why are so many celebrities quitting twitter?

Leslie Jones, Zelda Williams, Normani Kordei, and Rowan Blanchard have all quit Twitter, taken a break, or deleted the phone app, calling the social media service's troll-blocking measures into question. For women and people of color, the abuse can get...

by i-D Staff and Hannah Ongley
10 August 2016, 8:45pm

photo by kelly sikkema

Last year we wrote about Generation Z's search for IRL authenticity via ditching social media. Young people are becoming more aware of the trappings that come with spending a large amount of time on the internet: FOMO, fatigue, over-engagement, and the temptation to Instagram-stalk exes.

The latest reason for quitting Twitter is less introspective and far less celebratory, though it's far from a new phenomenon. Recently celebrities have been signing off — or handing their accounts over to staff — because it's predisposed to straight-up trolling and bigoted abuse. One of the oldest criticisms of social media is that it offers users little protection from anonymous haters, and recent attempts on behalf of apps to quash the abuse might be too little too late. 

Instagram recently implemented a feature that allows users to switch off comments entirely — but it's currently only available to high-profile celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Kylie Jenner. Twitter, which lost one of its most uncompromisingly brilliant voices when Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones was forced off the site last month, did make the rare move of permanently banning the right-wing Breitbart commentator who had spurred the barrage of horrific racist and sexist abuse. "Ok I have been called Apes," Jones wrote at the height of it all. "Even got a pic with semen on my face. I'm tryin to figure out what human means. I'm out." But Jones was left to deal with the horrid insults for days before Twitter stepped in.

Jones, thankfully, has since blessed us with her return, citing a strong need to live-tweet Game of Thrones. A far greater number of famous names are deciding simply to check out entirely. Back in May, Vince Staples deleted nearly 10,000 comments during a heated debate with racist trolls about the history of slavery, and is yet to come back. "I think Ima delete my Twitter and buy a speed boat. I just don't know where I would put it," he tweeted after attempting to school a few particularly lost causes. "Yeah this is the last of this. If you looking for me I'm on the snapgram, the instachat, and real life. Bye everybody!" Serena Williams has also revealed that she prefers Snapchat for connecting with fans because of its one-way traffic flow.

Related: Social media suicide: Why Generation Z is going off the grid

Over the weekend, Fifth Harmony's Normani Kordei announced she was quitting Twitter following a "horrific" string of racist attacks — apparently sparked by questions over her commitment to the girl group — very similar to those aimed at Jones. "Over the past four years of being in the public eye I've learned to grow a thick skin to critics and those who may not like me," she wrote in a note to fans. "I've never been one to deny anyone of their opinions, but over the course of this last week and especially over the last 48 hours I've not just been cyber bullied, I've been racially cyber bullied with tweets and pictures so horrific and racially charged that I can't subject myself any longer to the hate."

Even celebrities who are still ostensibly tweeting are thinking up creative ways to do without engaging with trolls. "I didn't want to cut off my relationship to it completely," Lena Dunham said last year after explaining that the service — or more specifically, the hateful barrage of verbal abuse and body-shaming comments — was creating something "cancerous" in her. Dunham now lets her team manage all interactions, though she still composes the tweets herself — as she later clarified (in a tweet) to her then-2.81 million followers. Last week outspoken 14-year-old actress Rowan Blanchard announced that she was deleting Twitter from her phone after she was accused of faking friendships with her Girl Meets World co-stars. "I don't usually comment on anything like this, but I have spent the last half hour crying, confused as to why someone can stoop to such a low level to try to ruin the life of someone they don't know personally," she wrote. "I am going to delete the Twitter app from my phone and probably binge watch twin peaks. lol."

Sometimes the social media breaks are not intended to be permanent. Zelda Williams, the 27-year-old daughter of Robin Williams, was forced off the app after her father's suicide in 2014. The looming anniversary of his death is now also a reminder for her to log off. "Tata for now!" she tweeted on Sunday along with a heart emoji, explaining: "So it's that time of year again. I will be taking another break off social media. For those who always ask why, it's so people can memorialize Dad on the anniversary of his death however they wish without me having to feel bombarded by it, PR pressured by the expectation put on myself or my family to publicly acknowledge or join in doing so."

Jaden Smith, Nicki Minaj, and Ashton Kutcher have all attempted to quit Twitter in recent years, to varying degrees of success. Whether temporary or more permanent, hopefully any mass exodus is more reason for Twitter to come up with some supercharged (and democratic) troll-blocking measures. It's not just famous people who get fed up with online harassment. And with regular young social media junkies lately harnessing the very specific power of RTs and hashtags to fight racismsexism, and homophobia, we don't want everyone ditching the site for Snapchat or Instagram. After all, Twitter at least lets you post nipples. 

Related: Is the backlash against social media coming?


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via iStock

Vince Staples
Social Media
Leslie Jones
Think Pieces
rowan blanchard
normani kordei
zelda williams
social media fatigue