Sunday, 27 May 2012

When Vile Tweets Go Viral

One of the funnier stories I've come across online lately was about a man who had been horrible to womens' rights advocate Sandra Fluke and got all hot and bothered when his vile tweets went viral. I want to talk about this incident in light of the fact that I keep running into people who don't understand how the internet works. Always work from the assumption that what you say online stays online.

Abusive tweets retweeted

The fellow in question is one George Tierney of Greenville South Carolina, who took offence to Sandra Fluke's call for contraception to be included in medical coverage. Anyway, in one of the most hilarious incidents in online history, he actually believed that he and he alone could comment on the comments he had made to Ms. Fluke, who promptly retweeted it to her many thousands of followers.

Blogger TBogg came across the exchange and wrote about it, criticizing Tierney in no uncertain terms for being, to put it mildly, a jerk. Online. Warning:  profanity. Anyway, that's not the funny part. The funny part is that Tierney sent a message to TBogg's ISP (I presume. TBogg refers to it as patron d'art) demanding the removal of his tweets from the search result — and TBogg's blog, under threat of a lawsuit. And guess what? TBogg promptly blogged the email and made a funny post about it.

Where he went wrong

Where do I start with how wrong George Tierney was? First of all, not even Google can control what shows up in a Google search result unless it removes URLs under a DMCA takedown notice.

When you post a tweet, unless it's set to private (you can only send private tweets to people who are following you), the public can see it. Although you own your tweet, it's licensed to Twitter so Twitter can function and the only way you can assert your ownership of any of your tweets is to delete them. Even then, if it's been on the internet for long enough (and that's before it's been retweeted), it'll end up in cache. This means that, in theory, what goes up, stays up forever and ever. Assume that it will, every time. It'll keep you out of trouble.

The other, more important thing he got wrong was the internet hive mind. It works like this: you can become a minor internet celebrity for as long as a) you're interesting and b) you're active. Stop doing either or both and search results or not the internet will move on and forget you.

N.B. Ignorance + egregious stupidity + frustration + tantrum + continue, entrenched in an attitude of moral certitude = epic hilarity.

Forget this at your peril, or yours will be the next funny story making the rounds. It goes without saying that the more stubborn you are, the more frustrated you'll become, and your fame and misfortune will increase exponentially. You have been warned. Meanwhile, TBogg has informed us that the latest development in the Epic Ignoramus Saga is that Tierney has made a public apology to everyone on Twitter. And his account has been suspended. As for Ms. Fluke, her dignified response is an example to us all. 

Solutions for penitent prats

Those tweets, comments, memes, or videos that go viral are the interesting, silly, annoying, or outrageous ones, particularly if they're funny, and stupidity is almost always funny. The more egregious the stupidity, the funnier it will appear to be to us netizens. If you've done something stupid and people are laughing at you, stop reacting to it. That's what keeps it going. When you're not providing any more entertainment, the internet will move on.

Then you've got to move on. Walking away from the internet may seem like a hard thing to do when you're convinced you've got right on your side, but trust me, if everyone is laughing at you online, you don't. Give it a couple of weeks, then come back. You may not be able to remove the offending links from the search results (DMCA takedown notices don't apply to tweets, etc.), but you can bury them by posting new items online, using the search terms that bring up your name. Trolls tend to use pseudonyms, but they can be traced. Using your real name to be a prat online is not a clever thing to do, and remember, abusive tweets can get you into hot water in the UK. It's better not to be a prat online at all, is what I'm saying.

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