Tessa Brown Profile picture
Nov 18 64 tweets 22 min read
The possible collapse of twitter has made me super sad and reflective about what this site has meant to me and how it shaped my work as a literacy researcher and educator and now as an early platform ceo.

i have 45 minutes and i'm about to tweet my guts out.
i was thinking of pitching like a "eulogy for twitter" to @TeenVogue but i'm gonna tweet first instead, unroll it later, and see what i can do with it.

this is off the dome first draft material, we'll see what themes come out. stay with me.
i want to think through how i've used twitter since i made my first account in 2008, how it impacted my teaching and research, what i wish this site could've been, the rise of the multiracial patriarchy whitelash, and ultimately how and why i founded @germnetwork this year
i made my first account @teearghbee in december 2008. i remember those days vividly. i was a fresh college grad, Obama had just been elected president, i lived in Chicago at my parents house, was a grotequely overpaid nanny-tutor, & spent every night with my high school friends
every sunday we watched true blood on HBO, we were in Grant Park when Obama had been elected in November, i had a tiny blue lenovo laptop and a big pink blackberry and my best friend and i read @engadget articles and marveled at the mobile computing revolution
this was the olden days when twitter's 140 character limit was because that was the SMS character limit.

I set up my account on my phone so that I could text 40404 and it would post to my twitter account

the children don't know this is how twitter started
i tweeted true shitposts, often from bars, often to that 40404 number, and then i'd come HOME and log into the INTERNET and there my tweets were

a true digital bulletin board
in 2009 i moved to ann arbor and started my mfa and in 2010 i started teaching. i created this account @tessalaprofessa when that title was only aspirational. i was 23 and a few years older than my students.

my first writing course was "College Writing on the College Dropout"
twitter was part of my self-education into #hiphoped/ hiphop studies. #hiphop is a hacker culture and hiphopers are always at the forefront of emerging technologies. social media and twitter were no exception
in that first course i encouraged my students to get twitter accounts and we did livetweeting assignments and group chats. i brought students onto twitter until my last course at stanford in 2021. over the years i've brought 100s of new users onto this platform
i remember when Jay-Z dropped his book #Decoded and he and @CornelWest did a panel at the @nypl about it.

my students and i livetweeted the event together

i have a vivid memory of that night because i was in seminar and i was tweeting with my students under the table
twitter became central to my digital pedagogy, alongside @WordPress where i hosted all my courses in blog formats.

as a writing teacher i was preparing my students to write in the world and that wasn't just going to be scholarly papers. it was live discourse, digital writing.
over the years i made assignments where students had to participate in hashtags, use @Storify to make multimedia compositions, write rhetorical analyses of hashtags and handles
i even invited scholars and twitter heros like @ReignOfApril to live tweet with us and later on was lucky to actually host her at Stanford to speak with my students
although i didnt understand this until my PhD, I was participating in a #newliteracystudies framework of literacy that recognized the huge range of contexts in which we read and write every day.

this is writing. right here. this. we're doing it.

you, yes you, are a writer.
those were heady days of self-education as I was reading as fast as I was teaching, reading @zentronix's Cant Stop Won't Stop, @ProfTriciaRose's Black Noise, @NewBlackMan's edited That's the Joint!

And all these incredible hiphop scholars were here on twitter with the artists
after I finished my MFA i kept teaching at michigan, working on my novel. i tried my damndest to publish it but couldn't get a bite.

i decided to double down on hiphop literacies and followed this passion to Syracuse for my PhD
it was at cuse where I learned about new literacy studies #NLS and actually learned the digital pedagogy frameworks that held my use of social media, blogging, and hiphop lyrics in the writing classroom
and at every stage of my career as a writing educator, twitter was there but also #hiphop artists were there

making arguments, telling stories, building character, crafting allusive intertextual words, remixing digital and analog technologies, providing exemplars to my students
the more i learned about new literacies the more i brought digital technologies in my teaching. my students made tweet threads, instagram threads, videos, websites, rap songs with original beats & later tiktoks & even deepfakes
as i studied digital literacies from a hiphop framework i also saw the whiteness and appropriations of my field, as white scholars took concepts like #remix & #sampling without crediting scholars of color or even #hiphop as the source of these concepts and practices themselves
throughout those years i was reflecting on all this on my blog Hiphopocracy, learning how to be a white scholar within Black studies and hiphop studies, a journey that was rocky, revelatory, & continues to inform my life's work of being an accountable person of privilege
these years were also a time of deep learning about feminism and WOC feminisms, and SO MUCH of that learning happened here on twitter following early heroes like @brokeymcpoverty @GradientLair @Karnythia and the writers who wrote #ThisTweetCalledMyBack

i followed as brave women of color used twitter to disrupt dominant framings of basically everything but especially feminism, showing how white women allied with white men and systematically excluded WOC from their narratives and their institutions
these were the days of #twittertoxicfeminism when white pearl clutching non-intersectional feminists called Black women bullies for calling them out for the first time in their lives but not for the first time in feminism's life, shoutout Sojourner Truth, Audre Lorde, & many more
as people have been writing this week, this is what twitter made possible: a fracturing of the white public discourse that says there is only one political spectrum that goes from right to left, but never top to bottom

twitter was the people's public square. maybe it still is.
in 2018 i published my first scholarly article, about the ASWPL, a white women's anti-lynching group in 1930s Atlanta

through digital archival research i found that while white scholars applauded them, they were actually a segregationist breakaway from an interracial group 😳
in my article on the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching I actually framed my analysis within women of color feminists writings on twitter

i argued that to erase how i had learned about white women's continual erasure of WOC here, on twitter, would be to reproduce the same erasures, appropriations, and tokenizations perpetuated by the ASWPL and by their contemporary white women scholars
i made sure to publish in @peithojournal, an open access journal, because many of those WOC feminists also talked about the ways that scholars and journalists with privilege quoted them and made careers out of them in institutions and publications they could'nt even access
open-source publishing has continued to be so essential to me, as has centering WOC's leadership and scholarship

this is why we say #CiteBlackWomen because they truly are the foremothers and everything is a citation (or uncited appropriation) of THEM, not Socrates lol
as part of my PhD research on hiphop pedagogies at PWIs, i undertook autoethnographic analysis of my own class through a critical whiteness framework

i confronted the whiteness of my own classrooms including how i centered Black cis male voices in my hiphop pedagogy
wow i'm getting tired lol
i learned that i had perpetuated a white habitus in my classroom through an over-focus on Black male artists and insufficient space for my students and myself to reflect on our own positionalities, who we were in relationship to all this Black art
when i finished the PhD and started teaching at @PWRStanford it was with a mandate from myself to center women of color in my teaching, foreground reflexivity in my pedagogy, and bring more sociolinguistics and critical whiteness studies into my study and teaching of hiphop
instead of starting with hiphop i started with twitter. I created a new class, Hashtag Activism, complete with its own hashtag #pwr1ha--now a rich archive--centered explicitly around the women of color here on twitter and beyond who so changed the world
in rhetoric we talk about how technologies shape communications and just like how 140 was the SMS character limit, the #hashtag was also a twitter-native technology that allowed us to turn our ideas and movements into hyperlinks, making material the intertextuality of all writing
in PWR 1 Hashtag Activism #pwr1ha I generated a list of radical twitter activists and movements and invited students to analyze them in the context of this technology and all it enables and constrains Image
I invited @mldauber to this class & she shared how she build a digital & local movement in Santa Clara county to hold a racist misogynist judge accountable for excusing an extremely provable rape

My students were ready to write about #thingslongerthanBrockTurnersrapesentence
i continued bringing students onto this platform and others while also having nuanced conversations about digital writing, privacy preferences, and consent, always offering an opt-out option
we discussed how sometimes using an external platform is a different kind of privacy compared with using university systems that also (& increasingly) surveil us and our writings

(this is the crisis we are in now as private platforms are our recourse from govt surveillance)
my hashtag activism class #pwr1ha was an opportunity for me to delve deeply into studying platforms, and that changed my life forever

because learning about the advertiser model taught me that these companies would never be what we needed them to be
twitter could've been everything. i sincerely believe that.

they couldve #e2ee our DMs. they could've turned our usernames into highly functional webIDs. they could've built out this infrastructure to serve a huge range of communicative needs
but they didn't, because we were never their customers: advertisers were

as soon as I understood this, deeply--& extend to meta/fbook and alphabet/google as well--that is when I began dreaming of @germnetwork
what is most ironic of all is that i agree with musk about charging users for some services.

business models are the mechanics of a business and advertiser-driven platforms innovate for advertisers, not users. this is a fact
but of course the last week has shown that #complexsystems move by their own rules, not hierarchy's, and that shifting a business model is an incredibly complex and instantiated process that needs to be managed carefully or you simply destroy the whole hive
i believe with the hindsight of the last 15 years we can design a platform with new incentives from the beginning--not the misogyny-powered virality of facebook, the ad-driven compromises of twitter, or the race to the bottom information populism of google
i'm feeling my narrative dissimulate here but part of being a 2x grad student and 2x Lecturer was also a growing dissatisfaction or understanding of the corporatized industry known as academia, shoutout #academictwitter
gosh there's so much more i could've written too about Black Twitter, hiphop studies, sampling, call and response, unworking my own white femininity, the scholars #onhere who shaped me and so many others and our work
i've met so many people on this platform because that's what it was, a digital town square

and through #academictwitter and grad student twitter i connected with @Joe_Fru and @Kansas_Press and through a twitter thread proposed an edited collection on graduate student labor
and god i haven't even talked about what twitter has meant for news or the labor movement or Black people's critique of the news, the birth of #BlackLivesMatter as a hashtag, #OccupyWallStreet
i remember sitting in my office at U of M watching livestreams of #OWS, watching the Arab Spring unfold in real time, being at Syracuse learning about Ferguson before it was on the fucking news while Facebook was algorithmically awash in the ALS ice bucket challenge
the fact of the matter is that there is no better place to learn about breaking news than twitter. that's why i'm never embarassed about my ratio. because everything that happens in this world, i knew about it before you did. because i was #onhere.
i am a radical literacy educator by training and contexts shape communication.

the last week, month, year, decade have shown us the absolute corruption of our communication contexts.

imagine needing to see ads to take a phone call?
once i understood how ad-supported media distorts social networking, once i understood that academia was just another corporation, minus the taxes, all bets were off.
in 2019 i took my first notes on a dream of a new platform, in 2020 i joined @covidaccel, in 2021 i took a leave and in 2022 i said i'm not coming back.

me and @BBduboff incorporated @germnetwork and i've been working on it full-time since
we believe in end to end encryption. we believe in trust and safety. we believe in accountability for bad actors and for ourselves. we believe in innovating freemium, direct to consumer business models. we believe that growth is the law of the universe, but so is balance.
people ask if i'm so mission driven why isn't @germnetwork a nonprofit, but i spent enough time in academia to lose the rose tinted glasses about grant dependency. it isn't sustainable and it doesn't bring autonomy.
it's amazing watching @mer__edith advocate for #e2ee at signal but her shift towards a user-donation model to me validates our for-profit status at @germnetwork as the way to support an enormous business that can change people's communication infrastructure around the world
god i didn't even talk about all the activist twitter accounts i've tweeted from like @THEgeneralbody at syracuse @/silicon valley for bernie and @mission_rad
i'm still reconciling my identities as a writer, an academic, an activist, a founder

but what's congealing is a pragmatism about how power operates in this world ...
... and a belief in our incredible power as individuals and collectives to use every single resource there is to change the world and leverage power

including resources and systems called corporations, and capital
i'm supposed to be on vacation right now so i think i'll call this a day.

if any of this calls to you, germ is a movement, come join us. hit me up. it goes down in the DMs.

& remember that together we can do anything--
even build the next twitter.

and finally, @threadreaderapp unroll please

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More from @tessalaprofessa

Apr 7
This panel between @MalloryKnodel and @Riana_Crypto was so great I want to share a few key resources that are grounding my efforts to design an encrypted social media space that prioritizes Trust & Safety ⬇️ 1/
First, the @CenDemTech's report on "Content Moderation in E2E Encrypted Systems" is central in identifying the problem space and singling out user reporting and metadata analysis as major T&S interventions that protect users without breaking encryption 2/ cdt.org/insights/outsi…
@Riana_Crypto's survey of E2E providers reaffirms that user reporting is the #1 best way to find and respond to infractions--with the notable exception of images of child sexual abuse. But we can approach that surgically without scanning everything. 3/

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