When I first started using Twitter, about four, five years ago, I couldn't believe how many women were on it. Funny women, clever women, women I knew already, women I didn't. All chatting, riffing, having a laugh. Communicating. And through that communication, these women were engaged in the workplace. Promoting their work without booking a babysitter; networking without standing in a lap-dancing club; letting the world know what they were up to without getting out of their pyjamas. Plus, everyone told great jokes. I couldn't believe how brilliant it was.
As happens with new crazes, the shine soon wore off. All social media can become too enticing, can distract you from things you really have to do - pay the bills, pick up the kids, talk to your partner - but, for me, Twitter still serves those original functions. In a busy world, for busy women, it's not always possible to go to every single meeting or drinks do. Twitter allows you to keep in touch.
So, when, last summer, a number of women were abused on Twitter (not physically, just in 140 characters: mere words, words), it was as though a gang of lads had pitched up at the wrong pub. The lads thought the evening was about pulling birds; everyone else thought it was about chatting and having a giggle. The atmosphere turned sour and what had seemed like a woman-welcoming environment became yet another misogynist arena.
Social media seems like a big step forward for many women. It takes away the everyday worries about looks and being heard. But it isn't perfect, and it can make things worse. We hear a lot about online bullying, "slut-shaming", predatory men tricking young girls into taking their clothes off for the camera. But what about the narcissism of social media, the neediness, the attention-seeking? What about the insecurity of those whose tweets are ignored, whose Facebook status remains unliked? Those women who worry about their appearance to such an extent that they get a makeover for their avatar? Should we think about Ask.fm, and the constant insecurity of whether others think you're pretty or not? Snapchat, which seems ideal for saucy pics and undercover arrangements, all of which can, of course, be screen-shot?
It is fashionable, amongst the loftier of clever people, to dismiss social media as a waste of time. Or as something even worse: as a maniac entity destroying 'proper' human contact, a monster that rips up long-established communities, the end of society as we know it. It isn't anything like that. But it does throw up new problems, fresh takes on old issues and these are worth talking about. So I, along with my colleagues at Bug, a cultural consultancy, have organised a debate about social media and women. It's on Monday evening, at the House of St Barnabas, and the speakers are Suzanne Moore, one of the women who got the most Twitter abuse last summer; Philippa Perry, psychotherapist and enthusiastic Tweeter; and Poppy Dinsey, whose successful fashion website What I Wore Today could not have existed before the social media age. The title is Twitter Is A Girl's Best Friend. Is it, still? I wonder.
Twitter is a Girl's Best Friend will take place at the House of St Barnabas in Soho on Monday 21st October, as part of Bug's 37 Things You Need to Know about Modern Britain series . The House of St Barnabas is a venue and homeless charity, providing sustained work for those suffering from homelessness.