Skip to main content

Stop the hate on Twitter

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
Dean Obeidallah says Twitter exchanges often lead to fights reminiscent of the 1999 film
Dean Obeidallah says Twitter exchanges often lead to fights reminiscent of the 1999 film "Fight Club," which starred Brad Pitt.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah says Twitter has become a home to sharp exchanges, fights
  • He says the social network allows people to release aggression
  • Obeidallah: It's inexcusable when people engage in racist, sexist, homophobic rants
  • He says Twitter users must unite in declaring there's no room for hate

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-host of a new CNN podcast "The Big Three" that looks at the top three stories of the week. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- For some, Twitter is a social media platform that enables you to keep up with breaking news, raise political issues or offer amusing thoughts. But for many others, including myself, Twitter has become the new "Fight Club." It has in essence become the cyber version of the basement of "Lou's Bar" from that 1999 classic film.

To those who have not made it onto Twitter yet, let's make something clear: Twitter is not Facebook. Facebook is as dangerous as visiting a P.F. Chang's. Twitter, on the other hand, is the Wild West in the 1800s -- it's new, unsettled and often savage.

In "Fight Club," people from all walks of life -- from professionals to blue collar workers -- would nightly shrug off their mundane existence to experience a visceral rush by beating the crap out of each other in the basement of a neighborhood bar.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

"Fight Club" celebrated the duality of life. By day, actor Ed Norton played a mild-mannered, timid insurance adjuster leading the quintessential life "of quiet desperation." But by night, Norton became his brash and bold alter ego, Tyler Durden, portrayed by Brad Pitt. The difference between these two characters was succinctly summed up by Tyler Durden while talking to his more staid alter ego: "I am free in all the ways that you are not. "

This is what Twitter is to many. A place to be free. A place where people from all walks of life are on equal footing to battle each other -- from the rich and powerful to the poor and angry. And on Twitter, you're not required to be polite like you are in the real world. In fact, cutting and snarky remarks are not only accepted, they are glorified.

But there's an increasingly dark underbelly to these Twitter fights. What might start out as a disagreement about a political or social issue, at times can escalate into racist, sexist or homophobic rants. In fact, Humboldt University recently created a map entitled "The Geography of Hate" which charted the hate filled comments being spewed on Twitter. It's truly alarming.

I've experienced it firsthand. Some I've fought with on Twitter have called me ethnic slurs like "towel head" because I'm of Arab heritage or a "stupid guinea" because I'm also of Italian descent. But these comments are tame when compared to the far more hateful comments launched on Twitter against Blacks, Latinos, gays, and the disabled as noted by the Humboldt study.

I know some reading this are asking: Why do you fight at all on Twitter? Why not just ignore those people who challenge you? Sure, you can do that, but as Tyler Durden instructively told us in "Fight Club": "How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight." So many engage in these battles to test their mettle.

There's nothing wrong with the great percentage of Twitter fights. You get a chance to test your opinions on issues of the day. In today's hyperpartisan climate, many just associate with like-minded people and consequently their views on political issues are never challenged. But Twitter provides a forum to debate with others who passionately hold opposing views. True, these battles can become heated and include nasty comments, but for the most part they remain issue-oriented and avoid bigotry.

More than once, I've engaged in a fiery battle over an issue and then found common ground on an unrelated subject that has led to a Twitter friendship.

After one intense argument with a conservative over President Obama's policies, we both discovered our mutual dislike of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (I'm a NY Giants fan and he's a Buffalo Bills fan.)

That's not to excuse the alarming rise of racist, sexist, homophobic and other hate filled comments on Twitter. And while the Humboldt University report doesn't indicate how many of these comments were made during Twitter fights, I can assure you that is where I have seen them rear their ugly face most often.

Here's my plea to my fellow Twitter users: We need to make it clear that there's simply no place for that type of hate on Twitter. You can win a battle on substance -- or even with cutting remarks --- without descending into the realm of racism and bigotry.

And the best people to police this are my fellow Twitter users. If enough of us collectively speak out, Twitter can become a social media platform where users share info, joke around and even fight with each other, but all without being subject to hate.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT