Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When the Twitterverse Finds Enemies

As I'm sure you heard, during the Oscars the humor site The Onion tweeted an extremely unfortunate joke attempt about nine-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis.

The outcry on Twitter started off merely aghast. Then, as can happen when people collectively find something to be outraged about, the anger cascaded and multiplied. People called The Onion out, called for resignations and firings, called for heads, and often in language as offensive as the language people ostensibly found objectionable.

On a night where my Twitter feed had started with people being complete jerks to Anne Hathaway for no apparent reason, all the negative energy swirling around Twitter suddenly found an even easier target.

I'm not defending The Onion's tweet by any means. It wasn't a good joke and they rightly apologized for it.

But it's kind of amazing to me how the Twitterverse can be correct about something but manage to take its self-righteous outrage so far it somehow starts feeling wrong.

It starts feeling like a witch hunt. In a medium that by its nature is effectively devoid of nuance to start with, whatever balance is possible is completely lost. And good luck to anyone who tries to stand in front of the herd and appeal for reason.

It reminded me of a similar feeling after Hurricane Sandy, when Mayor Bloomberg had decided the marathon should proceed. The Twitteverse reacted with complete and hysterical outrage.

Before the marathon was eventually canceled, the runners themselves were called out for their decision to run, nevermind that many had spent the entire year raising money for charity, some had been volunteering to the relief effort leading up to the race, and whether the marathon would go forward or not was outside of their control.

A lot of people on Twitter had tons of ideas about what the runners should be doing with their time, apparently missing the irony that they were doing so while staring at their screens and not really doing anything to help. And if you lived here and tried to volunteer, you may have been turned away as I was because there were already more volunteers than were needed.

A lot of the vitriol was channeled when the New York Post spotted some generators used to power the marathon press tent while some of the city was still blacked out. In classic Twitter fashion people were outraged about it, while missing the nuance that those generators could not have been used to power anyone's home or apartment because of technical limitations, and in the end weren't used at all.

Meanwhile, that same Sunday the New York Giants football game was allowed to proceed in hard-hit New Jersey with nary a complaint on Twitter, despite all of the emergency personnel and food needed for such a huge event. And after the Oscars, I couldn't help but wish that people felt 1/1000th the amount of outrage about 8,000 people in Haiti dying due to alleged U.N. negligence that they did about one stupid tweet.

I initially scoffed when Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article asserting that the revolution will not be tweeted, but I now wonder if he's more correct than I gave him credit for. He argued that the weak ties between people in the social media sphere don't readily lend themselves to actual concrete activism.

I still think Gladwell underestimates social media (it's basic human communication after all). But it does seem to me like it gives people the illusion of action without being actual action. It doesn't readily lend itself to compassion for the people the Twitterverse decides has erred.

Woe betide someone who crosses Twitter, but woe betide us if we don't take a step back from an instantaneous medium devoid of nuance and stop and think. Chances are there's something out there more important to be outraged about and something far more productive we can do to channel our anger.

Art: The Deluge by Francis Danby


Rocket said...

"...complete and hysterical outrage" is my new favorite saying. Well thought out post, thanks.

Patty Blount said...

Twitter frequently whips users into the virtual equivalent of a mob -- sometimes that's good because it frequently gets action. As a Long Island resident, I can assure you that life here post-Sandy was outright dangerous. People were fighting over gasoline and clean water and some of the homes flooded during the storm were looted. These conditions worsened as power outages continued. I was among those who felt it was foolish to divert emergency responders to a marathon while thousands couldn't get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. As for the Giants game, I have no idea if that section of NJ was equally devastated by the storm, or if the stadium has its own security.

As for the Oscars, I agree with you. It started off great. I thought I'd enjoy the telecast until the tweets started. Pick, pick, pick! I was disgusted by a lot of it and wrote a similar blog posted here, if you're interested.

maine character said...

The voice of reason has no sway on a mob 'cause a mob only wants something to kill.

And yeah, the best cure is to ask, "What am I doing about it?" 'Cause then you drop the stone and get to work.

Jamie Beck said...

I really enjoy reading your blog. This is another great post.

I'm pretty new to 'social media' and 'twitter.' I'm not sure how much I really like these outlets (maybe it's my age) or whether their value is worth the time-suck/distraction from actual living/work.

But I'm often shocked by some of the hostility and downright cruelty I'll read on blog sites, etc., whether they be fan sites of TV shows, or sometimes even forums such as this. People hiding behind screens are willing to say things they'd never say face to face.

It saddens me that people enjoy seizing on mistakes/follies of others. It also makes me gun-shy to participate because I fear that the 'tone' of my message may not come across the right way and will open me up to this kind of ridicule, etc.

The example you gave here was worthy of censure, but most things don't warrant quite the frenzy they receive...and as you point out, people spending a majority of their day 'shouting' at/through a screen might find more happiness if they get up and interact with the real world.

Sarah said...

I personally didn't take to Twitter over the Onion tweet(just a few Facebook posts of viewpoints I found interesting/helpful). And I see why you could categorize the call for firings, etc., as a witch hunt, and why that could be seen as an overreaction.

But here's the thing: until there are real consequences for hate speech (and while I don't by any means think that's what the writer intended the Tweet to be---I'll give the benefit of the doubt and assume he or she meant it to satirize the terrible things people say on Twitter about celebrities---that's what calling a child [or really, anyone, even as a "joke"] an extremely offensive name which has sexist and racist connotations IS: hate speech), until we make it clear that this kind of thing is unacceptable, people will keep doing it.

And yes, it'd be good if we also directed our anger (and our money, and our time) to causes like helping the people dying in Haiti, we do still need to direct our energy to making sure no kid grows up thinking she's not good enough because some adult with a megaphone on the internet decided to make a joke at her (or in this case, someone who could be a role model for her) expense.

This is one of those things where talking about it is one of the things we CAN do about it, and have to do about it.

This was helpful to me in thinking about everything that happened around the Oscars this year:

Johanna Garth said...

I'm quite certain the revolution WILL be tweeted. I've read that in oppressive regimes Twitter is one of those things that frightens dictators the most because it allows people to form virtual armies.

Bryan Russell said...

People hesitate to cast the first stone. But once the first stone flies, everyone likes to get a good toss or two in.

And it's pretty easy to throw stones from behind a screen, whether it's the first one or the last one.

Joe Konrath said...

Twitter is the perfect tool for inciting moral panic.

Being outraged in your office chair is immediate, satisfying, and safe. There is no need to do more (such as actually help the situation), and no real-world repercussions for Internet misbehavior.

Twitter is a place to say things you'd never say to a person's face. And there is an immediate sense of smug validation coupled with instant gratification that occurs when others instantly retweet and agree.

It's sad. And human.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this courageous blog. Julia Robb

David Hudnut said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post Nathan.

valerierlawson said...

pausing to stop and think...what great advice. even better, to educate ourselves and not just swallow all incoming information whole as if it is complete and factual.

Stephsco said...

I think the power of twitter really depends on the strength and integrity of its users. People in Egypt used twitter to ignite a revolution, and the Red Cross makes it even easier to donate now by texting a donation (which they have promoted on twitter after several natural disasters).

But, it's EASY to throw down misogynistic comments about Anne Hathaway because the feedback is instant (retweets, favorites etc) and it requires no effort on the user's part. Something like caring about a legit issue takes effort, whether it's brain power or time or money. Some people are always going for the cheap laugh, the expected joke, the easy kill. I think as long as celebrity culture is so highly lauded in America, we aren't going to see the real issues get the type of coverage they need. We/our culture also caters to entertainers who pretend to feed us news that isn't really news. Spotting Kate Middleton's baby bump isn't news, it's gossip. Whatever. I love twitter, but I agree, the outrage over minutae is ludricrous.

Barbara Jean said...

Although the tweet was uncalled for and the use of language offensive, I cannot believe people got sooo outraged! Come on folks, save your outrage for the real atrocities happening all over the world. Thanks for your post...well said.

Nathan Bransford said...


My reaction to the tweet was the same as yours, which is that it was a not-well-thought-out attempt at satirizing the ridiculous things people are saying about celebrities. But that intent matters a lot - in fact I'd argue that intent is perhaps the most important element of language. And by treating that tweet overly seriously, stripped of intent, I think people end up trivializing the very thing they're ostensibly fighting for.

If we're going to fight for the eradication of hate speech, let's choose better proxies. And this is the problem with fighting via social media - it's way easier to rally around something easily digestible and concrete than something complex. But it's the complex problems that need solutions.

Amy B. said...

I agree 100% with Sarah.

By your own argument, you shouldn't be talking about Twitter mob mentality but real-world mob mentality, wherein a group of people get whipped into such a frenzy that folks end up dead. That is the more important cause. But you're not. Why? My guess is that Twitter mob mentality is something that both affects you more directly and is also something you feel you might be able to change. That's what other people are doing, too.

Was there overreaction? Yes, by some. But not by all, and very important conversations happened. They might not be as important to you by stint of sex, race, and the fact that you didn't face the prospect of runners and cheering fans coming into your neighborhood as emergency personnel were still at work finding the dead. But they are important to some people, and they have every right to get angry.

Yes, I would love it if that anger got channeled to other causes as well, leading to raising money and making change. And sometimes it does. The important thing is to champion the causes that are important to you, and not wave off the causes or emotional reactions that are important to other people.

Amy B. said...

In response your response to Sarah -

No, when it comes to hate speech, intent doesn't matter. The harm that the hate speech does is what matters. The people it hurts are the ones who matter. Quite often folks who say and do racist/sexist/bigoted things will respond by saying they didn't mean for it to be taken that way. That doesn't make it any less racist/sexist/bigoted, and it doesn't make a sincere apology any less necessary.

Being slapped across the face doesn't hurt any less just because the slapper says they meant it as a joke.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree that people can't hide behind "just kidding!" when they're doing damage, but intent absolutely matters. Would you judge the C-word equally whether it was being stated by a scholar or by someone who meant it as an insult? The different is intent and context. People are absolutely entitled to their own personal reaction, but I also don't think it's fair or accurate to completely dissociate words from their intent. Otherwise we'd be burning anatomy textbooks.

I'm writing about the Twitter thing because it's new and I saw it and have been thinking about it. I don't think it's a fair to suggest that I don't care about the issues at hand - I just don't tend to think that Twitter is the best place to hash them out.

Of course people have a right to be angry. That doesn't necessarily make them correct.

Jaimie said...

This is a brilliant post, and I love your comments too. "If we're going to fight for the eradication of hate speech, let's choose better proxies." - Yes, yes, yes.

Mister Fweem said...

This is one of the reasons I left Twitter recently. The Internet is a suck for negativity, but Twitter was quickly turning into a negativity singularity.

Amy B. said...

Quite honestly, if any male scholar or professor had used the c-word at my college, regardless of intent, he would have been fired. It's a word men aren't allowed to use, because it is an unspoken threat. It's not the only such word in the English language either.

I also did not say you don't care about the issues at hand, I said they might not be as important to you as other people. And I don't see why they shouldn't be hashed out on Twitter. Twitter is a conversation, and these things are important to have conversations about.

And while you might not think another person's reaction is correct, that is your opinion. If there is one thing I've learned on the internet, it's that everyone has vastly different definitions of overreaction.

Nathan Bransford said...


Wow. I can tell you definitively that I do not want to live in a world where a scholar could not use the C-word in a scholarly paper or in, say, a treatise defending women against hate speech simply because he has a penis.

Amy B. said...

I actually meant that if they said it aloud, but really? A world where a male scholar has to write "c*nt" instead of the actual word is so terrible?

Of course, the world we live in is one where the football team in the U.S. capital is a racist slur, so I don't think you have anything to worry about.

Nathan Bransford said...

I believe there isn't a word in the world so powerful that it shouldn't be able to be uttered by anyone with the right context. Say the worst word you can think of. I bet no one spontaneously combusted.

These words have power because we collectively bestow them with it. And by dissociating words from context and saying only certain people can utter them you're only giving those words, and thus your enemies, more power.

Words are just words. Their negative power comes from the people who have actual real world power to harm. When people confuse the two, in my opinion they're wasting their energy on the wrong targets.

Sarah said...

Nathan---thanks for your thoughtful response! I definitely agree that intent matters. I think the problem is that in cases like this, intent can be lost pretty easily. Based on responses to the Onion's apology I'm pretty sure there were people out there who read that tweet and thought, "oh, haha, he called that girl a c**t, yeah, she is one." Which is terrifying, and completely misses the intent. I think that's what made it deplorable--it was so without context that it was too easy for anyone, from the people who found it funny for the wrong reason to the people who were outraged, to miss the intent. I'm not a comedian so I don't have any practical suggestions for making the intention of a joke like this clear without ruining it, but hopefully the great comedians out there figure it out. And hopefully they reconsider using a kid when they do it, because intent or not, I don't think that's the right way to make this kind of point.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree, I think the fact that the Onion's intent could be confused is the reason that it was such a bad joke and something they needed to apologize for. There had to have been another way to satirize that part of the Oscars without associating the C-word with a nine-year-old.

Matthew MacNish said...

My biggest problem with the Onion tweet was that it wasn't funny. Their satire is usually some of the best, but this one just crossed that invisible line into: not even remotely okay.

As for Twitter, well, you get a bunch of human beings gathered together into a mob, and you get mob mentality.

Amy B. said...

Nathan -
It's easy for you to say such words don't have power when there is literally no word you could be called that is an equivalent.

It is not up to cis het white men to determine when they allow themselves to use those words. If you have a problem with this, you need to better educate yourself about privilege and power. Simple as that.

Nathan Bransford said...


I never said words don't have power, I just said they don't have the power to make people spontaneously combust. (If you know that one please let me know.)

Otherwise my point remains - they have the power we give them. It seems like you don't feel I have access to certain words because I am a man and white, which frankly makes me feel like you're dehumanizing me and reducing me to two elements.

The people who are adversely affected by power and privilege don't have a monopoly on understanding it. Sure, they have unique insights, but I don't think it's constructive to shut out sympathetic allies simply because they aren't the ones directly affected.

Livia Blackburne said...

"Wow. I can tell you definitively that I do not want to live in a world where a scholar could not use the C-word in a scholarly paper or in, say, a treatise defending women against hate speech simply because he has a penis."

Going on the record as a non-white woman that I completely agree with Nathan on this point. Context and intent matter greatly. Nothing much to add, since Nathan puts it well, but just standing up to be counted as a person who whose agreement can't be explained away by white privilege.

Redleg said...

I'm tweeting my outrage with this blogpost as we speak.

abc said...

I had barely even registered that Onion tweet. I guess I'm officially jaded. Also, now I feel guilty about dissing Ms. Hathaway (but I also dumped on Robert Downy Jr. and Seth McFarlane so at least I spread my annoyance among the sexes). Also, great, thoughtful post, sir!

Marsha Sigman said...

Great post. Personally I'm a little disgusted with how easily people are offended these days regardless of the medium.

And I only trashed Kristen Stewart...because she totally deserves it.

Mira said...

Terrific post and great discussion. Thanks, Nathan.

In terms of the privilege and power issue, I agree with Nathan and Olivia. Although I agree that people need to be careful, I think context is extremely important.

I'll also add to Amy - first, I support you in advocacy for discussions about privilege. Good for you! I also fight for social justice, and I always love to see a fellow advocate. :)

But I will add that I think it's unfair to say to any white man that he can not have opinions about this, or that if his opinions disagree with yours, it is because he needs education. Frankly, I think that is a harmful way to debate privilege. Even if you are right, you are much more likely to make an enemy than to persuade.

I almost never promote my blog, but I did write a basic post about privilege (not the best post I've written, I may have watered it down too much, still thinking about that), which I'll link. But one of the things I wrote about was how we all bear privilege, every single one of us know what it is like to be privileged. And we are all targeted in some area of our life as well, every single one of us. Even white men know what it is to be oppressed, no one escapes it.

Much better to connect on that level, we're all people, we all know what it is to be both the victim and the favored.

Here's the post, if it interests anyone:

I'm going to post later about the topic, because I have different stuff to say about that. I think
Twitter is an incredibly powerful tool for global communication - we've never seen the likes of it. And it is important!

I so love your blog when it gets going, Nathan. :)

Anonymous said...

I completely understand that The Onion was trying to be ironic about the mean, sexist ways in which women like Anne Hathaway were treated during the Oscars; but to use crude language regarding a child...Well, I'm sorry, but I think that speaks volumes about our society at this point in time. I'm sure The Onion writers could have come up with something more creative if they had first decided that children were off limits for crude jokes. For the record, I haven't read the crude comments against The Onion because I just wasn't interested in following all that. After reading a number of somewhat disgusting not-funny comments by The Onion recently, however, I'm simply thinking about unfollowing them.

adan said...

a brave post on a very touchy subject, thanks so much nathan

Gretchen said...

I think you are right on target, Nathan. Not only in your post, but in your responses to comments as well. Excellent work!

Christine Tyler said...

Whenever Twitter swarms someone, I always think of Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I agree that the Onion's joke about that actress was inappropriate, but I think that people in Twitter did not need to be outraged; after all, the Onion quickly backtracked and apologized. I also didn't get all the fuss about Anne Hathaway's dress; I thought what was more important was that her hard work and talent had earned her an Oscar.
There are a lot of mean-spirited jerks on Twitter and all over the Internet. Every time I read a news article online or watch a Youtube video, I don't even want to scroll down and read the comments posted by people who apparently have nothing better to do than trash people they don't know. I look at it this way: don't feed the trolls. They want to provoke a reaction, because they want attention for themselves and they want to know that they're hurting others. So it's best to just ignore them, unless they go too far.

wendy said...

I'm sorry, Nathan, but I can't get past the tweet about the little girl nominee. Was the person responsible insane or possessed? This is an all-time low action that surpasses just about anything I've heard of recently. Sure, no one lost their life, but the person who tried to take away the self-esteem of a child - someone who is at the most vulnerable stage of their life and can't fight back - is a cowardly bully who needs a dose of enlightenment and understanding for others other than him/herself. People who can't cope with life and resort to addictions to cope are usually those who have been robbed of their self-esteem in some way. There is a danger that public humiliation like this could leave this child with increased self-doubt and a gradual diminishing of their potential and ability to feel empathy and understanding for others as a result of their own lack of self-respect and inner turmoil. I know of what I speak.

wendy said...

Ok, I jumped in a little too quickly. I haven't seen the Oscars, nor did I realise the tweet was meant to be ironic and hilarious. Funny. Yeah. I applaud the intent which was to point out the apparent sexist attitude prevalent at the awards ceremony, but this tweet was surely worse than the attitude/behaviour it meant to highlight and criticise.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

If they'd said it about like, Lindsay Lohan, it would've been fine, I guess. Just not a little kid. I'm also mystified by the Anne Hathaway brouhaha. But, whatever.

Reading through the comments, I do agree with you. Words should not be verboten; this does not mean that one should not be careful with them.

Jackie Brown said...

Nathan there was no overreaction to the Onion tweet, it deserved every outraged response for its despicable cruelty to a child...a child...celebrating one of the major highlights of her life, the acknowledgement of her talent by being nominated the youngest actress in the Academy's history for a leading role. She, a child of color. Thanks to the Onion, that accolade will forever be tarnished by the joke made at her expense, being called a cunt. A nine year old Black American girl child. Humiliated due to no fault of her own, just a child. I seethe.

And yes, Nathan, words have caused people to implode, that vile word that was the last to be heard by countless lynch victims. That word for which there is no equivalent to kill your spirit as it does that of your siblings of color. Imagine the internal implosion suffered when you hear your child being called a nigger...or a cunt.

What is the point of this thread, Nathan? That justified outrage annoyed you?


Anonymous said...

I sincerely wish the original heinous tweet by The Onion would no longer be passed around the Internet. Personally, I think it would be much better to discuss the incredible talent of Quvenzhané Wallis, rather than the truly thoughtless tweet by an Onion writer. What were they thinking?!!? I hope that the parents of this talented little girl will be able to shield her from the controversy surrounding her until she's old enough to understand that adults are sometimes truly thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Jackie (edit) said...

I would edit my comment to read "spontaneously combust" instead of "implode."

Anonymous said...

Nathan Bransford said:
I agree that people can't hide behind "just kidding!" when they're doing damage, but intent absolutely matters. Would you judge the C-word equally whether it was being stated by a scholar or by someone who meant it as an insult? The different is intent and context. People are absolutely entitled to their own personal reaction, but I also don't think it's fair or accurate to completely dissociate words from their intent. Otherwise we'd be burning anatomy textbooks.

The problem is that children almost never understand intent or context separately from things told to them by adults. If they could do that, abusive parents and teachers would have absolutely no effect on children. Children would simply understand that the abusive adults in their lives are flawed. But that's not how it works. Children develop their self image from the feedback they receive from adults and from the world at large as they're growing up. And that's what makes this situation unique. A child is involved.

marion said...

Thanks, Nathan, for the link to Gladwell's brilliant article.
The Facebook Revolution--aka Egypt's Jan. 25, 2011 revolution.
Facebook, nah. It happened mostly because of face-to-face word-of-mouth contact. People in the mosques and other organizations communicating directly.
The internet was useful for spreading news, information, causing increasing outrage and anger.
But when the government tried to shut down media and internet, it had little effect on the revolution.
Everyone knew they would gather at Tahrir and elsewhere after Friday noon prayers. No need of the internet for that.

Nathan Bransford said...


I mean, if being the subject of a bad joke tarnishes the achievements celebrated by the Oscars they should cancel the whole thing. I do agree with Anon@2:16 and think this was an especially bad joke and especially bad to associate that word with a nine-year-old. But I believe Q will soldier on and trust that no one's spirit will be killed by one bad tweet unless they let it be.

Obviously this inspired some intense feelings for you and you're of course entitled to those emotions. My belief and intent with this post, however, is to express that sometimes frustrations with bigger, more complex issues, like race, power, sexism, can find outlets that unleash the intensity of feeling of emotion inspired by those outrages but don't in and of themselves rise to the level of deserving that full firehose of feelings. This is one of those times where I feel like people are bringing bigger outrages to a particular situation that probably isn't the best proxy for that fight, and Twitter, I think, channels that narrow thinking because it's an imperfect medium for nuance.

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

Bravo, Nathan!

Kim Jorgensen Gane said...

I'm a sometimes moderate liberal, sometimes moderate republican, who lives in an ultra conservative small town in Michigan...and I've gotten every inflammatory or fallacious e-mail about both Bush and Obama.

I've been calling this passive activism for a long time. Just clicking forward on a ridiculous e-mail, without first checking SNOPES[dot]com, isn't taking action, isn't helping anyone, and it certainly isn't changing anything. That's only gotten easier and therefore worse with Twitter.

I'm still a Tweeter, but I certainly take what's passed around with a speck of sodium.

Anonymous said...

Hm, we have global warming, wars in far-off countries with no end in sight, and a gap between the haves and the have-nots getting wider by the second.

And yet, it's jokes on the internet that get people all in a huff?



Jackie Brown said...

No doubt the Quvenzhanes of the world will indeed "soldier on" becoming increasingly aware that oftentimes the battle is the actual war or, as Jay Caspian Kang wrote in "The Dead Do Not Improve," "When it comes time to fight, you don't have the luxury to not fight." It is the chicks, not the aging birds, who are coming home to roost...

Back on-topic, this conversation suggests I reread Marshall McLuhan's prescient "The Medium Is The Massage," which heralded the power and influence of today's communications technology; join me.

wendy said...

Yes, that's right, Bill - aka anon. And I'm glad people reacted the way they did - on account of someone else's feeling other than their own. And they have every right to. And I think if you had been called a cunt on the internet, especially if your name had become internationally famous, you might feel a bit huffy, too. But if someone had spoken up defending you, then the hurt might be softened a little, and your faith in human nature restored...especially if you couldn't defend yourself.

Anonymous said...


While I respect your right to feel as you do, I have to point out...I've been called far worse than a c*nt in my time.

I didn't care then. I don't care now.

My faith in humanity has been challenged for many reasons, one of them being the utter lack of self-assurance and maturity that would allow one to ignore such childish insults.


wendy said...

Bill, I think there have to be standards set in the media that take into account decency and self-esteem given the fragility of human nature, especially those who are impressionable and easily hurt. I think we need to set standards for ourselves, too, where we allow others to express their opinions with dignity and without becoming offensive. This shows maturity, too.

Mira said...

Okay, so alittle late, but I wanted to add my thoughts.

First, I think your comment, Nathan, 3/7 at 9:26 was well-expressed.

I also want to say that the apology offered by the Onion was also well-said.

My opinion: I think there is both a downside and an upside to Twitter.

The downside:

I think when people have something in their own life that is bothering them, but they are not sure how to handle it, don't want to think about it or feel helpless to address it, it can be tempting to channel their anger in another direction. Finding a scapegoat can make people feel powerful, it can distract them from problems in their own lives and it can make them feel better about themselves in comparision. That can underlie a witch hunt, and it can get blown way out of proportion and get really scary.

The upside:

I think we're seeing a situation where people who are not used to having an impact, and have felt powerless to have any sort of voice, can now speak out and be heard. And it makes sense, in a way, that people are starting small, with issues that are in the area of entertainment, because it hits in a more personal way. Also, alot of people ignore the bigger problems, because they feel like they have no power in those situations. That may change.

But everything small is connected to everything large, and even on this thread, the discussion has led to the topics of power, privilege, sexism, racism, etc. Good discussions to have.

I have seen the 'twitter/blogger' crowd have a very positive real concrete impact recently - stopping a bad lawsuit, putting pressure on corporations to be ethical, getting a corporation to look at it's practices.

So, I think this is a dual-edged sword. I think it's really important that voices like yours speak out and urge people to use this new power responsibly. But I'm also delighted at the idea that the people collectively really do have power - this is new, and it's wonderful, and it will change the world.

I'm not convinced, btw, that the mob can't be stopped. You said:

"good luck to anyone who tries to stand in front of the herd and appeal for reason"

But I'm not convinced it can't be done. Someone getting into the frey would have to be willing to take some heat. They might need a group of people intervening. But I'm not completely convinced that there is never any way to interrupt it. I could be wrong, but I think there is a need for leadership here - a strong voice that is to be able to impact these things when they happen. It's probable that leaders like this will arise. I hope so.

Peter Dudley said...

I still have yet to see the Onion's joke. I don't feel curious enough about it to search it out, thank goodness.

I think of Twitter as less of a mob and more of a herd. A herd is easily spooked and will stampede. While a mob will not rest until its target is beaten out of existence, a stampede indiscriminately crushes whatever is in its way and veers in different directions until it runs itself out.

That said, I hope I never end up with the stampede trampling me.

Jake Richert said...

Thanks for all of the Malcolm Gladwell links lately. :)

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