I was sent an article to read by sometime-Ruminator author Jarrod Baker; it was about Twitter shaming. The article can be read here. It’s based on the Justine Sacco incident when she tweeted that she was going to South Africa and she hoped she wouldn’t get AIDS. But don’t worry! She won’t, because she’s White.
If you don’t recall the matter it blew up like you would not credit. Justine only had 170 followers but that didn’t stop it. She unfortunately was on a plane for 11 hours from London to South Africa and so wasn’t party to the outrage that reverberated around the world. She lost her job, and a whole bunch of her life from the Twitter outrage. The article also goes into other examples of people’s fall from grace thanks to ill-thought out tweets.
But are they ill-thought out?
I had my own minor brush with the Twitter outrage machine when I chose the moment immediately following the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict the police officer for shooting Michael Brown in Ferguson to tweet:
Someone needs to develop an app so I know how much liberal outrage I should express over issues. I mean, what’s the deal with #Ferguson?
Turns out there is such an app. It’s called Twitter.
(I’d link to the offending tweet, but in a moment of silliness, I deleted it. As if that would make it go away).
As far as offensive things I’ve said in my life, that is not high up the list. It probably wouldn’t even make the top-10 this year. However it was so spectacularly badly timed that I felt the wrath of Twitter’s rage. And when your thigh is continually vibrating to the tune of another person you don’t know calling you an asshole it can quickly become quite disheartening (sidenote, if you find yourself at the wrong end of one of these, turn Twitter notifications off).
I tried to apologise my way out of the debacle. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But today “I’m sorry” is no longer enough. Now people have to see a “change in behaviour”. I’m not even sure what behaviour I was displaying to change. Callousness? Flippancy? Insensitivity? Whatever it was, I didn’t learn my lesson. I got accused of being the guy who makes jokes about things because that’s my “brand”, as if this was somehow a calculated part of my Twitter persona. The truth is much simpler (and dumber): I just didn’t think that hard about it.
But the thing with Twitter is that what you tweet isn’t actually your property is it? Your tweets get pored over, the words you use, the sentence structure, the syntax, these are all things up for interrogation. And then the Internet warriors come out. And they bash you. And bash you. And they turn into a gang, then a horde, then it seems everyone hates you in the whole universe.
Couple of days after my offending tweet I got into a heated discussion with another Twitter user that got nasty. So I tried to fix it. By ringing them. That was a really really dumb move on my part. Really dumb. Imagine having someone who you were arguing with online, suddenly invade your real world?
But I was convinced I could apologise my way out of it. So I tried to make good with the person on the phone. And I thought I had. Except I hadn’t. Because I’d creeped them out. So they took to the internet and lo and behold I found myself at the end of another Twitter bashing (this one more deserving). It kind of reached its apex/nadir when I was compared to a rapist. At that point Twitter got uninstalled from my phone.
I’ve been part of pile-ons in the past. Gleefully. Oh that person has done something bad! We must tell them they’re a bad person! We must ALL tell them they’re a bad person. And when you’re sitting at a keyboard, morally outraged at a tweet from someone, you often forget to consider that they are still a human being. And that they most likely are not a terrible person. They just fucked up or wrote something in a less tactful way than they could have.
That was the thing that annoyed me throughout being on the receiving end. For the most part, I like to think I’m a decent person. Did this one tweet suddenly make me a bad person?
Because that’s how it feels. That your whole person is being judged solely on one discrete moment in time. That your person exists in a vacuum and everything you may have done and everything you stood for counts for shit (didn’t you see me give to that homeless person?).
So it stopped me from taking part in pile-ons. Because when someone tweets that they’re not going to get AIDS because they’re white, it’s easy to assume they’re being a racist shit. But you don’t have the context of their whole experience. You don’t know what they’re like. So maybe say “hey, that was a dumb thing to say” instead of getting the pitchforks out and rallying the villagers. Or don’t say anything at all. Shake your head, mutter a few words of disgust and just keep scrolling.
Or, y’know, live your way however you see fit. Just be cognisant that folks are folks.