspoken Black woman, particularly about social justice issues—I’d seen the brutality other Black women and femmes faced on Twitter and elsewhere online. The trauma they endured was a warning that I would face a similar fate in my work, which I have.

When my hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite went viral in May 2016, I was called the N-word for 24 hours by disabled white folks. That was the first time in my life I was called the N-word, and sadly, it hasn’t been the only time that disgusting slur has appeared in my mentions when white people, disabled and non-disabled, despised my words about racism and ableism. I’ve been targeted multiple times on Twitter, and the most recent incident in 2019 led me to reconsider my relationship with the platform. I’ve since adjusted my presence on Twitter—I’m more selective about what I share and have more specific boundaries of engagement with my followers or random people who find my tweets.  

And just as we can stay in the loop about the latest news on Twitter, it’s also where we risk losing ourselves by scrolling through the seemingly endless doom and gloom of the world’s problems. This became especially true during the height of the pandemic—our feeds were full of news about the high numbers of deaths and infections, as well as disinformation and propaganda encouraging people to resist wearing masks and getting vaccinated. I’m now much more aware and careful about how much information I take in and share and how long I’m on the platform. Knowing when I’ve consumed enough information—good, helpful, or not—has helped me hold on to the enjoyment I still get from being on Twitter.

Though my relationship with Twitter over time has changed, the mere thought of the platform disappearing or being transformed into something unrecognizable and unusable is hard to grasp. The feeling intensifies when I think about how others in my community will endure such great disadvantages. Many disabled people rely on Twitter for community, mutual aid support, selling their services and products, and sharing their perspectives. It’s still a place where we can be ourselves without limits. Additionally, Disability Twitter is a powerful force to be reckoned with—similar to other community pockets of Twitter—and now that the platform’s fate is uncertain, the worry about what will come is stark and pervasive.  

The “wait and see” game we are all playing now is burdensome. Will Twitter stop functioning now that core teams that knew how to fix things were fired or decided to leave? Now that bans are being lifted on bigoted accounts that regularly spew hate, disinformation, and incitement to harassment and violence, how long do we have until Twitter’s too dangerous for us to remain? These and many other questions roll in my mind when I wake up to see what is happening on the platform daily.  

Whatever becomes of Twitter as we approach 2023, we will do what we always do: learn to adapt or migrate to other parts of the internet. This is the reality of online life, one that never gets easier to handle as the platforms through which we built communities, careers, and meaningful connections begin to take unfamiliar and potentially hostile shapes. We know this, but we still grieve for the Twitter we knew.

Vilissa Thompson

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW, is a contributing writer covering gender justice at Prism. A macro social worker from South Carolina, she is an expert in discussing the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled...