Many conservatives and liberals share an ableist worldview that says getting COVID is now a matter of individual responsibility. Entering society to earn a living, visiting loved ones, buying food, and seeing the doctor are all optional activities, our free choice. We can choose to move about a society that couldn’t care less if we live or die, as long as we do so quietly, without complaint, or we can choose to wilt and die alone.
“Christmas collection of the Bavarian Red Cross for our men in field gray” reads the caption of this Red Cross poster from Germany during the Great War. The angelic Christkind it features shines bright yellow in the dark Christmas night as she delivers parcels wrapped in field grey to men on the front. Stars twinkle above her, and there is snow underfoot. To her left is a sled heavy with more parcels, and to her right is a dependable, mustached soldier, pipe in mouth, a freshly delivered parcel in his hands.
The poster appears to have been published in 1917. A photograph taken in Louisville, Kentucky, the same year shows a similar effort by the American Red Cross: women preparing Christmas parcels for American soldiers.
Image source: “Weichnachts-Sammlung des bayerischen Roten Kreuzes für die Feldgrauen,” wartime poster by Walter Püttner (Munich: Fritz Maison, ), via Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004666146/.
The press conference this afternoon reminds me of what a disaster we averted by showing the orange blob the door after one term. I get frustrated by the slow pace of our response to the invasion (and the horrible laissez-faire federal response to the pandemic nowadays), but oh how much worse this could have been. Meanwhile, I am grateful for the example Ukrainians are providing us, shining light through the cold winter darkness. Slava Ukraini! 🇺🇦
It’s so hard to look away from Musk’s wrecking ball when I go to Twitter for voices on Ukraine. Also hard not to comment on other people’s posts. Now the would-be dictator of the bird site is banning and unbanning journalists, depending on his mood and random Twitter polls. He’s also banning links to all kinds of outside networks, even Linktree. He might change his mind about some sites by playing the gracious leader who puts things to a plebiscite, but who needs that? More and more diehards are leaving. I’d like to see regulators take an aggressive look at what he’s doing. But I’d also like to see media outlets, government offices, and other big institutions set up their own Mastodon servers to render the Big Twit’s actions moot.
Evening update: Poof! Just like that, the latest stupid policies have vanished from the bird site’s support pages, while Musk is conducting a poll about whether he should hire a different CEO in place of himself. Of course, none or all of these things could be true by morning.
The new owner of Twitter is behaving in a way that has forced me to make a decision. Can I, in good conscience, continue to produce content that earns ad revenue for a man who is now working to normalize transphobic, antisemitic, racist, misogynistic, fascistic speech and other kinds of dangerous hate and disinformation? I know how to survive and even thrive while blocking out the worst of these things, but do I want to be part of such an ecosystem? It’s clear now that the chief twit knows what he is doing. He is gaslighting us with his “free speech” and “transparency” rhetoric, and I’ve had enough.
I am angry that Twitter is being ruined in such fashion, and I feel the poorer for its loss. Twitter is where I first learned about Trayvon Martin’s murder—several days before the newspaper mentioned it. I only had access to this news because of the overlap between academic Twitter and Black Twitter among the people I was following. (This was before the site’s algorithm began to shape people’s timelines, a feature I resisted adopting.) Many years later, the place served as a lifeline during the multiple crises of 2020: covid, murderous police violence uncovered again, the seeming attempt of an unhinged president to bring martial law to DC, and then the conspiracy to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.
Twitter helped many of us to overcome the crippling effects of isolation in this never-ending pandemic because, at its best, it facilitated conversation. Along the way, it introduced me to disaster, public health, and disability scholars, including historians, and to disability Twitter more generally. Most recently, the platform has been extremely important for finding experts and reliable information about Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the West’s response. As a result, I have grown all too aware that not only does the European history I know need decolonizing (one clear consequence of the Black Lives Matter movement) but the Imperial Russian and Soviet history I learned in graduate school does too.
Across all of these topics, I have benefited from contact with ordinary engaged citizens. Twitter was never just about expert discourses. In fact, sometimes the information I sought had to do with things in my own neighborhood, such as a power outage, snowstorm, or possible explanations for the appearance of emergency vehicles.
Saying goodbye to Twitter is possible because I’ve already been able to connect with historians, in particular, on Mastodon, although reaching beyond them will take longer. At the same time, there are plenty of important voices still on Twitter, not least those from Ukraine. That’s why I’m keeping my scrubbed account there for reading only, not conversing.
I posted a few notes about Mastodon a little over a week ago. If anyone is interested in trying it out, there’s a new instance run by historians called historians.social. It was started by professional historians, but they are explicitly welcoming all who are working in or otherwise engaged with history. By the way, starting on Mastodon is only as hard or easy as you make it. My advice is just to dive in and then learn the options and features by doing. Don’t worry about finding the perfect instance either because it’s easy to move. But do read the rules because moderation varies across instances.
The new owner of Twitter is turning that site into something of a dumpster fire, so I have set up an account on a Mastodon server as well. I’m not sure where this will lead, but for scholarly communication, at least, it seems like a no-brainer, especially since so many have joined. At the same time, my fifteen-year Twitter habit will likely die hard because there are people and perspectives there that I can’t get anywhere else, at least not yet.
My Mastodon account is @[email protected]. If you’re thinking of joining @zirk.us (pronounced “tsirkus”, meaning “circus” in German), this is a nice instance, whereby more and more are being established. Two appropriate to the humanities include @h-net.social and @hcommons.social. If you are wondering if figuring it all out is worth it, check out the growing list of historians on the Histodons spreadsheet at Google Docs.