@DALIAMALEK on Online Bravado and Using Twitter in Egypt

Dalia Malek is a comedian, legal advocate, international human rights, and refugee law expert/PhD. She is from California and used to live in Egypt and England. Malek has written for The Daily Dot, Arabist, and Mic, and she hosts a standup show in Los Angeles called Ground Floor. This week I talked to Malek about three of her favorite tweets, plus online compassion about petty things, seeming meaner on Twitter than in real life, and more.

Malek: This is from a series of tweets that contains relatable flora and fauna with captions about hard things life has made me feel and learn. I love ascribing my own baggage to plants and animals online because they have no idea I’m doing it and they’re cute and inspiring and nobody gets hurt. A lot of my dreams were coming true at the time I wrote this tweet and this little guy’s body language is dead on. I love him. I want to gift him a tiny cape for his heroism.

For this series, do you find the pics or come up with the captions first, and where do you find the pics?

Usually I try to find a photo that fits a feeling I’m thinking of. Sometimes a certain photo will inspire a thought, like with the hippo I saw that photo first in a news story about flooding in Georgia (the country) and thought she looks like she’s had enough and is marching off on a mission to better herself. I find them on Google Image Search or in news stories about animals.

Have you done other series of tweets? What is your favorite you’ve done?

Yes. The animal one is my favorite, but aside from that there’s one where I talk about things I am the Beyoncé of.

When I was doing my PhD I was hungry and haggard and desperate and this bright-eyed, fresh-faced sexualization of a terribly unsexy thing is a distortion of the truth. I will not tolerate distortions of the truth on my Internet.

How does your voice on Twitter compare to your voice IRL?

In real life I self-compliment about as much as I do online, so the bravado and all-caps annoyingness are consistent. This is a real thing I do. I’ve been told by people who have met me from Twitter that I seem nicer in person than they expected, so I must come off more brash and incisive online. I’m trying to work on that, being more of an asshole in person. I hope no one reads this and thinks I might be nice. I would rather have the personality I cultivated for consumption than the one I was born with.

Are there elements of your voice that you leave out of your tweets, either by chance or intentionally?

Since you can’t hear the tone of tweets the same way you would in real life, they might seem angrier or more cutting online. I have a big horrible laugh and that doesn’t translate online. I laugh a lot. I can also be shy in person and I haven’t got a lot of shyness online. I don’t feel the same performance anxiety while tweeting that I do when ambushed by a social situation. This is all due to the nature of the medium rather than a conscious decision.


What are your favorite and least favorite subjects to tweet about?

My favorites are petty topics that make people passionate. I’ve tweeted that broccoli is bad, that it might be okay if lots of cats died, and that fried chicken is less good than grilled chicken, and people crawled out of the woodwork with guns blazing. Those tweets almost bring on as many threats of violence as feminism does and I love it. I also like to live-tweet Costco hotdogs that I drench in glorious neon yellow American mustard.

This might be controversial but I generally dislike topical tweets. I don’t like when one or two topics dominate Twitter and you see the same joke over and over. Twitter is boring when it turns into a hive mind. It also awakens a part of me that believes in conspiracy theories and makes me feel like we’re being told what to tweet about. Which came first, the trending topic or the topical tweets? Part of me rolls my eyes at the lack of originality and part of me thinks “THE GOVERNMENT IS TELLING US TO TWEET ABOUT THE OSCARS TO DISTRACT US FROM ITS UNSCRUPULOUS FOREIGN POLICY AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY ABROAD.” All that noise takes attention away from me and my beautiful snowflake thoughts, which is the most important part of Twitter.

How, if at all, has the way you use Twitter changed over time?

I joined Twitter when I was living in Egypt because I heard an activist tweeted from prison and that tweeting helped him get released. I thought my human rights work might get me arrested one day so I joined and then didn’t use it for years, except maybe once to declare that it was raining. I don’t know what I was thinking, I didn’t even have a properly functioning smartphone yet. “Excuse me, corrupt Egyptian prison guard, the Nokia I hid in my underwear is too glitchy to connect to the Internet. May I please go into the prison office and use your desktop computer to tweet my whereabouts to my 9 followers in California?” When I actually started using it, I was living in London and my earliest follows were people who tweeted about the Arab Spring. I was mainly using Twitter to keep up with what was happening in Egypt because I was very worried a lot and it was the most reliable source for up-to-date information. One of my proudest moments from that period was getting blocked by the Muslim Brotherhood’s official Twitter account @ikhwanweb.

Now I use Twitter for silliness, promoting comedy shows, and trying to convince people I’m not a rapper. I also sometimes tweet about human rights issues, topics that relate to my academic/professional interests, but usually that’s when something has really set me off rather than simply “weighing in.”

Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brookyln and works at Funny Or Die.

@DALIAMALEK on Online Bravado and Using Twitter in […]