How influential women manage Twitter - Women's Agenda

How influential women manage Twitter

Ignoring negative ‘feedback’ on Twitter must be easy for women who are used to the spotlight, right?

Not always, according to those who participated in our roundtable luncheon Wednesday, to officially kick off our #PositionOfStrength campaign with Twitter, empowering women to raise their voices online.

In fact, many high-profile female Twitter users deploy deliberate strategies to deal with harassment and offensive behaviour on the platform – ranging from instant blocking, to ‘muting’, reporting and even tuning out of social media if they are feeling particularly vulnerable.

Together with Twitter Australia, we invited a number of influential and high-profile women across varying sectors including sport, government, media, business, health and community services, to share their experiences of using Twitter.

We received excellent responses from those in the room, and will be running some of the content collected over the coming weeks, but we were particularly taken by the fact that those invited didn’t appear to have a super ‘shield’ of resilience and confidence that protects them from negativity. Despite having significant follower numbers and regularly being in the public eye, they can be just as hurt by negativity as the rest of us.


Those present at the luncheon included Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, seven-time world surfing champion Layne Beachley, former NSW premier Kristina Keneally, Sydney Councilor Christine Forster, Hearst-Bauer Media general manager Marina Go, former Australian netballer Catherine Cox, Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander, SBS’s Lee Lin Chin, Eyewitness News’ Sandra Sully, Channel Ten’s Jessica Rowe, Triple J newsreader Amelia Marshall, News journalist Melissa Hoyer, Diversity Council CEO Lisa Annese, KIIS Fm presenter Zoe Marshall and director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, Jaelea Skehan.

I joined the roundtable with our editor Georgie Dent and journalist Lucia Osborne-Crowly, along with Twitter Managing Director Karen Stocks and Twitter’s director of Public Policy Julie Inman-Grant.

Every person present shared their experiences with Twitter, and noted various ways they’ve used it – such as for sourcing news and content, forming communities with like-minded individuals, showcasing their work, correcting media reports and issuing statements, connecting with voters, gauging the importance of particular issues and participating in social activism.

However, almost everyone in the room could relate to experiencing negative ‘feedback’ on the platform, ranging from ‘helpful’ suggestions about appearance and outfit choices, to outright harassment and even defamation.

We’ll be sharing plenty of content from this roundtable on Women’s Agenda, but wanted to start with a few excellent tips that were uncovered for managing negativity on Twitter.

Start with listening. Twitter can be daunting for a new user. Sandra Sully noted that she sat back and ‘listened’ for a good year or so before she started participating. This is not uncommon. A large portion (up to 40% according to Twitter) of users don’t contribute at all, but rather simply tune in to hear what others are saying. “Before you swim in the pool, you have to learn how to swim,” she said. “The most empowering thing was to listen in, to feel connected with what’s going on in the world.”

Block. This is the simplest approach that came from many women at the table, noting they don’t waste any time dealing with harassment and will simply immediately use the block function. However, some women added they don’t like giving the ‘satisfaction’ of blocking the user. Another option is to ‘mute’ the user – meaning they will be removed from your time line but won’t know it. 

Put self care first. If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, ignore Twitter for a period, advised one of our panelists. Self care should come first and foremost. Sydney Liberal Councillor Christine Forster noted that she has “media black-outs” when she’s not feeling particularly good about what might be appearing on the platform.

Ignore. Time is precious, and limited, espeically when it comes to social media. Kristina Keneally noted she has no time for people being rude on twitter. Layne Beachley added that she simply doesn’t bother with negativity. “I don’t interact with trolls or anyone who’s going to be negative in life,” she said. Lisa Annese agreed, noting that dealing with people on Twitter can be like raising children. “I try to ignore the bad behaviour and reward the good behaviour,” she said.

‘Nastiness wasn’t invented on social media’. This reminder came from SBS’s Lee Lin Chin, who said that social media isn’t recreating behaviour that doesn’t already exist. A depressing thought, perhaps, but one that’s important to note when considering that negativity doesn’t have to be taken personally.

Treat Twitter like you would real life. Would you engage in a public argument with somebody in real life? Then ask if its worthwhile pursuing such an argument online. Jealea Skhean said she doesn’t say anything on social media that she wouldn’t say face to face to someone in front of a room full of people. “If there are people who I really disagree with, then my strategy is to take a moment and be professional. If I think someone has done something dangerous [Skhean works in suicide prevention], I will direct message them … I will not publicly shame them.”

Don’t expect to change people’s minds. Your 140 character tweets can contribute to a debate, they can get people’s attention and be thought provoking – but just don’t expect to change everybody’s mind. As Christine Forster noted, Twitter can very much be a platform for ideologue, while she uses it to personally engage with the community, she doesn’t see it as being a place to win votes, or to get the critics on side.

Twitter’s not the ‘wild west’. There are rules on Twitter and the orgnaisation is ramping up efforts to help users protect themselves. “This is not the wild west,” said Twitter’s directory of public-policy Julie Inman-Grant. “You cannot engage in repeated harassment and issue violent threats … We have announced a number of improvements to user controls to help people protect themselves.”

… Remember the acronym, BRIM. Another tip from Grant for remembering the tools users have available. Block. Report. Ignore. Mute. 

Be respectful. Twitter’s a place to find your tribe, to connect with those who interest, excite and inspire you – but you have to use it respectively, said Lisa Annese. “You can’t be empowering if you present your message in a disrespectful way.”

“Hashtag activism’ is just that, a hashtag. While it can be moving and personally satisfying to participate in campaigns on Twitter, some women warned that hashtag movements can too often lead us to believe we are making a bigger contribution than we really are. Kristina Keneally noted #BringBackOurGirls as an example: “That was literally the least we could do,” she said. “I worry about hashtags making people careless when it comes to social change and feeling like they are taking action when they’re not.”

Read why we’re partnering with Twitter here, and see tweets from our Wednesday luncheon below. 


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